In his powerful essay, “”Réflexions sur la guillotine” (1957), the French philosopher Albert Camus denounces capital punishment.* Remember that capital punishment in France was carried out by the guillotine from 1792, when the beheading machine was first used during the French Revolution, right up until 1981.
Let’s test your instincts on existentialism and the guillotine.
All of the following reasons, but one, are part of Camus’s rhetorical assault on the death sentence. Remember the continuum in Camus’s thought as seen in The Stranger: he admits human frailty and irrationality, all the while stressing the essential freedom of humans to chart their own course in life.
OK, knowing all that, it is your turn to pick. I falsified one of the answers below to make it look like a quote by Camus.
Which of the following arguments feels wrong here?
1. Capital punishment cannot provide a meaningful deterrent to crime because “many honest men are criminals without knowing it,” given the passionate, spontaneous character of murder, especially.
2. The fright factor is ineffective because “the State conceals the circumstances and even the existence of its executions,” by conducting such ceremonies at dawn and far from the public gaze.
3. The Catholic Church has always fought such punishment and has “never admitted the necessity of the death penalty.” The French people should follow the lead of this great spiritual force and submit to the Lord through their savior, Jesus Christ.
4. To decide that a man is to be definitively punished means denying him “any further opportunity whatsoever to make reparation for his acts.”
* Albert Camus, “Reflections on the Guillotine,” 1st ed. 1957, trans. Richard Howard. In Evergreen Review Reader, 1957-1967, ed. Barney Rosset (New York: Grove Press, 1968), 88-106.