Then latecomer Texan Jacob Sullum over at Reason used the same pericope to make a more interesting argument than any I'd come up with, so I'll simply recommend you to his thoughtful piece on the lethal injection debate. "As a matter of constitutional law," writes Sullum, "I think [abolitionists are] wrong. But the squeamishness reflected by the continuing quest for a perfect execution method suggests the abolitionists may ultimately win the policy debate, and perhaps they should." Sullum concludes:
This is a question that should interest conservatives who believe disgust reflects moral intuition. If the aim is to quickly and reliably kill people while inflicting as little pain as possible, it would be hard to improve on the guillotine or a close-range shot to the back of the head. Yet we shrink from such methods, perhaps because they too vividly display the reality of killing a man in cold blood.Does "disgust" reflect "moral intuition"? I'm not sure I agree with that, perhaps not at all, at least not without the caveat that our intuitions may be and frequently are flat out wrong when confronted with evidence and the complexities of life's moral decisions. I suppose the PETA folks might agree, e.g., that a child's squeamishness over frog dissection proved their moral point, but I still won't get too riled up over cancer research with animals. Still, it's an interesting idea to ponder.
MORE: Searching and reading more on the subject, I ran across this recent column from the New York Times about a scientist who speaks in similar language to Sullum's about "disgust" and "moral intuition," arguing that the "task of morality is to suppress selfishness." That jibes with the study referenced recently over on Corrections Sentencing which concluded "that chimpanzees do not show a willingness to make fair offers and reject unfair ones. In this way, they behave like selfish economists rather than as social reciprocators." I've never given great thought to the relationship between morality, fairness, evolution and genetics. Perhaps the impulse to suppress selfishness and the emergence of moral systems stem from our genetic makeup, not just idle intellectualizing. Perhaps our values and sense of fairness lie at the very genetic root of what it means to be human. And perhaps they're evolving.