Sunday, May 17, 2009

Torture as Last Resort?

A friend has made the following rejoinder to my argument: Torture should only be used in rare, extreme cases and as a last resort.

My response is it doesn't address the heart of the matter. What is at stake is not the frequency of the action, but it's nature. If an act is intrinsically evil, then it can NEVER be justified-not even once. While this may be an unpopular position, it is not without precedent. Thinkers from such diverse traditions as Christian (St. Paul), Ancient (Plato), and Modern(Kant) have taken it.

Since I have only rejected arguments up to this point, let me put a few on the table. First: Let the bomb explode. Socrates said it was better to suffer injustice than to do it. This is an argument we should seriously consider, rather than dismissing it out of hand.

Second: Torture should never be done, but X is not torture. This would require a definition of torture and then a case by case study of particular acts like waterboarding, walling, etc. Luckily, the work is being done.

Having stated some positive arguments, let me return to the negative. I would oppose any argument (ends justify the means, last resort, double effect, or lesser evil) formulated to justify an intrinsically evil act. Such arguments only create more problems than they solve.


  1. Maybe this is all a Kobayashi Maru!

  2. According to Jack Bauer:

    ''I can't tell you what to do, I've been wrestling with this one my whole life. I see 15 people held hostage on a bus, everything else goes out the window. I will do whatever it takes to save them, and I mean, whatever it takes—I guess that maybe I thought if I saved them, I'd save myself. When you cross that line it always starts off with a small step. Before you know it, you're running as fast as you can in the wrong direction, just to justify what you started in the first place...I guess the only advice I can give you is, try to make choices that you can live with.'