Why torture is wrong

In Contemporary Debates on Terrorism. London: Routledge. pp. 159-165 (2012)
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Even people who think torture is justified in certain circumstances regard it - to say the least - as undesirable, however necessary they think it is. So I approach the issue by analysing the extreme case where people such as Dershowitz, Posner and Walzer think torture is justified, the so-called ticking bomb scenario. And since the justification offered is always consequentialist - no one thinks that torture is in any way “good in itself” – I confine myself to consequentialist arguments. That is to say, I take the argument on its own terms, since any non-consequentialist objection to torture merely invites the response, ‘So much the worse for non-consequentialism’: if a moral theory insists that torture is wrong even if it would save thousands of lives that just shows how wrong the theory is . I focus only on the question of the moral justifiability of torture in the ‘ticking bomb’ case, and do not not ask whether, even if admittedly immoral, it should nonetheless be legalised (see Brecher, Torture and the Ticking Bomb, Wiley-Blackwell 2007)). My main argument is in two parts: (1) the “ticking bomb” scenario falls apart when analysed; and (2), even if it did not, the likely consequences of permitting torture would be worse than the bomb’s going off. Finally I briefly consider a genuine case. Further questions and readings are appended



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Bob Brecher
University of Brighton

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