Tragic Choices: Reaffirming Absolutes in the Torture Debate

International Journal of Applied Philosophy 19 (2):209-222 (2005)
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Abstract

Events over the last decade have returned the issue of interrogational torture to one of immediate and urgent concern, as governments attempt to circumvent the constraints of the UN Convention against Torture. Philosophers still favor variants of the ‘ticking bomb’ scenario and view with suspicion, if not incomprehension, any absolutist prohibition of torture. In this paper, I reiterate and develop an absolutist position against interrogational torture, arguing that ‘ticking bomb’ scenarios are ill-considered and offer not what they purport to offer. I further make the case that assumptions behind the pro-torture position, particularly based on positive consequences of interrogational torture, are by no means as clear as apparently imagined, and that such practices challenge the very foundations of our moral lives in their attacks on notions of agency and responsibility. In any such extreme choice like the ones that torture presents, we must weigh what we might gain against what we might lose, and we always lose too much.

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Christopher Tindale
University of Windsor

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