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One Waterboarding Is a Tragedy; A Million Is a Statistic

April 28th, 2009 · 31 Comments

Matt Zeitlin finds something incongruous about (what used to be?) our special horror over torture. After all, he points out, any war we embark on—even the most just war you could imagine—involves the suffering and death of many innocent civilians. But the same rules don’t seem to apply there: If the generals determine that bombing such-and-such location will inevitably wipe out some occupied civilian homes, but save dozens of lives on net by eliminating an insurgent cell, we may find this sobering and tragic, but most of us won’t be outraged in quite the same way many are by torture.

The simple answer is just that, as the research of folks like Joshua Greene and Jonathan Haidt shows, we have a set of evolved moral intuitions that are especially keyed to harm to others that is both intentional and proximate.  This (they suggest) is why many of us, in the classic ethics thought experiment, seem to think it would be acceptable—even obligatory—to switch a speeding trolley that is headed toward five people onto an alternate track where it will hit just one, but balk at saving the five by pushing an obese man into the path of the trolley. On this account, the discrepancy is just a side effect of the fact that our ancestors on the woodland savannah did not engage in many aerial bombing raids.

But we don’t have to stop there, of course: The fact that we can offer a highly contingent evolutionary account of the intution doesn’t preclude us from seeing what else we can say on its behalf. To the extent that we’re just more exercised by the thought of a single individual being worked over by hand in close quarters than by the suffering of abstract “civilan casualties” on a satellite image, the distinction is going to be hard to defend. The intentionality angle seems a bit more promising, though it naturally brings us in range of our old (and controversial) friend the doctrine of double effect. Without wading too far into that particular morass, there’s at least a fair case to be made that there’s some important moral difference, and not just for purposes of punishment and incentive, between what foreseeably results from our actions and what we aim at. It may sound pedantic—no doubt these nice distinctions are of limited interest to those civilian casualties—but there’s a fairly straightforward parallel to the common distinction between what we do and what we allow to happen, though plenty of philosophers find that equally spurious, or otherwise justifiable only on the pragmatic grounds that we can set rules for what not to do more easily than we can determine an optimal course of action. I’m admittedly a bit rusty here, but I’m not persuaded this is just some sort of ethical atavism myself. In war, we sometimes (and sometimes wrongly) accept the suffering that results from our actions because we cannot avoid it: suffering will be a side effect of actions aimed at concluding the war, but also of inaction that prolongs it, so we grimly tolerate its presence. When we torture, suffering is the point; we cease to tolerate it and instead aim at it, make it our ally, hope to increase it beyond what the subject can endure.  Bracketing a thousand other sound institutional and practical reasons not to make a policy of torture—and everyone should read Paul Campos’ summary of Rawls’ crucial insight on this score—I find myself thinking that’s a difference that makes a difference. The first type of calculus might be tragic-but-right, or it might be horribly (if misguidedly) wrong. The second is evil.

While I tend to think that assessment probably can be cashed out in a satisfactory way, I realize there are plenty of smart philosophers who think otherwise. In which case, as Zeitlin seems to want to say, you nevertheless go to war with the moral sentiments you have, not the ones a perfectly rational ethicist might wish you had. His point, riffing on Slavoj Zizek, is that we should preserve our visceral horror at the mistreatment of others, even if the pattern of our concern is not strictly rational or consistent.

I think there’s something to that, but want to offer a slightly different spin. In lots of informal ethical deliberation, but especially when we face the kinds of questions that arise in war, we tend to find ourselves torn between what we might very crudely class as two basic ways of thinking: a deontological mode and a consequentialist mode. Each broad category, of course, encompasses innumerable more specific, often quite sophisticated doctrines, but the basic and unavoidable dilemma is whether to think of people as fungible repositories  of an aggregate “human good” to be maximized, or as having some sort of inviolable dignity that limits how we may treat one person, however much others might benefit. Each way of thinking is coherent, defensible, internally consistent, and—in its pure form—completely unacceptable. If killing an innocent person would somehow prevent the deaths of X others, there’s some X for which almost all of us would sadly agree that it was right to do it. But that doesn’t mean, as the old joke has it, that we’re just haggling price: Very few of us are prepared to embrace the idea that we may do anything to anyone, so long as when the smoke clears, the bottom line of the utility ledger is black. Much of ethics consists of attempts to find some theoretically satisfying way to resolve that tension. I doubt anyone’s quite managed it yet. While we await that marvelous unified field theory, we need to make do with what boundary lines we can converge on, whether or not they have a full theoretical defense. We’re not sure exactly how to square the circle, but we’re pretty confident that most of the kludgy compromises come closer to getting it right than the theoretically tidy poles.

Civilian life affords us the luxury of a good deal of deontology—better to let ten guilty men go free, and so on.  In wartime, there’s almost overwhelming pressure to shift to consequentialist thinking… and that’s if you’re lucky enough to have leaders who remember to factor the other side’s population into the calculus.  And so we might think of the horror at torture as serving a kind of second-order function, quite apart from its intrinsic badness relative to other acts of war. It’s the marker we drop to say that even now, when the end is self-preservation, not all means are permitted.  It’s the boundary we treat as uncrossable not because we’re certain it traces the faultline between right and wrong, but because it’s our own defining border; because if we survived by erasing it, whatever survived would be a stranger in the mirror. Which, in his own way, is what Shep Smith was getting at. Probably Khalid Sheik Mohammed deserves to be waterboarded and worse. We do not deserve to become the country that does it to him.

Tags: Moral Philosophy · War


       

 

31 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Ego Boost of the Day « Matt Zeitlin: Impetuous Young Whippersnapper // Apr 28, 2009 at 2:52 pm

    [...] Comments One Waterboarding Is… on Irony and Torturelinks for 2009-04-27… on Irony and Torturemartin on [...]

  • 2 Andserson // Apr 29, 2009 at 6:10 pm

    I think that with respect to interrogational torture your claim that “suffering is the point” is just obviously false. The point (purpose) of the torture is to obtain information. The suffering is the means to that end, not the end itself.

    You might still object to torture on the grounds that it is never ethical to produce a good end through an evil means, but as you acknowledge that principle is itself controversial. As is the idea that the means here is necessarily evil.

    As long as there remains widespread agreement that things like wartime bombing that kills civilians are sometimes justified (even when the civilian deaths are not specifically intended), I think you’ll have a very hard time building a consensus that torture is always and everywhere wrong.

  • 3 Greg N. // Apr 29, 2009 at 10:34 pm

    Andserson’s first thought was my thought, too.

  • 4 Consumatopia // Apr 29, 2009 at 10:47 pm

    I would agree with Anderson that “suffering is the point” is wrong. Suffering would in the same sense be the point of rubber bullets and tear gas.

    Where I fear you’ve both gone wrong is thinking that suffering is source of objection to torture. No one sane would look at the bruises of a rape victim and conclude that because we’re willing to cause collateral fatalities that wartime rape wouldn’t be so bad–if it improves the morale of your warriors and ends the conflict faster, then go to it.

    The problem here is not suffering, but dehumanization and annihilation of autonomy. Draw a point representing rape. Then draw a point representing Manchurian Candidate mind control. Then draw a line between those two points. Along that line, you will find waterboarding, hypothermia, extreme sleep deprivation, simulated execution and all of the other “doesn’t leave a mark” techniques of interrogation–everything worthy of the term “coercive interrogation”.

    Suffering is not the point. Coercion is the point–and not in the usual governmental “do this or else” sense of fines, imprisonment, injury, and execution, but in the sense of eliminating your neural capacity to choose “or else”. If you figured out a way to do this with no suffering whatsoever, it would still be a serious ethical no-no on the same order as rape.

    “Controversial” means nothing. Slavery was controversial, once. Torture is the dark side of the American “can-do” spirit–a belief that any problem can be overcome with sufficient application of force.

  • 5 News for April 29 | Xenia Institute // Apr 29, 2009 at 11:56 pm

    [...] One Waterboarding is a Tragedy; a Million is a Statistic  |  Julian Sanchez Civilian life affords us the luxury of a good deal of deontology—better to let ten guilty men go free, and so on.  In wartime, there’s almost overwhelming pressure to shift to consequentialist thinking… and that’s if you’re lucky enough to have leaders who remember to factor the other side’s population into the calculus.  And so we might think of the horror at torture as serving a kind of second-order function, quite apart from its intrinsic badness relative to other acts of war. It’s the marker we drop to say that even now, when the end is self-preservation, not all means are permitted.  It’s the boundary we treat as uncrossable not because we’re certain it traces the faultline between right and wrong, but because it’s our own defining border; because if we survived by erasing it, whatever survived would be a stranger in the mirror. Which, in his own way, is what Shep Smith was getting at. Probably Khalid Sheik Mohammed deserves to be waterboarded and worse. We do not deserve to become the country that does it to him. [...]

  • 6 Anderson // Apr 30, 2009 at 2:13 am

    consumatopia,

    Your argument makes no sense to me. If dropping bombs on people is not “coercive” and “dehumanizing” then nothing is. And coercion is a routine and relatively uncontroversial aspect of police interrogations and plea bargains between prosecutors and criminal suspects. Suspects are coerced into giving up information through the threat of more penalties. Including the death penalty.

  • 7 Julian Sanchez // Apr 30, 2009 at 9:12 am

    I know people who would agree with Consumatopia’s hypothetical on quasi-Kantian grounds, but I think they’re an incredibly tiny minority. If in fact we had some perfect truth serum, a drug that would simply make it impossible for a captive to withhold information, I expect most of us would welcome it with cheers, in the narrow context of wartime interrogation. (Though for other reasons we might be quite anxious about its non-military uses.)

    When I say “suffering is the point,” I mean this. In military strikes, the suffering is incidental to the goal of reducing an enemy’s capability to wage war; in torture, suffering is the method by which the goal is achieved: If the captive isn’t suffering enough to cause him to break and give up the info, we need to find a way to increase it until he hits the breaking point.

    More concretely: Assume an enemy with crucial information. If a soldier has to shoot him in the leg in order to effect his capture or prevent his escape, the captive will experience some suffering as an inevitable side effect. Most of us are OK with that. Many of us are not OK with shooting the already-restrained captive in the leg (and perhaps threatening the other) in hopes that the fear and agony will make him cough up the information more quickly. There are lots of good reasons for this, at both individual and institutional levels, but I think one of them has to do with the way the second case involves aiming to cause severe pain as a means to one’s end, not just as a necessary consequence of pursuing that end. As I say, I’m not sure that distinction is ultimately tenable — I could make several lengthy arguments why not — but as a descriptive matter, I think some such idea is pretty powerful and widespread, whether or not consciously articulated.

  • 8 Consumatopia // Apr 30, 2009 at 9:43 am

    If a soldier has to shoot him in the leg in order to effect his capture or prevent his escape, the captive will experience some suffering as an inevitable side effect.

    What if instead of a gun the soldier had some kind of a painful yet non-lethal laser, so that by causing suffering at a distance he induced the escapee to stop.

    I’m under the impression that weapons like this are actually being designed to disperse crowds, and they would seem to be employing suffering as the means, not as a side-effect.

  • 9 Julian Sanchez // Apr 30, 2009 at 11:04 am

    Two potential distinctions. One is that the degree of pain inflicted matters as well; nobody thinks it’s impermissible to use *any* amount of discomfort as an inducement. If, instead of a one-shot pain gun, you imagine that you had a captive who for some reason couldn’t be restrained by bars or handcuffs, but only by keeping him in a persistent state of agony that rendered him incapable of getting up and leaving, a lot of people would have a problem with that.

    The other, and perhaps this means I picked a poor example, is that capture implicates the combatant/noncombatant distinction, in that the captive is no longer an active participant in hostilities.

  • 10 Consumatopia // Apr 30, 2009 at 12:17 pm

    Degree matters, but would the threshold for moral intolerability for pain-as-a-means be different from that for pain-as-side-effect? Does this mean that a muscle-incapacitating taser is morally allowed to be more painful than a pain gun?

    Generally, it seems like we have a whole lot of reasons to oppose torture–suffering, coercion, visceral horror, noncombatant status, and a rather long list of pragmatic objections. Yet when we contrive scenarios that isolate any one of these reasons, a lot of folks don’t find it compelling. Maybe that means that none of the reasons alone are sufficient, and only by acting in concert do they make the wrongness clear, like a Morality Voltron.

    On the other hand, maybe the fact that we seem capable of coming up with an ever growing list of reasons against torture suggests that there’s some deeper moral explanation here that we’ve failed to discover.

  • 11 Anderson // Apr 30, 2009 at 1:15 pm

    Julian says: “I’m not sure that distinction is ultimately tenable.”

    I’m pretty sure it isn’t. If torture is always wrong even when it is used for a good end (obtaining information needed to save lives) because it uses an evil means (the infliction of suffering) to achieve that good end, why isn’t modern warfare always wrong for the same reason? Even if the purpose (end) of fighting the war is good, it achieves that good end through the evil means of killing and injuring people. And in modern warfare, this includes killing and injuring both combatants and civilians. Harming enemy civilians is a means to the end of winning the war in both direct ways (killing civilian workers who support the enemy war effort – weapons factories, etc.) and indirect ones (demoralizing the enemy).

    If those who oppose all torture have some moral principle that clearly distinguishes torture from other kinds of harmful act that they do not always oppose, I’d like to know what that principle is.

  • 12 Consumatopia // Apr 30, 2009 at 3:07 pm

    If those who oppose all torture have some moral principle that clearly distinguishes torture from other kinds of harmful act that they do not always oppose, I’d like to know what that principle is.

    A couple have been offered here alone–torture as extraordinary coercion akin to rape, and torture as intentional suffering versus incidental suffering. Maybe you don’t like or care about them, but now you know what a couple of them are. There are more. Most of the problems with torture are utilitarian–that in the long run if not in the short run you’ll regret torture, for reasons Julian described and linked to in the original post.

    But if I could turn the tables a bit, I’m curious if there’s anything you distinguish as less permissible than modern war. Combat rape? Ignoring treaties/ceasefires? Intentionally killing innocents? Most people would find your argument to prove too much.

  • 13 Anderson // Apr 30, 2009 at 3:47 pm

    A couple have been offered here alone–torture as extraordinary coercion akin to rape, and torture as intentional suffering versus incidental suffering.

    And neither of those claimed distinctions holds up to scrutiny. Coercion, as I said, is routine in our criminal justice system. This includes extreme coercion involving threats of death (execution) and risk of serious physical harm (being raped in prison). And as I have also said, the supposed distinction of intent is also highly dubious. Wartime bombing involves the intent to inflict harm (death and injury) in order to impair the ability of the enemy to fight and may also involve the intent to inflict suffering in order to demoralize the enemy. Retribution involves the intent to inflict suffering in order to serve justice. Even if you could come up with a distinction that clearly separates torture from all forms of harmful act that you do not categorically oppose, you would still have to persuade people that the distinction is morally relevant and sufficient to justify an absolute ban on torture. I very strongly doubt you could do that.

    Most of the problems with torture are utilitarian–that in the long run if not in the short run you’ll regret torture, for reasons Julian described and linked to in the original post.

    Moral absolutes are anathema to utilitarianism. If you think you can make a serious case, based on empirical evidence, that utility is maximized by a policy that prohibits all torture, then please do so. I have yet to see any such serious case. Just assertions and anecdotes.

  • 14 Consumatopia // Apr 30, 2009 at 6:53 pm

    You’ve made intellectual errors–you aren’t disagreeing, you’re failing to understand. You’d probably still disagree if you understood, but even so.

    Coercion, as I said, is routine in our criminal justice system. This includes extreme coercion involving threats of death (execution) and risk of serious physical harm (being raped in prison).

    Prison rape is obviously illegitimate (though I’m glad you clarified your support of it, I guess I’ll take that as an answer to question I directed to you), and I already mentioned execution (before you did). The extraordinary coercion I’m talking about is not just an unpleasant choice, but mind control. Maybe you don’t care about that, maybe you think MKULTRA would have been awesome if that stuff worked. But I’m not planning to engage with you on this because it’s taken you too long to get this far–you missed your chance, if you want my services on this point any further you have pay my consulting fee.

    If you think you can make a serious case, based on empirical evidence, that utility is maximized by a policy that prohibits all torture, then please do so. I have yet to see any such serious case. Just assertions and anecdotes.

    Presumably if waterboarding is worth the water, we’d expect to see a serious case for it’s utility beyond an ever changing story about KSM. Jim Manzi’s brief post still manages to contain more evidence that waterboarding correlates with strategic failure than any empirical evidence I’ve come across that it makes us safer.

    But a serious case need not involve numbers. Take the Paul Campos piece:

    What’s much harder is to imagine a real-world set of institutions and social practices which could somehow limit torture to these very rare circumstances while still producing enough benefits to justify its use.

    Do you propose such an institution? The actual world has not seen one yet.

  • 15 Anderson // Apr 30, 2009 at 7:28 pm

    Consumatopia,

    Well, make up your mind. Is interrogational torture always and everywhere wrong because it is “coercion,” or because it is “extraordinary coercion,” or because it is “mind control?”

    As I have already explained, coercion is a routine component of interrogation in our criminal justice system. You don’t define “extraordinary coercion,” but it is hard to see why the threat of a few minutes of severe pain should be considered more coercive (or “dehumanizing”) than the threat of execution or of decades of imprisonment under conditions of solitary confinement or significant risk of physical abuse, including rape, by other inmates. Criminal suspects are routinely coerced into giving up information about their crimes or the names of their accomplices with implicit or explicit threats that they will suffer these horrific consequences if they do not cooperate.

    As for “mind control,” if torture indeed allows the interrogator to literally take control of the mind of his prisoner, then the claim that torture is ineffective must be false. If the prisoner has the information the interrogator is seeking, then torture can compel the prisoner to reveal the information through this process of “mind control.”

  • 16 Anderson // Apr 30, 2009 at 7:39 pm

    Presumably if waterboarding is worth the water, we’d expect to see a serious case for it’s utility beyond an ever changing story about KSM.

    Sorry, you’re the one making the claim that utility would be maximized through a no-exceptions ban on torture. You can’t make that case simply by citing a few cases where torture was not effective. Maybe it’s true that the costs of a policy that permits any amount of torture at all, no matter how restrictive, would outweigh the benefits, but you have offered nothing to support that claim other than anecdote and speculation.

  • 17 Consumatopia // Apr 30, 2009 at 7:55 pm

    Is interrogational torture always and everywhere wrong because it is “coercion,” or because it is “extraordinary coercion,” or because it is “mind control?”

    Not mutually exclusive.

    “coercive interrogation” is not a term I invented, google it and learn something.

    but it is hard to see why the threat of a few minutes of severe pain should be considered more coercive (or “dehumanizing”) than the threat of execution or of decades of imprisonment

    Pretty much everything you said was stupid, but this is the stupidest, so I’m just going to quote it and leave it at that.

    under conditions of solitary confinement or significant risk of physical abuse, including rape, by other inmates

    Stuff you approve of, not me.

    As for “mind control,” if torture indeed allows the interrogator to literally take control of the mind of his prisoner, then the claim that torture is ineffective must be false.

    If torture can force false confessions then it would be extraordinarily coercive like mind control, but would still be ineffective. Even if it could force the truth, the strategic and social costs are still real.

    You’ve clearly never thought about torture before in your life, and you’ve only read about ten percent of what’s been said here.

  • 18 Consumatopia // Apr 30, 2009 at 7:59 pm

    You can’t make that case simply by citing a few cases where torture was not effective.

    KSM is pretty much the entirety of the case that it was effective. It’s a pretty weak case.

    Maybe it’s true that the costs of a policy that permits any amount of torture at all, no matter how restrictive, would outweigh the benefits, but you have offered nothing to support that claim other than anecdote and speculation.

    The links you’ve been offered do make such a case, and if you find those cases unconvincing, you’ll have to take it up with them. What they offered was history and logic. Neither happen to be your strong suit. I’m not sure what you’re comparative advantage in life is, but you should go find it.

  • 19 Anderson // Apr 30, 2009 at 8:45 pm

    Consumatopia,

    Not mutually exclusive.

    You’re evading the question. Do you consider torture to be always wrong because it is merely “coercion?” Or is it always wrong because it is “extraordinary coercion” rather than just “ordinary” coercion? Or is it always wrong not because it is merely “coercion” of some kind, but because it is “mind control?” Which is it? And what exactly do you mean by “extraordinary coercion?” If the threat of a few minutes of severe pain qualifies as “extraordinary coercion,” why doesn’t the threat of execution or prison rape also qualify?

    If torture can force false confessions then it would be extraordinarily coercive like mind control, but would still be ineffective.

    Your claims just get more and more confused. Do you consider torture to be “mind control,” as you previously asserted, or merely “like” mind control, as you assert above? If the latter, how does torture differ from actual mind control, in your view? If torture actually is “mind control,” as you said previously, how can torture be ineffective if it allows the interrogator to literally take control of his prisoner’s mind?

    The links you’ve been offered do make such a case

    No they don’t. They’re just the same old anecdotes and evidence-free speculations that anti-torture absolutists are always peddling. To make a serious case for your utilitarian claim against torture you would need to produce a comprehensive study of torture that attempts to identify and measure all of its costs and benefits and to demonstrate that, under a utilitarian analysis, the costs outweigh the benefits. Do you have such a study? No, of course you don’t. You’re just presenting your own wishful thinking as if it were a serious scientific analysis.

  • 20 Anderson // Apr 30, 2009 at 9:01 pm

    Do you propose such an institution?

    The Constitution grants to the President powers that cannot be removed by statute. As far as I’m aware, whether those powers include the authorization to torture has never been tested in court.

    Other examples of “real-world institutions and social practises” that accommodate the use of torture within our legal system are prosecutorial discretion, the necessity defense, jury nullification and executive pardon.

    Obama’s decision not to prosecute the CIA officers who tortured terrorist suspects during the Bush Administration is yet another example of a real-world policy that accommodates the use of torture.

  • 21 Consumatopia // Apr 30, 2009 at 9:18 pm

    The second quote you make from me answers all relevant questions.

    Utilitarianism is symmetric–you merely need to provide a better case than the other side.

    I hope Julian forgives me for wasting bandwidth on you. Bad netiquette on my part.

  • 22 Consumatopia // Apr 30, 2009 at 9:32 pm

    Obama’s decision not to prosecute the CIA officers who tortured terrorist suspects during the Bush Administration is yet another example of a real-world policy that accommodates the use of torture.

    “Accomodates the use of torture” wasn’t the requirement. “Limit torture to these very rare circumstances while still producing enough benefits to justify its use.” Obama forgiving torture in order to “move forward” while denying that it should have been used in the first place is not an example of this.

  • 23 Anderson // Apr 30, 2009 at 11:03 pm

    Consumatopia,

    The second quote you make from me answers all relevant questions.

    No it doesn’t. It doesn’t answer any of them. How can torture be “mind control” if the victim retains the capacity to lie?

    Utilitarianism is symmetric–you merely need to provide a better case than the other side.

    Yes, I know that. That’s why I said that to make a serious case for your utilitarian claim against torture you would need to produce a comprehensive study of torture that demonstrates that, under a utilitarian analysis, the costs outweigh the benefits. You don’t have any such study, do you? You’re substituting wishful thinking for scientific analysis.

    “Accomodates the use of torture” wasn’t the requirement. “Limit torture to these very rare circumstances while still producing enough benefits to justify its use.”

    You claimed that “the actual world has not seen” an “institution” that meets that requirement. I gave you some examples of “institutions and social practises” in the “actual world” that accommodate the use of torture. Show us how you have determined that these institutions do not meet the requirement you state.

    And if you think those “institutions and social practises” do not meet the requirement, just how exactly do you propose to meet it? Eliminate prosecutorial discretion? Eliminate the necessity defense? Eliminate jury nullification? Eliminate presidential pardons? Laws are only as good as the willingness of the government and the people to enforce them. As Obama’s refusal to prosecute Bush Administration torturers demonstrates, we don’t need to write explicit permission to torture into any of our laws in order for our interrogators to use torture and get away with it. Even a Democratic president is willing to give the torturers immunity for their “crimes.”

  • 24 Anderson // Apr 30, 2009 at 11:36 pm

    You also need to make up your mind whether you’re a utilitarian or a deontologist. If you think torture is always and everywhere wrong because it violates some supposedly inviolable moral rule against “mind control” or “extraordinary coercion” or “intent to cause suffering” or whatever else it may be (you don’t seem to be able to make up your mind – you’re just throwing out anything you can think of and hoping something sticks), then a utilitarian test is irrelevant. You would still consider torture to be wrong even if it passed that test. Conversely, if you think torture is wrong because it fails a utilitarian test, then all your guff about “mind control” and so on is completely irrelevant. The fact that you’re trying to make both arguments simultaneously is a sign of your insecurity. You recognize that both of them are weak, and are just hoping that if someone isn’t persuaded by one of them they’ll be persuaded by the other.

  • 25 Homo Blogicus, Pup, Pakistan, Torture, Marijuana, and the Revenge of Geography - 2parse // May 1, 2009 at 11:25 am

    [...] Sanchez blogs reflectively about “our special horror over torture” – especially as related to aerial bombing. He concludes: Civilian life affords us the luxury [...]

  • 26 Why Should I Care If a Terrorist Was Tortured? - 2parse // May 4, 2009 at 1:12 pm

    [...] would be glad if something awful and painful befell the terrorists who wish us harm. But we do not deserve to become a country that does that. As a country, we are not judged by our faith alone – but by how we act. We have now seen the [...]

  • 27 Consumatopia // May 4, 2009 at 4:58 pm

    How can torture be “mind control” if the victim retains the capacity to lie?

    Because they lose the capacity to remain silent.

    Yes, I know that. That’s why I said that to make a serious case for your utilitarian claim against torture you would need to produce a comprehensive study of torture that demonstrates that, under a utilitarian analysis, the costs outweigh the benefits.

    No, you don’t understand. Not merely symmetry between costs and benefits, but symmetry between arguments of expected value. You insist on certainty from me but present absolutely no evidence from your own side.

    You should probably consider this, though.

    And if you think those “institutions and social practises” do not meet the requirement, just how exactly do you propose to meet it?

    I claim it can’t be met. You’ve provided no evidence otherwise.

    You also need to make up your mind whether you’re a utilitarian or a deontologist.

    Ethical intutions are a product of evolution and therefore deontological and utilitarian convergence is the norm. Ticking bombs and trolley cars are only interesting because they’re exceptions that seem to violate said norm.

    I’ve been sticking to the deontological case here because I’m confident of my case and I give you links to others making utilitarian cases because I’m confident they make their cases. I’m fully confident in both sides, and I think anyone reading our exchange (pity upon them) would find little here to indicate my confidence is misplaced.

  • 28 Anderson // May 4, 2009 at 6:15 pm

    Because they lose the capacity to remain silent.

    How do you know? Show us your evidence that torture victims lose the capacity to remain silent. Even if your claim is true, it doesn’t answer my question. If a torture victim retains the capacity to lie, the torturer cannot be in control of his mind.

    Not merely symmetry between costs and benefits, but symmetry between arguments of expected value.

    “Expected value” is the benefit I am referring to. Again, to make a serious case for your utilitarian claim against torture you would need to produce a comprehensive study of torture that demonstrates that, under a utilitarian analysis, the costs outweigh the benefits. You have no such study, do you? Your claim that the costs are greater than the benefits is pure speculation on your part. Wishful thinking.

    I claim it can’t be met.

    Then the argument is nonsensical. If torture cannot be limited in the way described whether it is lawful or not, how is that an argument for keeping it a crime in all cases?

    I’ve been sticking to the deontological case here because I’m confident of my case

    Your deontological “case” is simply a rule. Why should anyone else accept that rule? Why should anyone else believe that torture is always and everywhere wrong? In fact, polling data suggests that a large majority of Americans reject your rule. Pew has been polling Americans on the ethics of torture since 2004, and has consistently found that only about one-third of respondents believe torture is never justified. Support for your rule seems to be even weaker among academic philosophers.

  • 29 Consumatopia // May 4, 2009 at 8:33 pm

    How do you know?

    If torture cannot compel testimony, then what is the point of torture?

    ” Expected value” is the benefit I am referring to.

    No, not “expected value”, but argument of expected value. I have an argument against it, you have presented no argument for it. Symmetry implies that I win.

    You have no such study, do you?

    This book has some. Get back to me when you’ve gotten through it’s extensive footnotes.

    If torture cannot be limited in the way described whether it is lawful or not, how is that an argument for keeping it a crime in all cases?

    Your misunderstanding would be clear to anyone who read the original link.

    In fact, polling data suggests that a large majority of Americans reject your rule.

    Nobody said that a majority of Americans followed deontological ethics, so how could they be convinced by a deontological argument? My point is that whatever premises you start with, utilitarian or deontological, the argument against torture is sound.

    Perhaps your difficult is that you can’t see past premises, and fail to realize that it’s possible to argue from more than one set.

  • 30 Anderson // May 5, 2009 at 1:10 pm

    If torture cannot compel testimony, then what is the point of torture?

    Nonresponsive. You claimed “they lose the capacity to remain silent.” I ask again, how do you know this? Show us your evidence that torture victims lose the capacity to remain silent. If you have no evidence, I can only assume you are just making this claim up out of thin air. Same as with all your other empirical claims.

    No, not “expected value”, but argument of expected value. I have an argument against it, you have presented no argument for it. Symmetry implies that I win.

    Incomprehensible. What “argument of expected value?” If you think you have an argument demonstrating that the benefits of torture (in terms of “expected value,” or however else you want to express them) are outweighed by the costs of torture, then make that argument.

    This book has some. Get back to me when you’ve gotten through it’s extensive footnotes.

    That book contains no study of torture that demonstrates, or even claims to demonstrate, that, under a utilitarian analysis, the costs of torture outweigh the benefits. If you think there is such a study, identify it. State the title of the study and name its authors.

    Your misunderstanding would be clear to anyone who read the original link.

    Another nonsequitur. If torture cannot be limited in the way described whether it is lawful or not, how is that an argument for keeping it a crime in all cases? Answer the question.

    Nobody said that a majority of Americans followed deontological ethics,

    I know nobody said that. I’m pointing out to you that polling data suggests that most Americans reject your deontological rule against torture. As do most academic moral philosophers. Only anti-torture absolutists claim that the use of torture is never justified. You’re a member of a small minority of anti-torture fundamentalists.

    My point is that whatever premises you start with, utilitarian or deontological, the argument against torture is sound.

    Simply chanting this assertion over and over again won’t make it any less false.

  • 31 Consumatopia // May 6, 2009 at 3:25 pm

    You claimed “they lose the capacity to remain silent.” I ask again, how do you know this?

    If torture cannot compel testimony, then what is the point of torture? With no answer to this question, all the questions you ask become irrelevant.

    What “argument of expected value?

    The two that you and I are making. You have to make one to have a utilitarian opinion on this issue. Understand yet?

    That book contains no study of torture that demonstrates, or even claims to demonstrate, that, under a utilitarian analysis, the costs of torture outweigh the benefits[emphasis added]

    “Rejali also tackles the controversial question of whether torture really works, answering the new apologists for torture point by point.”

    It clearly claims to. Now read the book and explain to me what’s wrong with Rejali’s claim. Cite his points page by page and what’s wrong with them.

    If torture cannot be limited in the way described whether it is lawful or not, how is that an argument for keeping it a crime in all cases?

    Your misunderstanding would be clear to anyone who read the original link.

    I know nobody said that.I’m pointing out to you that polling data suggests that most Americans reject your deontological rule against torture.

    Which would only be relevant if you thoughtt I said a majority of Americans followed deontological ethics.

    You are bad at explaining the relevance of your questions, and I tend to think that’s because they aren’t relevant.

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