WPI Junior Wins Honors in National Essay Contest on Capital Punishment

Contact: Neil Norum, WPI Media & Community Relations

Worcester, Mass. -- Kevin Flanagan, a junior computer science major from Spencerport, N.Y., was one of four winners in a national essay contest sponsored by the Radical Philosophy Association. The topic was on questioning the justification for capital punishment. Flanagan placed third.

His essay was initially a course sufficiency paper advised by WPI philosophy professor Roger Gottlieb. His submitted essay, a revised version of his sufficiency paper, gives arguments against capital punishment citing works by published authors. "I will discuss if the modern American form of capital punishment can be morally justified," he says in his opening paragraph.

His extensive essay notes that opponents of the death penalty have a distinct advantage when arguing their point over advocates. In discussing capital punishment he covers in detail - morality, the desensitizing of our society, the fact that the reality of capital punishment is hidden, and discrimination (rich vs. poor, black vs. white).

"When I started this project," he says "I did not have a stance on capital punishment. That is one of the reasons I wanted to research this topic." Flanagan notes that taking someone's life, unless in defense of your own, is immoral, no matter what the circumstances are.

"After more research, especially the article on the psychological effects of death row on inmates and Helen Prejean's (author of Dead Man Walking) article I realized that capital punishment should not be allowed in our society," he says. "The death penalty serves no purpose but to assuage our basic human barbaric desires."

He concluded his essay with this Prejean quote to summarize his feelings. "Allowing our government to kill citizens compromises the deepest moral values upon which this country was conceived: the inviolable dignity of human persons."

The Radical Philosophy Association, founded in 1982, is an international non-sectarian forum for philosophical discussion of fundamental change.

WPI, a technological university, is renowned for its project-based curriculum and its overseas global perspective program. In the 1999 U.S. News & World Report's edition of America's Best Colleges, WPI is ranked among the top of national universities and among the top for Best College Values.