Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Clarence Darrow's Closing Argument in the Leopold-Loeb case

Why did they kill little Bobby Franks? Not for money, not for spite; not for hate. They killed him as they might kill a spider or a fly, for the experience. They killed him because they were made that way. Because somewhere in the infinite processes that go to the making up of the boy or the man something slipped, and those unfortunate lads sit here hated, despised, outcasts, with the community shouting for their blood.

7 comments:

Bruce Cleaver said...

Of course, if Darrow's argument were to be universally applied, the Judge in the case could have found L&L guilty and sentenced them to death. After all, the Judge had no choice in the matter, for his actions are as determined as anyone else's, including the defendants.

Victor Reppert said...

The counter-argument, which goes back to ancient times (I first heard it from my Ancient Philosophy professor and master's thesis director Michael White at ASU), misses the point. It seems to me that Darrow can respond "Yes, of course, you can send Leopold and Loeb to the chair because you are angry with him, or maybe even because you can't help it. I can't stop you. But please don't stop pretending that you are satisfying justice in so doing. Once you realize that determinism is true, you have to accept the consequence that there can be no such thing as a truly just punishment. An effective deterrent, sure. A punishment that protects society, sure. Giving closure to the victims, sure. Just don't call it a just punishment, because that's an oxymoron, in light of determinism.

Francis J. Beckwith said...

Victor:

Darrow's response seems to assume that if you do not heed his response you are not fulfilling some obligation. Thus, if I may be pithy about it, Darrow believes that justice requires that we believe there is no such thing as justice.

Carter Cleaver said...

If determinism is genuinely true, the judge could not 'realize' anything. His response to Darrow's pleas might be informed more by extraneous facts (he had oatmeal for breakfast instead of Wheaties) rather than any rational examination of justice, desert, deterrent, etc. The Judge might genuinely think that he is satisfying justice, because he can do no other.

At bottom, Darrow thinks that the Judge and society in general should be held to a different standard. Somehow, the judge is supposed to make a rational inference from determinism, when of course he cannot, his responses being predetermined. A plea to some abstract idea such as Justice would also suffer from the same problem. It's a very corrosive idea.

Steven said...

If determinism is genuinely true, the judge could not 'realize' anything. His response to Darrow's pleas might be informed more by extraneous facts (he had oatmeal for breakfast instead of Wheaties) rather than any rational examination of justice, desert, deterrent, etc. The Judge might genuinely think that he is satisfying justice, because he can do no other.

What do you mean here? How is it exactly that he doesn't realize anything?

It seems to me we think of people as realizing something when they think about some issue for some time, and then after a chain of inferences they come upon the truth of the matter.

Why is this inconsistent with determinism?

J said...

Kill them. Will that prevent other senseless boys or other vicious men or vicious women from killing? No!

Well, Darrow's argument is not bad--it looks merely like a thrill kill, not even motivated, so a serious crime. And the deterministic points are fairly sound. Yet at the same time one could argue that execution in murder cases does still serve an end--Darrow doesn't really prove that the death penalty has no deterrent effect (some evidence suggests it does; some doesn't), and for that matter the victims' families are determined to seek retribution of some sort. Then, yes the judge's decision itself might not be entirely objective or rational. Maybe his wifey tells him what to do, or he had a few drinks at lunch, etc...

The punishment issue becomes more problematic when considering economic factors, poverty, etc.

J said...

Once you realize that determinism is true, you have to accept the consequence that there can be no such thing as a truly just punishment. An effective deterrent, sure. A punishment that protects society, sure. Giving closure to the victims, sure. Just don't call it a just punishment, because that's an oxymoron, in light of determinism.

Not "just" in a sense of Platonic or theological justice perhaps. But it might please the people involved, and everyone might say, Justice was Done, etc.

Then, many a theologian, especially catholic sort, considered the vichy or nazis agents of Justice with a capital J. So your point's mostly moot (ie, religious tradition has hardly succeeded in terms of upholding some perfect platonic justice--as now. Paddy Mahoney in LA doesn't discuss corporate/political greed, or priestly...abuse. He talks about the new cathedral, or the need for Tradition, or the midnight celebrity mass, etc.)