In the United States legal system, torture is currently defined as “an act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control.” as defined by Office of the Law Revision Counsel, U.S. House of Representatives (US Code, 1) Though this is a seemingly black and white definition, the conditional “…other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions…” have led many to question what precisely this entails. In other words, what are the lawful sanctions that permit such acts? Are they ethically right? Where is the line drawn as torture in this respect? Several arguments are offered.
To test what each ethical theory would say regarding the justification of such acts, I am utilizing the ‘ticking time bomb’ thought experiment. Simply put, this experiment provides a hypothetical scenario where an individual has knowledge of vital information regarding the disarmament of an active weapon that could potentially kill millions of individuals. (Wiki 1) Do we torture the individual? The norm is that Consequentialist theories (teleological) seem to have an almost universal stance supporting while Non-Consequentialist theories (deontological and natural rights) represent almost the entirety of the opposition. (Wiki 2) However, as you will learn, it is not as clearly defined as one may think.
Utilitarianism is roughly defined as being procedurally or morally right only if it benefits the majority of everyone. (Jason 5.8; 1) Following this model only regarding procedure, the action of torturing a suspect seems without a doubt, just. However, this is simply regarding the action not the moral. Morally speaking, if we define torture as acceptable when the loss of life can be averted, there seems to always be cases where torture may not lead to a majority benefit. (Stanford 1) Also, one might be able to analyze the cost-benefit analysis in a specific situation, but what about the next time? Known as ‘the calculation problem’, it states that because we cannot always weigh the ‘prerequisite to outcome’ ratio the same in all situations, it is impossible to make a morally permissible universal rule, in this case, regarding torture. (Jason 5.8; 2)
Next up is Ethical Egoism. Similar to Utilitarianism, it states that an act is procedurally or morally right. However, it is so only if it benefits the specific individual committing the act at that moment. (Jason 5.2; 1) Would it benefit an individual to torture someone? The individual could gain something from it such as prestige for diverting a threat or knowledge otherwise not obtained. But is it worth it? According to Joe Navarro of the F.B.I. “Only a psychopath can torture and be unaffected.” (NY 1) This is a question of good over bad for each specific individual to decide if they would or not torture....