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Confronting TortureEssays on the Ethics, Legality, History, and Psychology of Torture Today$
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Scott A. Anderson and Martha C. Nussbaum

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780226529387

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2018

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226529554.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM CHICAGO SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.chicago.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of Chicago Press, 2022. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in CHSO for personal use.date: 28 June 2022

Torture and Method in Moral Philosophy

Torture and Method in Moral Philosophy

(p.195) Chapter 9 Torture and Method in Moral Philosophy
Confronting Torture

Jeff Mcmahan

University of Chicago Press

This chapter considers whether moral philosophers should accept as part of their moral methodology the study hypothetical cases, such as ticking bomb scenarios, in thinking about torture. In response to the criticism of such scenarios by Albie Sachs, this chapter argues that such cases are useful for thinking about the ethics of torture if their function is properly understood. Such thought experiments are quite typical of moral philosophy in general, and do not necessarily generate objections. Moreover, those who engage in evil actions render themselves liable to torture as a means of prevention or self-defense. Hence this chapter rejects any absolute moral prohibition on torture. Nonetheless, there are pragmatic, consequentialist considerations that can justify an absolute legal prohibition on torture. Such a legal rule would help prevent mistakes and help prevent the torture of the innocent and others not liable to attack on just war theory. An absolute legal prohibition on torture is justified because on balance no more flexible stricture on its use is likely to be as productive of good outcomes.

Keywords:   Albie Sachs, consequentialism, ethics of torture, hypothetical cases, just war theory, moral absolutes, moral methodology, philosophy of torture, ticking bomb scenarios, torture

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