I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that you have never watched a single episode of 24. Something incredibly similar to what you have described happened in the second season. The "hero" is even named Jack.

Anyway, I am opposed to torture. Deciding to torture requires the assumption that the person being tortured is guilty. That assumption is the end of civil liberty. In a situation like the one above, I'm fairly certain that assumption would be true. However, it is a dangerous precedent to set.

The thoughts of Randy on 3 January 2006 - 0:28 Central
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My initial response was to quickly reply...."No one's gonna do that, Wilson." (in referencee to threatening torture to a terroist's child)

And then I started reading and couldn't stop for over 2 hours (I am slow).

I am fairly close to John Jefferson Davis and Dr. P albert Muhler Jr., but Cole made a good point about idolatry.

I certainly agree with Magnuson and Heimbach--that there needs to be some defining.

And as long as doubt remains, I'd have to side with "Don't."

Why must you always make me think so hard?

The really good news? I now have a great topic for Jason's final paper.

The thoughts of maman d'Ardith on 3 January 2006 - 10:11 Central
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Maman: I'm trying to stay away from "defining," for two reasons. First, the original ticking-bomb scenario isn't meant to narrow down methods and circumstances; it is meant to show that whatever torture is, it may sometimes be appropriate. It does not address other kinds of unpleasant treatment. Therefore, that's all I'm responding to.

Second, international law (the Convention against Torture) already prohibits not only torture but all kinds of "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." Therefore, appeals for a narrower definition of torture do not impress me. Everything Krauthammer is defending -- at least, all the controversial bits -- are illegal already at the constitutional level.

Randy: No, I have not watched 24. I am familiar with the main character's name, though, and probably chose my character's name because of that and Jack Ryan.

I'm still hoping that someone who definitely thinks the first scenario justifies torture will address my scenario.

The thoughts of Wilson on 3 January 2006 - 15:01 Central
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To be honest, I haven't decided my personal standpoint on the ethics of torture. Torture is evil, and I'm not sure whether I buy into the idea that saving multiple lives justifies destroying one life. But even if it does, I am haunted by the words of C.S. Lewis: "Let us never mistake necessary evils for goods." Even if good ends do justify evil means, they don't make the means any less evil. Or something like that.

However, for the sake of addressing Wilson's hope "that someone who definitely thinks the first scenario justifies torture will address [his] scenario," let's pretend I am such a person: I believe, as Wilson put it, that one person's life/comfort may be sacrificed for the benefit of "the many."

The key difference between the original scenario and the "Wilson-bomb" scenario is this: in the former the terrorist himself is tortured directly, while in the latter the terrorist's child is tortured directly and the terrorist himself is tortured indirectly. But that doesn't matter to me, unless more value is placed on a child's life/comfort than on an adult's. By torturing one family, I have saved countless people. What matters to me is not the nature (or "quality") of the subjects of torture, but the number (or "quantity") of torture victims compared to the number of innocents saved.

The thoughts of Martinez on 3 January 2006 - 18:17 Central
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I think I agree with Wilson that torture is never permissible, but I want to muse about it for just a bit first.

Regarding Caiphas' idea that "it is better that one man be sacrificed than an entire nation destroyed" (or something like that), I agree and disagree. Clearly, it is better for Christ to die than everyone to die, but the issue is He freely laid down His life, no-one took it from him.

But let me put a twist in it. Leaving aside the question of torture, most people accept that it is acceptable to kill someone in defense of others. If another person will be saved (such as myself), and there is no other reasonable way of accomplishing that, it is generally judged acceptable to kill the attacker. By the "best" means available: e.g. we expect the hero to put a shot through the villian's forehead instead of throwing him into a red ant pile if both options are available (though the latter is acceptable if the former is impossible). Why accept "justifiable homicide" and not torture? It is simply an aversion to pain?

The thoughts of Leatherwood on 4 January 2006 - 20:09 Central
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Why accept "justifiable homicide" and not torture? It is simply an aversion to pain?

I guess we can reduce it to that. But I think pain is a big deal. Pain is the essential difference between cruelty and non-cruelty. In general, we hold cruelty to be immoral; therefore, pain is important in our moral calculus. We even try to kill mad dogs without inflicting unnecessary pain.

I think the more important problem with torture, though, is that it strips the victim of human dignity. If someone deliberately inflicts maximal pain, with the intention of breaking the victim's will, what is left of humanity? Where is there room for respect in that?

The thoughts of Wilson on 5 January 2006 - 1:49 Central
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You have a really good point there; I'd forgotten the cruelty factor. But why do we call it "dehumanizing" to torture someone? Because you're treating them as a recaltricant information storage device?

You make a really interesting point about pain that we consider it morally important. I hadn't really given much thought to it, but you're right. It's interesting that we feel it's ok to kill someone, but not ok to hurt them unnecessarily. Why do you think that is? Other than a natural aversion to pain, why do you think we add a blanket moral condemnation to causing it deliberately?

And as a reply to your earlier question, asking why someone might consider it morally acceptable to torture a terrorist might consider it mornally inexcusable to torture the terrorist's child, one could argue that the terrorist is guilty (we hope), so he deserves what he gets. The child, however is not, and doesn't. Same sort of idea that it would be morally permissible to kill a would-be murderer but not an innocent bystander.

The thoughts of Leatherwood on 10 January 2006 - 10:12 Central
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Please excuse my spelling error in the previous post ... perhaps you should force your posters to preview twice, Mr. Wilson :). It suddenly came to me that there's at least one very good reason to consider deliberately causing pain a terrible sin ... it's hard to imagine something that more flagrantly violates the dictates of "do unto others what you would have them do unto you." Most people would rather die than be tortured.

The thoughts of Leatherwood on 10 January 2006 - 10:26 Central
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One could argue that the terrorist is guilty (we hope), so he deserves what he gets. The child, however is not, and doesn't.

I actually expected somebody to say this a long time ago. Surely the child's innocence does play a part in our views on my scenario as opposed to the first.

But it seems to me that if guilt is the deciding factor, we have no moral reason to avoid torturing all murderers and even perhaps soldiers. Surely torture could be useful as a deterrent in those cases, so we can't condemn it as completely inexpedient, either.

In other words, if guilt is the essential difference that makes torture permissible, how can we condemn the torture of other kinds of guilty people?

Furthermore, I could modify the scenario to say that the child had willingly contributed to the planning of the attack somehow. Would torture be justified then?

The thoughts of Wilson on 10 January 2006 - 12:27 Central
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If guilt is the essential difference that makes torture permissible, how can be condemn the torture of other kinds of guilty people?

In the case you outlined above, you posited a case where torture would save lives. It's difficult to see how torturing murderers would save lives (I suppose there's the deterrent possibility, but it's usually too iffy). Torturing soldiers into giving away secrets that could shorten the war and save lives ... also iffy. This reminds me of the conversation between Giskard and Daneel in Asimov's Robot books about when it was ok to break the first law of robotics (a robot may not injure a human being ...) in favor of the "zeroth" law (a robot may not injure humanity ...) You have to be darn certain of doing good (in this case, saving lives) to overcome the ethical calculus against torture. Similarly, we don't (though perhaps we should) automatically execute murderers, even though they might kll again.

If the child willingly (and knowingly) aided the attack then I imagine torturing the child would be acceptable (provided the child was old enough to be held responsible for his/her choices) (Again, following the assumption that torturing the original terrorist was acceptable).

As we continue to argue, Mr. Wilson, please keep in mind that I'm pretty sure I agree with you :).

The thoughts of Daniel Leatherwood on 10 January 2006 - 14:03 Central
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Torturing soldiers into giving away secrets that could shorten the war and save lives ... also iffy.

But this is precisely the sort of thing some people have argued regarding our treatment of wartime detainees. Rough handling of our prisoners, we are told by some conservatives, saves American lives because it yields useful information. Furthermore, I've even seen a conservative blogger argue that the threat of torture at places like Abu Ghraib is a useful deterrent. It seems entirely possible (it gets the terrorist mentality backwards, actually, but it could work on a different kind of enemy in other circumstances).

In fact, on the assumption that our entire criminal justice system is established not merely for the sake of revenge but mainly for the sake of protecting innocent people from crime, every criminal prosecution is undertaken as deterrent. Every murderer, therefore, is punished in order to make future murders less likely. Why, then, is torture off the table as a punishment for most killers?

The thoughts of Wilson on 10 January 2006 - 16:25 Central
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I don't think there's any categorical way of taking it off the table in such a case. The only reply, I think, would be to hem and haw about certainty ... that it's not worth causing certain excruciating pain for an uncertain payoff.

But, on the other hand, since you brough up our prison system, isn't it also a difference in degree from torture, rather than kind? Prison is a deliberately uncomfortable place; it serves both as punishment and deterrent. Granted, there's a difference in locking someone up for the rest of his life and putting splinters up his fingernails, but how much of a difference?

* Putting aside the current discussion, I that even if the threat of torture did inhibit further terrorism, it is abhorrent and not to be tolerated. I imagine even most people who might agree with the position I've been taking would draw the line short of that (I hope). I'm not sure, however, they have a philosophical reason to do so other than their own personal squeamishness. *

The thoughts of Daniel Leatherwood on 10 January 2006 - 20:35 Central
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Well, the spectrum of painful things ranges from hangnails to evisceration, I suppose. But there seems to be a fundamental distinction between the two somewhere.

The thoughts of Wilson on 10 January 2006 - 21:39 Central
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I agree. This is one of those "gut feelings" sort of moments when you know there's a difference but haven't quite reasoned out where it is yet. The devil is in the details, after all. Exactly where does the line go between torture and legitimate punishment? I think the end result of this train of thought is the creation of another grey area where you have to weigh how much pain you're causing, what long-term effects it will have on the tortured (stimulating a person's nerve endings to a point where he thinks his arm has just been ripped off is probably marginally better than actually ripping it off), how certain the benefit is, etc. Ugh. I hate this sort of moral relativism, where you can't categorically say "torture is everyone, always wrong" and instead say "torture is acceptable in certain instances to be determined by some wise person." It's abuse waiting to happen.

The thoughts of Leatherwood on 10 January 2006 - 22:22 Central
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