Dirty hands and the romance of the ticking bomb terrorist: a Humean account

On Michael Walzer?s influential account, ?dirty hands? characterizes the political leader?s choice between absolutist moral demands (to abstain from torture) and consequentialist political reasoning (to do what is necessary to prevent the loss of innocent lives). The impulse to torture a ?ticking bomb terrorist? is therefore at least partly pragmatic, straining against morality, while the desire to uphold a ban on torture is purely and properly a moral one. I challenge this ?Machiavellian? view by reinterpreting the dilemma in the framework of the Humean theory of justice and moral sentiment. By interpreting the ticking bomb scenario as a dramatic narrative, I argue that it appeals to properly moral sensibilities, which speak in favour of the use of force against the terrorist. The absolute ban on torture, by contrast, is an ?artificial virtue? and a product of political prudence. On this account, the ticking bomb terrorist dilemma therefore imposes a different burden on the political leader from Walzer?s version: an ethic of political responsibility demands that the political leader be prepared to sacrifice her moral soul by upholding the law against moral but politically imprudent demands to break it; while the ticking bomb ?romance? appeals to her feelings of compassionate moral concern towards particular individuals. She dirties her hands morally, not by authorizing torture, but by allowing the terrorist?s bomb to detonate and take the lives of the innocent
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1080/09692290.2010.517978
 Save to my reading list
Follow the author(s)
My bibliography
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Revision history Request removal from index
Download options
PhilPapers Archive

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy on self-archival     Papers currently archived: 15,904
External links
Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library
References found in this work BETA
David Sussman (2005). What's Wrong with Torture? Philosophy and Public Affairs 33 (1):1–33.
Henry Shue (1978). Torture. Philosophy and Public Affairs 7 (2):124-143.

View all 21 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Add more citations

Similar books and articles
J. Jeremy Wisnewski (2008). It's About Time: Defusing the Ticking Bomb Argument. International Journal of Applied Philosophy 22 (1):103-116.
Christopher W. Tindale (2005). Tragic Choices. International Journal of Applied Philosophy 19 (2):209-222.
Eric M. Rovie (2009). Tortured Knowledge. International Journal of Applied Philosophy 23 (2):315-333.

Monthly downloads

Added to index


Total downloads

39 ( #84,314 of 1,725,472 )

Recent downloads (6 months)

3 ( #211,098 of 1,725,472 )

How can I increase my downloads?

My notes
Sign in to use this feature

Start a new thread
There  are no threads in this forum
Nothing in this forum yet.