Tuesday, November 22, 2005

more on "torture"

Jeff Goldstein is having an interesting discussion on so-called torture (really just abusive treatment). So far he has gotten about a hundred more comments on his post than I got on mine.

Here was my comment on the thread:
To the people who have compared Jeff and the others to moral relativists and utilitarians: you don’t know what you are talking about. Moral relativism and utilitarianism are not the position that the morality of an act is relative to or dependent on the situation. Nearly everyone believes that.

Cutting someone open with a scalpel is bad if you do it for fun, and good if you do it for surgery; it’s relative. Punching someone in the nose is bad if you do it out of anger and good if you do it out of self-defense; it depends on the situation. Killing is bad if you do it out of greed but good if you do it to save someone’s life from a homicidal maniac. See a pattern here?

To extend the pattern: abusing someone with sleep deprivation, water boarding, threats, or whatever, is bad if you do it for the wrong reasons but good if you do it for good reasons. And saving people from homicidal maniacs is a good reason.

The only excused for disagreeing with any of these statements is that you are an absolutist or a puritan in certain areas. I could argue why that is a bad thing, but I don’t have to. I can just explain why, unless you are an absolutist in all areas, you are being inconsistent.

To see this, tell me which is worse to do to a person: killing him or water boarding him?

If you have trouble answering that, then let me ask you: if you have a choice between being killed or being water boarded, which would you chose? OK, good; glad we cleared that up.

Now, is it good to kill someone in order to prevent him from blowing up a busload of school kids? If you say “yes”, then how can it not be good to do something less extreme (like water boarding) to the same person for the same effect?

If you are not an absolutist pacifist and you are an absolutist against all kinds of prisoner abuse, then you are being morally inconsistent.

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