from an interview with Penn Jillete in the January Reason Magazine
When I talk about the death penalty to people, there are a zillion pragmatic arguments to make that the death penalty is more expensive, that you could make mistakes with the death penalty. I try to never use them, because I believe that as soon as I use them, I have dropped what matters to me. Because those arguments are disingenuous. To say, “What if we put an innocent person to death?” I am then telling you that if you can promise me we won’t put any innocent people to death that I’m somehow OK with that, and I’m fucking not. Killing people is wrong. Government shouldn’t fucking do it. End of story.
I mean, if you can convince me right now on the phone that you can eliminate all marijuana, eliminate all LSD, eliminate all heroin, keep it out of the country so that people can’t do it, and you can do that without using any violence—if you make that argument, am I then in favor of drug prohibition? I still don’t think I am. If you told me here’s a way we can keep all Muslims out and that will stop the terrorism, I don’t think I can make that deal.
So I don’t think there is a pragmatic argument. There is only the moral argument. I realize that’s an incredibly black-and-white, stupid position that I don’t think anyone agrees with me [on], but I can’t find a way around it. So every issue becomes moral to me. I’ve never smoked marijuana in my life. I don’t want to smoke marijuana. But I can’t find any way that it’s my right to stop you.
An excellent point. where pragmatism may require suspension of ideologies or principles, it can also require the suspension of moral considerations. This can me more important that whether it works. That is why two different ideologies can both claim to be pragmatists; because they make decisions from different moral frameworks.
Perhaps the best recent consideration of morality vs pragmatism is the debate over waterboarding. The debate over whether it works sidelines the entire moral consideration.