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An Overview Of Torture And Ethics Philosophy Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Philosophy
Wordcount: 1528 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Torture can be defined as mental or physical harm to a human being. Torturing of an enemy or of any individual and the ethics of it is a very controversial subject today. After 9/11 it became even more controversial. There is always the question of whether using torture to obtain information that could save lives outweighs the ethical and moral obligations not to use it. Human rights come into play here also and what global ramifications it could have. The question is torture ever justified.

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American free society is supposed to be just that free. Free to come and go, speak his or her minds, and be a democratic society. Americans have set themselves to have a very high standard of morality and ethics. If torture is considered morally wrong than does it lower the high moral standards of American society if used by them. Because terrorism has hit American soil torture has become a philosophical and political debate. The main point of this debate is whether torture should be absolutely prohibited or under special circumstances should torture be allowed to prevent a greater menace to society. If the position is moral absolutism it will hold that according to Evans (2007) an “individual must “do things only when they are right” rather than calculating the consequences of their actions” (para. 1). This perspective condemns torture by arguing that it is antithetical to human rights. Torture morally unjustified because treating people as pawns that can information can be gotten from them through pain is dehumanizing (Evans, 2007).

Americans consider themselves a moral and ethical society, so if torture is unethical than it would lower the moral standards of American society. Some scholars criticize the moral perfectionism of the absolutists. These scholars believe that one would feel more moral guilt if there were hundreds of innocents that die if the choice would be to not torture one guilty person. They believe that the rights of some must be sacrificed to save lives of many (Evans, 2007). This type of thinking goes against the ethics of most American society.

International law strictly prohibits any type of torture; it is a violation of human rights. According to Human Rights Education Association (2011) “under the international criminal prosecution system all governments are responsible for prosecuting torturing offenders” (Rights at stake, para. 4). Universal jurisdiction is the principle that requires all countries where torture offenders are located to either extradite them for prosecution by the country where the torture happened or to prosecute the offenders themselves. It is rare that these prosecutions actually happen. Some of the reasons are evidence, national amnesty laws, jurisdiction, flawed investigations, corruption, and political (Human Rights Education Association, 2011). Even though there are the international laws against torture because of human rights in different countries it still goes on without any repercussions. Torture could have global implications. It is like the saying “an eye for an eye”. If one country is accused of and proven to torture other country citizens then the citizen’s country will feel obligated to do the same. It could be a rolling stone that never stops.

Teleological theory could be used to justify torture. This theory “determines the moral worth of an action by the extent to which that action accomplishes a purpose or an end” (Souryal, 2007, p. 71). If the consequences from torturing someone for information ends with a good result and information can be used for the greater good, then torture is a good consequence. If the end result brings about the wrong consequences in this theory the act could be wrong, but the chance would be worth taking. An example would be that if a crime has been committed knowing that one may be tortured may deter another from committing the same crime. Teleologists use hierarchy based on the quality. The belief is that the goodness of justice is worth more than the goodness of pleasure (Souryal, 2007, p. 71). The justification for torture will not be for pleasure but for justice. The theory holds with “morality of an action is based on the morality of its consequences” (Souryal, 2007, p. 72). Society’s interests as a whole is the moral consideration because the agent of universal happiness is morality (Souryal, 2007, p. 72).

Another theory to that could be used to justify torture would be the deontological theory. The intent or consequences of an act does not matter if the act is right. The act is all that matters in this theory. With this theory torture could be considered inconsequential. If torture proves to be harmful it makes no difference if the end results is a correct action such as saving lives. This theory is considered moral or immoral on two standards: “(1) what they are or (2) what principle they conform to” (Souryal, 2007, p. 70). Torture will bring out the truth, so the truth is good regardless of how this truth was obtained (Souryal, 2007, p. 70).

One theory that may used against torture may be the utilitarian theory. Utilitarianism is for extending social reform. This theory is aimed at expanding political privileges. It would like for the less fortunate to have a higher standard of living. The theory is for correcting injustices caused by “harsh and corrupt penal codes” (Souryal, 2007, p. 171). Torture is a harsh penal code so therefore Utilitarianism could not be used to justify it. Utilitarianism takes human dignity into consideration whereas torture does not. Utilitarianism brought about political social reforms. The theory was meant to create a civilized community that would work for the common good (Souryal, 2007, p. 171). Torture is not a civilized action and cannot be used for the common good.

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Natural law is defined as laws that control human behavior and regulate the right way to live (Banks, 2009, p. 13). Natural law is not used to justify torture. Humans search for moral absolutes that define to them what is normal and natural (Banks, 2009, p. 13). Using torture to gain information is not natural and not in human nature to do. Natural law dictates what is right and what is wrong. Torture within a human conscience is morally wrong so therefore within the natural law it is considered wrong. Natural law leans more toward human rights and torture is against human rights.

Morality during the time of conflict between nations and terrorism is ever being questioned. The 9/11 attacks on the United States has brought American’s morals into question. These prisoners have been tortured either for information, to try and stop another attack, or out of angry for what happened. This information which has been publically made available has brought angry from Americans as well as others from foreign soil. The acts of other countries brought cries of human rights being violated from Americans but the fear and angry has led to violate other’s rights. These acts can and eventually will lead others to torture Americans as happen quite frequently on foreign soil. The international humanitarian law states according to Human Rights Education Association (2011) “the right to freedom from torture is absolute and includes times of war” (International humanitarian law, para. 1). The Geneva Convention in 1949 prohibited torture. The military has a duty to protect civilians, non-soldiers and soldiers that have been captured and laid down their weapons. Torture of these individuals regardless of the reasons is absolutely forbidden (Human Rights Education Association, 2011). Any country that goes against these laws are violating the Geneva Convention and it could have global implications.

According to The Human Rights Education Association (2011) The United Nations has the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 that states “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment” (United Nations, para. 1). The Universal Declaration of Human Rights are part of the international law. Being part of the international law makes them binding in all states and countries. States and countries because of this law have the right to enforce this law against any suspects found in their borders (Human Rights Education Association, 2011).

Torture of another human for any reason is not justifiable. There are alternatives to getting information that can save lives. If someone is being tortured they will say or do anything to make the pain stop. If people are fanatics and believe totally in their cause the torture will be welcomed along with death. The question always arises is torture ethically or morally wrong. If a country or a person has set high moral standards for themselves then the answer to this question is yes it is. Violating one’s rights or harming one intentionally is wrong. Natural law is the law of what is right or what is wrong so torture is breaking natural law.


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