Friday, December 2, 2011

The merits of a discussion about Torture

I would like to bring up for our online discussion, what I already mentioned in class today. Personally, I have a really hard time understanding the merit of a discussion about torture after we learned that interrogational torture does not work. Of course, we can get engaged in a discussion about the morality and legality of torture, but I don‘t see the sense of it. Maybe, this is my fault and if so, please correct me. Nevertheless, it is a dictate of logic that a conclusion always has to be wrong if the premisses from which it was derived are wrong. In order to point that out clearly, I would like to give an example from our daily lives. In the last couple of weeks, I saw you guys working on your schedules for the spring semester. You decide what classes you want to take on the base of your interests and of what your major tells you to choose. Hence, there has to be some kind of information about the content of the classes and how you can count them. Based on these information, you finally choose your classes and with a little help of luck, you get them. But what if these information that you needed to make your decision were just wrong? Let‘s imagine, the syllabus of a class will be changed dramatically so that you cannot count that class anymore as the one that you need. Clearly, it makes no sense anymore to take that class.

Talking about the morality of torture by using the argument of necessity is analog to this example, because it is simply a logic fallacy to use a technique that causes wrong information (if it causes information at all) in order to get right information.

Additionally, Dershowitz‘ argument that we have to legalize it in order to make people aware of the immorality of torture does not convince me as well. Granted, it could be a practical way of preventing people from doing the actual act of torturing but that must not be the goal of a philosophical approach about torture. It could be a political one yes, but not a philosophical, but even here, as Tommy already pointed out in class, it is actually not a matter of laws, for torture is already illegal. It is more a matter of the enforcement of existing laws. Hence, rather than making this practical approach, we ought maybe think about, what kind of morality stands behind these actions.

I‘m curios to read your answers!


  1. I completely agree with you that arguing about the morality of torture does not matter when we first understand that it simply does not perform its function, so why do we even need a discussion? This logic makes sense on the most basic level. However, playing devil's advocate (because we all love a good devil's advocate!), those who argue for the right to torture probably argue that it is the only option left within a dire situation. Yes, it is an option proven not to work, which seemingly would prevent it from happening. Why would we perform an action proven to not serve its purpose? Well, the devil's advocate might say that any option is better than zero option at all. They might say that it is better to have the slightest chance of getting information rather than zero chance at all by not doing anything. Again, I do not agree with this devil's advocate, because I think it is both illogical and immoral to torture a human regardless of the circumstances. However, I think we need a better argument than "it simply does not work," which is where we bring in the elements of its illegality, its immorality, and its inhumanity.

  2. I think that Flo's comment in class about the psychology behind why people want to torture was a very good view of things. When there are lives on the line, it is in human instinct to desperately want to do something to help. Torture has a very romanticized idea of being the final tool to pull out and save the day. This is so engrained in our society that even with proof that it does not work, there is still a push to try just in case someone is saved in the process.

  3. I agree with you that if we accept that torture does not work, there is no reason to debate about it in any other way. But as it is now, not everyone in a position of power believes torture to be futile. These people will continue to use it, and they might not listen to others saying it does not work. For that reason, it is still necessary to talk about torture.

  4. I agree with all of y'all. The issue must be discussed because those responsible for upholding the law against torture can fail to do that. For example, Dick Cheney repeatedly noted his support for "enhanced interrogation techniques," including water boarding, that we would definitely classify as torture based on our definition. Clearly, he knows that torture is illegal and has access to information on its effectiveness. Whether his endorsement of torture comes from a place of desperation like Flo discussed, a position like the one Leanne mentioned, or some power play, it gives an example of the reality of government-endorsed torture even in the face of the fact that it doesn't work.


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