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Is Killing Wrong?

A Study in Pure Sociology

Mark Cooney

Publication Year: 2009

Although "thou shalt not kill" is perhaps the most fundamental legal and moral principle, Mark Cooney finds a remarkable lack of consistency in the handling of homicide not only between but within the whole range of human societies. Equality before the law doesn't exist, but not for the reasons, such as prejudice, that we expect. Legal and moral principles can't explain why one killer is condemned and another acquitted or lauded. The "social geometry" of status and social distance among killer, victim, and third parties does. Incredibly wide-ranging in its 'data set'--Cooney looked at all societies, in all time periods, for which data is available.

Published by: University of Virginia Press


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Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Table of Contents

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p. vii

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pp. ix-xii

Right and wrong fascinate us. Their conflict provides a large part of our entertainment and education. Morality is the stuff of ancient myths, television documentaries, Hollywood movies, parental guidance, detective stories, courtroom dramas, learned debates, religious homilies, Shakespearean tragedies, and quotidian gossip. Part of the attraction ...

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1. The Morality of Homicide

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pp. 1-17

“Thou shalt not kill.” No moral principle is more basic, widely understood, or universally accepted. Everybody knows from a young age that human life is sacred, and to take it willfully is the most wicked thing a human being can do. The principle is articulated in homes, schools, churches, and courtrooms, repeated by spiritual and temporal ...

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2. Pure Sociology

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pp. 18-35

It is possible to overstate the role of law in the modern world, but it is equally possible to understate it. Law is found in every realm of contemporary life. It penetrates, to one degree or another, virtually every corner of our social universe—our places of work and leisure, our homes and schools, our shopping malls, highways, airports, and ...

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3. The Vertical Dimension

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pp. 36-64

The wealthy pass through life differently. They enjoy more desirable food, clothing, and shelter. They can devote themselves to the pursuit of leisure and luxury. They are healthier and live longer (see, e.g., Gilbert and Kahl 1993; Williams and Collins 1995). They receive more education, and are enriched by a wider variety of ideas and art forms. ...

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4. The Organizational Dimension

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pp. 63-90

As he enters the room, he knows what awaits him. Resistance is useless. He cannot escape; there are simply too many of them, and there is nowhere to hide anyway. Hands take hold of him and strap him tightly. Now he cannot move. They have total control over him. They set to work quickly, efficiently, and without malice. ...

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5. The Radial Dimension

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pp. 91-108

Gilbert, or “Beto” as he was widely known, began living on the streets of Rio de Janeiro at the age of four. By the time he was sixteen he was a leader among the homeless kids. The police harassed him constantly. Following his arrest one day, representatives from a church organization went to the police station ...

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6. The Normative Dimension

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pp. 109-131

Bob worked at the weekend in the garden of a wealthy 80-year-old lady named Mrs. Smith. Lately, a man named Danny had started to live with Bob and his wife. One Friday afternoon, as Danny was painting Bob’s front porch, Bob approached him with a proposition. He knew that Mrs. Smith had money and jewelry ...

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7. The Cultural Dimension

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pp. 132-155

Around the year 1317—the exact date is unknown—the king of the Irish province of Ulster, Donal O’Neill, composed a remonstrance, or formal letter of complaint, to Pope John XXII. Writing on behalf of the chiefs and people of Ireland, O’Neill complained of the cruel and unjust manner in which the English were ruling his land (Duffy 1998: ...

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8. The Relational Dimension

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pp. 156-184

The speaker of these lines is Claudius, brother and murderer of the King of Denmark in Shakespeare’s classic play, Hamlet. In a moment of clarity, Claudius is struck by the affinities of his act with the biblical slaying of Abel by Cain. Suddenly, he understands the sheer evil of what he has done. He has not just taken a life; he has murdered a ...

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pp. 185-202

Stand back from the details of particular cases, and the most striking feature of conflict management is its sheer variability. Human societies subject offenders, rule-breakers, deviants to a remarkably wide array of sanctions, even for the same act of wrongdoing, such as homicide. The critical scientific question is “Why?” Why do law and popular ...


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pp. 203-216


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pp. 217-240


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pp. 241-254

E-ISBN-13: 9780813928357
E-ISBN-10: 0813928354
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813928265
Print-ISBN-10: 0813928265

Page Count: 272
Illustrations: 2 figures, 2 tables
Publication Year: 2009

OCLC Number: 755633544
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Is Killing Wrong?

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Murder.
  • Homicide.
  • Criminal psychology.
  • Criminal justice, Administration of.
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