karl_lembke (karl_lembke) wrote,

A response to a comment

A while back (September 5), I posted an open letter to pecunium on the subject of torture.

Last week (November 26), nelc posted a comment here

My response is behind this
We're a bit more sophisticated, these days. We can use logic and deductive reasoning, analysis, forensics, judgement that isn't distorted by fear and panic and outrageous hypothetical examples (ticking bombs, indeed!). These methods work, they work verifiably, they are efficient, and they are moral. They are standard police work.

Sources? How reliable are they? Are they in fact, as you seem to imply in your contrast with torture, free of contamination? How many people have been released from death row following DNA testing or other improved forensic methods? If the methods weren't noise-free back then, how do we know they are now?

(And I have some comments about standard police work. I know someone who was arrested for sexual assault on his sister. She complained to her counselor, he was dragged downtown and questioned for six hours without counsel or food. Eventually, he broke down and told the police what they wanted to hear. By Karney's definition, he was tortured. By mine, he was coerced. By your definition, what was he?)

The utilitarian argument is not to be discarded just because it can be turned against us. Because what's left for the proponents of torture after we do that: if you're not doing it because you believe it works, why are you doing it? If you claim that it works, then that claim has to tested. It's a utilitarian argument that you yourself are attempting to use to justify the act, so it must be answered in utilitarian terms.

I'm not discarding it. I'm saying Karney's premise – that torture never works – is false.

Now mind you, I'm, not saying every prisoner should be waterboarded on his way to the thumbscrews and rack. I'm saying that torture is a tool which should not be taken off the table, but kept available for use. It should be used with judgment and discernment, and as rarely as possible, but it should not be discarded without solid proof that other methods are always more effective in every circumstance.

As Mr. Burgess-Jackson says:
Second, there are factual questions. Given a conception of torture, how widespread is it? Is there less of it now than there used to be, and if so, why? Who practices it, and why? What forms does it take? Is waterboarding torture? How much pain or suffering does a particular form of torture typically inflict? How much pain or suffering does a particular instance of torture actually inflict? Is torture effective as a means of gathering information? If so, how effective? Factual questions such as these are about how things are. Answering them requires investigation, consultation (with relevant experts), and observation. Philosophers, as such, have no expertise in this area. This doesn't mean philosophers can't make factual claims, for they can and do; it means their philosophical training doesn't make their factual claims more likely to be true. In other words, philosophers have no comparative advantage in ascertaining how things are.

Third, there are evaluative questions. Given a conception of torture, is torture permissible? If so, in what circumstances? Is torture ever obligatory? If so, why? Should the law permit torture? If so, how should it be regulated to prevent (or minimize the likelihood of) abuse? Perhaps torture should be illegal even if it is, in rare cases, morally permissible. Law and morality are different institutions, after all, with different purposes, standards, and limitations. A thing can be morally permissible but legally impermissible, just as a thing can be legally permissible but morally impermissible.

These are the questions I'm asking, and so far the only answers I get from most people are arguments by assertion, appeal to authority, and argumentum ad hominem.

It's very disappointing.

  • Post a new comment


    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded 

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.