University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
To torture or not to torture prisoners
Torture is taken to be a process of inflicting pain to someone in whatever form for purposes of obtaining information. The information to be given is usually a confession. In this regard, torture can take a form of physical form or mental as well as emotional form. Torture is a painful experience on the side of the person to whom the torture is done. The main goal is to force a person to confess and produce some vital information. Torture is often used as a judicial process of impelling prisoners to give information. In this paper, the argument on the justification of torturing prisoners is advanced after analyzing several ethical theories that discuss torture of prisoners as discussed by Holmes.
The first theory is that of utilitarianism. According to this theory, the good for the majority is the goal. Therefore, it justifies torture for the prisoners by stating that torturing one person for the good of the majority is acceptable (Holmes, 1984). The second theory worth mentioning is the Kantian duty-based ethics. According to this theory, reason defines morality (Maliks, & Føllesdal, 2014). Therefore, with the right reason, then the act done is moral. Consequently, since torturing prisoners is not thought to be right, it is unacceptable. In other words, torture is unjustified. Moreover, virtue ethics also contribute to the view of torturing prisoners. The theory is grounded on Christianity. It advocates that the motive of the person determines the justification of the action (Holmes, 1984). Since torture is not virtuous, it becomes unjustified in this regard. Lastly, the Christian-principle based ethics can be viewed in terms of love and justice. Whereas people are called to love one another, there is room for punishment when a wrong act is committed. Therefore, according to this view, torture is justified to the extent that the basic Christian principles are upheld.
The best method to answer the question of whether to torture or not is utilitarianism. The theory puts emphasis on the good of the majority. The theory does not state that torture is good, but it justifies it when it is done on one person for the good of many people.
I disagree with a member who advocates that Kantian duty-based ethics should be used in defining the morality of torture for the prisoners. According to this theory, the right reason defines the morality of any action. Accordingly, right reason may vary among individuals. While some may find it rightful to subject a prisoner on torture, others may feel otherwise. In addition, some people may torture prisoners based on their feelings and not based on the requirements of the law. Therefore, this theory cannot sufficiently bring about justice. Failure to torture a prisoner may not produce the information that may be necessary to save the majority of people from possible catastrophic events in the future. Again, torturing prisoners to settle conflicting feelings may not be justified because it does not add up to justice. Utilitarianism theory is the only one that answers the question that prisoners should be tortured if the result is the greater good for the majority. It gives a better reason for carrying out torture against prisoners. A prisoner is a wrong doe who deserves a punishment anyway. Considering that the Kantian duty-based ethics is not adequate to get vital information from the prisoners, it cannot be helpful.
Holmes, A. F. (1984). Ethics, approaching moral decisions. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.
Maliks, R., & Føllesdal, A. (2014). Kantian theory and human rights. New York, US.