The Ethics of Torture

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The Ethics of Torture

Undoubtedly, torture has a negative meaning and mostly evokes reproaches. At the same time, torture is an effective approach towards achieving positive results, especially in political or, rather to say, collective terms. Therefore, the ambivalence of torture is obvious. The question is whether, despite its unethical and immoral implications, the state should consider this action as an appropriate method of getting certain advantages. The corresponding debates reveal the following rationale: torture is wicked and, thus, it does not belong to the set of ethical actions. Nevertheless, it often serves the purpose of saving people’s lives as well as their physical and mental health. This paper aims to scrutinize the nature of torture in terms of morality, legacy, and ethical theories such as ontological, deontological, utilitarianism, and natural law.

Standards of Morality

The above-revealed rationale suggests that torture is the instrumental good subordinated towards the aim of obtaining the ultimate good, that is, individuals’ happiness. For instance, despite being unethical, the torture of a terrorist may result in saving hundreds of lives. Comprehending this idea, the ethical emphasis shifts forming the question whether it is ethical not to apply to torture while attempting to save people’s lives. This example explicitly illustrates the controversial nature of torture; however, it also implies that there are moral agents who are responsible for taking appropriate decisions. In this regard, one can rightfully presume that the attitudes and circumstances matter, which means that there are legal and moral frameworks that address the question of the appropriateness of torture.

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Peter Cane (2008) divides legal and ethical frameworks in accordance with their agents into ‘the political’ and ‘the moral’ concepts. This idea implies that these two planes contain diverse rationale towards torture as well as diverse approaches towards maintaining the life order. In particular, even though ‘the political’ domain does not explicitly support the implementation of tortures, such cases gain publicity from time to time. The use of torture is explained as the justified evil that serves the noble purpose of assuring safer surrounding to the US citizens. Thus, it is natural to assume that ‘the political’ domain aims to protect the entire society and, consequently, it is subordinated to the collective needs of citizens. This framework manifests itself through the state legislative regulations. At the same time, to prevent the abuse of humans’ rights by the state authorities, Civil Justice includes the regulations that protect one’s inviolability (Howard, 2004). These are the manifestations of ‘the moral’ domain that is more oriented towards the individuals needs.

To limit the discussed ambivalence, the US government endeavors to develop the concept of legal moralism, which suggests the oneness of ‘the political’ and ‘the moral’ domains. In these circumstances, people are afraid that “there would be a significant loss of liberty, and legal sanctions would be applied in a myriad of cases in which sanctions are ultimately unjustifiable” (Galvin, 2008). Nonetheless, the increased role of ‘the moral’ can lead to the elimination of torture even though its relevance remains controversial. Thus, according to the standards of morality, the use of torture is reproachful; it is a violation of the human rights. Therefore, Civil Justice contains a number of laws that assure privacy and inviolability to every person. Simultaneously, violating the standard of morality, ‘the political’ domain may consider implementing torture as an instrumental evil in order to ensure safety.

Torture Violations

The act of torture violates basic human rights, because it neglects a person’s physical inviolability and dignity. Besides, it compromises human’s right for life. Nonetheless, being viewed as an approach that correlates with punishment and, in particular, death penalty, torture remains a controversial notion. It is natural to presume that moral agents play the core by setting moral standards and contributing to the spread of these frameworks all over the world (Shaw, 2003). In a case if moral agents consider applying to the acts of torture, it encourages the other individuals to treat this violation as acceptable. It is necessary to clarify that the moral agents are people (states, domains) who possess the greatest share of power and, thus, have significant impact on the global order (including its ethical and moral sides). Given the definition, in a global meaning, moral agents are well-developed states whose actions go beyond the state borders and affect the lives of moral subjects.

It is appropriate to conclude that the acts of torture violate human rights and moral agents are responsible for such violations. Besides, applying to torture deteriorates morality not only inside a local community but it also tends to have significant negative implications for moral subjects worldwide. Considering the magnetite of this ethical issue, one should detect and observe the approaches towards the justification of torture.

Torture Justification

The humanity began to scrutinize the dubious appropriateness of torture long time ago. Therefore, the modern philosophy contains a set of ethical theories that strive to explain the acts of torture. This section aims to explore the plausible justification of the discussed violation from the perspective of ontological, deontological, utilitarian, and natural law ethical theories.

Ontological Ethical Theory

According to ontological ethical theory, if the act of torture happens, it has the cause and the purpose and, thus, it is appropriated. This theory explains that “there are some rules that conduce to a peaceful, free, and ordered society and others that do not and it is only the former that will, in the end, be selected” (Hamowy, 2003, p. 261). Given this rationale, one can rightfully presume that the purpose of torture is to make order. As a result, it still exists in the today’s civilized society.

Deontological Ethical Theory

In terms of deontological ethical theory, conducting the act of torture is the implication of one’s duty. This justification resonates with the above-revealed rationale regarding the appropriateness of torturing a terrorist with the purpose to protect people and, by this, provide the higher good. Besides, it also correlates with the notions of ‘the political,’ because the direct obligation of the government is to ensure safety and benevolent life conditions to its citizens. Therefore, despite obvious ethical concerns, it is possible to justify torture applying to deontological ethical theory.

Utilitarian Ethical Theory

Utilitarianism suggests the action is right if it inflicts positive outcomes. What is more, the amount of positive implications matters. According to this rationale, it is acceptable to sacrifice the interests and rights of one person in favor of several or many people. For instance, if torture results in saving people’s lives, one should consider this violation of human rights as justifiable.

Utilitarian ethical theory strongly correlates with the above-discussed theory of duties (deontology). In particular, a person (state, authority) who is responsible for taking an uneasy decision of applying torture is a moral agent who has the duty to assure the ultimate good for the greatest possible amount of people. Therefore, in terms of utilitarianism, the acts of torture are justifiable.

Natural Law Ethical Theory

This ethical theory explains that:

natural law dictates that men, by virtue of their nature and the nature of the universe in which they all exist, are subject to the system of objective rules, good for all times and all places, governing how they are to behave toward each other, and that man’s reasoning ability provides him the instrument whereby he can uncover these rules (Hamowy, 2003, p. 261).

In this regard, the comprehension that torture is the violation of human rights is the implication of the natural law that dictates the rules about right and wrong. Thus, it is possible to assume that Civil Justice is the logical continuation of the natural laws. Specifically, this set of laws serves to protect citizens from the state’s abuse of power. Naturally, the acts of torture belong to the undesirable abuse and, thus, Civil Justice as practical manifestation of the natural law protects citizens from such negative implications. Given the rationale, this ethical theory does not justify torturing. On the other hand, by empowering people with ‘reasoning ability,’ it implies that the discussed violation of human rights is justifiable through the other ethical theories.

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Summing up the above-mentioned, it is appropriate to state that torture is highly ambivalent, since it contains both positive and negative implications. It is an instrumental good or justified evil that is necessary for the achievement of the higher good. The acts of torture are the violation of human rights that, most commonly, takes place when state abuses the rights and freedoms of citizens. In these terms, torture splits into legal and moral domains, the first of which belongs to the government and, thus, it serves to protect the collective benefits, for instance common safety. Simultaneously, the second refers to individual and protects one’s right for life and dignity. Ontological ethical theory justifies torture by explaining that every existing matter has the reason for existence. Besides, in terms of deontological ethical theory, torturing becomes the duty of the moral agents who must take uneasy decisions in order to protect moral subjects and set the standards of morality. Moreover, according to utilitarian approach, it is necessary to anticipate the outcomes of every action and behave in a way that ensures the highest good for the greatest amount of people. Therefore, it justifies the acts of torture since its purpose is to achieve good. In contrast, the natural law ethical theory suggests that torture cannot be justified, because it conflicts with the natural laws.