The Instigator
Pro (for)
19 Points
The Contender
Con (against)
8 Points

The use of Torture can be Morally Permissible

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Post Voting Period
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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 1/7/2013 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 5 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 11,564 times Debate No: 28987
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (115)
Votes (8)




This is for the first round of SocialPinko's Elo tournament.

Resolution: The use of Torture can be Morally Permissible


Voters, please do not vote on the source points. This is a philosophy debate meaning evidence and sources are not as needed for arguing. The whole debate could be done without any sources being used. Source points are very often abused and misused on this site. Taking these facts, I think it best they are neglected for this debate. That does not mean you shouldn't take sourcing into account. If a claim is made that should be sourced but is not, take that into consideration and treat the claim as weak and/or unsubstantiated.

Please also, try to put all bias's aside when judging the debate and judge fairly. The resolution often has a strong repulsive moral reaction to people, but I hope viewers do not base their vote off of such and consider the rational side of my case. I hope they also fully take into consideratin the case my opponent puts forward as well.


For the definition of torture, I will adopt "TheFreeDictionarie's" definition[1] but change it slightly as I think it needs further clarification.

Torture: Infliction of severe physical and/or mental pain as a means of punishment, coercion, gathering information, pleasure or benefit

Morally permissible: Allowed, permitted in relation to morality

Morality: Principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior[2]

Note: I do not have to defend all purposes of torture. For example, I do not have to show that torture for means of extracting pleasure can be permissible. I just have to demonstrate that certain uses of it can be.

Burden of Proof

The burden of proof rests namely on me, in that I have to show that torture, in one or more of its uses, can, in certain circumstances, be conceived of as morally permissible. My opponents main burden is to negate.

Guidelines and Rules

If, in the unfortunate circumstance, someone forfeits the round, the conduct point will be deducted but nothing further. If he forfeits twice, he forfeits the entire debate and all seven points should be given to his opponent.

Sources may be put in an external link or the comments section to save space for arguing if needed.

Standard polite conduct should be used in the debate.

No abusive semantics arguments.

No plagiarism.

First round is acceptance.
For the last round, no new arguments should be made. The round should be used mainly for rehashing and concluding the debate.

If my opponent has any objections to anything, or wants clarification, please post in the comments section prior to accepting the debate.



Not just giving lip service to the whole, "I thank my opponent, yada, yada, yada..." thing, I actually do thank Mr. Phantom quite a lot for quite a few things.

First, thanks for being so gracious and open to topic choices.
Second, thanks for setting this debate up for us.
Third, thanks for putting forth a relatively coherent set of rules for the debate.

It's not necessarily the norm around here.

Obviously, I accept.

As Mills Lane (boxing referee version...I keep forgetting he has one of those judge shows on TV now) would say, "Let's get it on."
Debate Round No. 1


Thanks con. Looking forward to the debate.

Introduction & Groundwork

First, I would remind the viewers that I am arguing for the moral permissibility of torture, not the legal status of it. I’m not making a case for torture being legalized, rather that in certain circumstances, it can be viewed as morally permissible.

Two rellevent theories are as follows.

Consequentialism maintains the consequences of an act determine whether it's moral or not. This would mean that the ends outweigh the means.[2]

Deontological ethics is duty based morality. According to deontological ethics, the moral worth of an action is not dependent on the consequence. This would entail that the ends do not justify the means. [1]

Most arguments for torture follow consequentialist reasoning, thus are not particularly convincing to deontologists. I, however, will make it my aim to fully satisfy my burden from both a deontologist perspective as well as consequentialist one. I predict that con will not be able to offer any moral theory that poses a convincing counter-argument to my case. That is because I am going to approach the issue from a broad perspective meaning that con cannot easily offer a counter perspective on morality. I thus make it my aim to satisfy the issue reflectively.

I’d also note, permissibility does not equal obligation. There's an easy distinction between may and must. While an action can be morally permissible, it does not mean people are obligated to do it.

The Relativistic Nature of Ethics

I would posit that very few acts are always strictly morally impermissible. In most cases, we could conceive of possible scenarios where an act could be permissible even if the act itself seems immoral in even the vast majority of times. While the individual principles concerning ethics seem more absolute, broad actions, such as torture, depend very much on circumstance. While torture is, in the large majority of cases, wrong, that does not mean it’s always wrong. It’s just too broad a question. Torture for the sake of torture is probably wrong, but torture can be used for many different reasons and under so many different factors. Ethics is a complicated system. Certain values outweigh others so when those values compete, it is only logical that the higher value wins. So how high or low a value do we place on torture? When it competes with other principles, does it stay universally on top? The use of torture, under certain conceivable situations, affects many different relevant factors of morality. I will show that there is no reason to say the act of torture in itself as wrong, outweighs the immorality of the other moral factors always.

Achieving the Greatest Possible Moral Good; From a Deontological and Consequentialist Perspective

P.1 In all moral situations, there or one or more solutions that result in the greatest moral good possible under those circumstances.

P.2 Part of the greatest good is included the method for achieving it.

P.3 In all moral circumstances, the greatest moral good is the best outcome.

P.4 Sometimes torture is necessary in order to achieve the greatest moral good.

C: Torture can be permissible.

By the greatest moral good, I do not mean the greatest outcome but in relevance to the satisfaction of all moral factors whether they be deontological or consequentialist.

Torture itself is something that we do want to avoid generally. The idea strikes a repugnant reaction. But that doesn't mean there are no circumstances where it is morally permissible. There are in fact many things we do not wish to have but do admit of circumstances where we allow them. Pain, for example, is not something we generally want but for medical reasons and other purposes we often have to allow it. The benefit gained outweighs the side effects.

Hypothetical scenario #1: Three mad criminals have abducted 10 men and women. They’ve all been identified as people who’ve been convicted of developing the most cruel ways of torturing their victims. You are sure that is what they are wanting to do with the 10 people. One of the criminals is caught but the other escapes with their victims. You now need to find them quickly before they suffer a horrible fate. Your only avenue it seems, is the one criminal you’ve attained. You question him but he’s not saying anything. You’re faced with the choice of torturing him to get him to talk. You do so. He does talk and you do save the innocent people from the other two twisted criminals.

As, the viewers should recall, the ten men and women were saved from torture; very horrible torture too. In order to save them, the third criminal was tortured, probably much more humanely than the methods they would have used. So how can it not be morally permissible? You can’t say it’s wrong because torture is wrong. You only used one torture to prevent ten others of the more extreme degree! How can this not be permissible!? If torture is indeed wrong, than ten tortures should be worse than one, so one torture of an immoral man to stop ten tortures of innocent people is fully morally permissible.

Hypothetical scenario #2: A terrorist plants a massive bomb in New York city. If it goes off, millions of people die. The terrorist is captured but won’t talk no matter how hard you try. There has been no luck finding the bomb. You can implement torture to possibly save these millions of lives.

In terms of suffering, the lives of the innocent millions far outweigh the pain of the one guilty terrorist. In that regard, there is absolutely no dispute, so where is there? Well possible objections could be that the terrorist has his rights. I would say he clearly lost those rights when he tried to blow up a bomb. Another objection could be that there isn’t enough guarantee that it will work. Well what about what’s at stake? The terrorist can prevent the torture occurring any time he wishes via talking. Millions of lives are too big a risk to care about whether it will work or not. But even if not, why don’t we change it a bit and say the detonation of the bomb would most likely result in the start of a nuclear war which would most likely devastate the planet? What is at stake makes the question of whether it will work, largely irrelevant. Even if he fails, he was justified to try and if he succeeds, countless lives are saved.

Hypothetical scenario #3: A sadistic killer plants a bomb this time in the middle of an elementary school. He threatens to blow it up, along with all the children and teachers inside if anyone leaves. He does however have one bizarre term for letting everyone go. He's built a mechanical torture machine for his own use. However, due to a twitch that he's developed, he's not been able to use it himself. He's obsessed with the urge of putting it to use. Since he can't do so himself, his term for not blowing up the school is as following; He wants to see one man use the torture machine on another to satisfy his urge. Then he'll let everyone go, otherwise boom.

One courageous man, scared for the lives of his children and all the rest in the school, volunteers himself to be tortured. However, no one is willing to operate the machine. The aforementioned parent begs his friend who also has children in the school to operate it and so torture him. The friend at last, reluctantly complies and says yes. So the latter does so and tortures the man in order to save the innocent lives. The mad man does not blow up the school as promised.

This situation fully corresponds to deontological principles. The man being tortured volunteered/wanted to be tortured. Rights and the non-aggression principle are irrelevant because with the man wanting to be tortured, no rights would be violated. The man who did the torturing only did it because the former wanted it and to save the lives of everyone in the school. On these terms it was morally permissible. The greater good was accomplished and the usual deontological objections do not apply.


Groundwork and Limitations

In his first argument, my opponent has laid out 2 systems with which to judge morality and 3 hypotheticals in which to demonstrate that there are situations in which torture could be moral.

I will discuss the systems of measure momentarily, but I would first like to address the hypotheticals, because 2 of them are redundant, and there are truly only two situations which were covered:

1. Coercive, torture-based interrogation
2. Meeting the demands of the hostage taker in a hostage situation

Now, to address the systems by which these systems are judged:

Not knowing that these two systems would be used, I need to request that we limit further hypotheticals as follows:

1. In situations that involve some sort of large-scale destruction, large-scale murder or large-scale casualties (hypotheticals number one and two listed by my opponent), the controlling morality belongs to a person of at least average intelligence who has at least some training in the practice of interrogation.

2. In those like number three, the controlling morality also must belong to a person of at least average intelligence. In the actual hypothetical number three, I also think it should belong to someone with at least some training in hostage negotiations, but because I can foresee a plausible scenario where this would not be the case, I will refrain from requesting that portion of the rule requested.
I request these rules not because of the use of Consequentialism as a measure of morality, as they are not meaningful to that measure, but because of the use of Deontological ethics as one.

Obviously, a mentally retarded toddler has a lesser duty in all things than does an adult of average intelligence, so in an effort to prevent this from becoming a battle of increasingly ridiculous “What If” inquiries, I request that the rules above be adhered to, and that any additional hypothetical scenarios presented, while potentially fantastical in their setting, be controlled by a realistically intelligent, or at least realistically unintelligent, group of human beings, because obviously, under the Deontological System of judging morality, the use of a lobotomized monkey would render the entire debate completely moot.

Refuting The Hypothetical Examples

Example numbers one and two - Coercive Interrogation

In the first category of situations Pro used, coercive interrogation, Pro's assumption is that the techniques he proposes to employ will be effective in quickly gaining the actor performing the torturing the necessary information to morph what he recognizes as an initially moral wrong, into a moral right (location of X or Y, which, once known, will be saved/rendered inert).

Here’s the issue he faces - they won’t.

Now, I can, and will, cite numerous psychological studies, statistical studies, as well as expert opinion by former and current interrogation experts, should this be requested of me, but since we’re talking about a looming moral dilemma, and time is of the essence in each scenario, more than anything the controlling factor is common, and not specific, knowledge, because if the actor in the scenario doesn't have time for standard interrogation methods, they don't have time to look up copious amounts of information on the effacacy of torture as a means of interrogation.

Most people of average intelligence, and certainly those with even a modicum of training in interrogation techniques, understand that coercive interrogation is more likely, and in fact much more likely, to yield incorrect information than it is to produce correct information.

Therefore, after performing an act that Pro concedes needs to lead to an act which nullifies what he has admitted to be a moral wrong, the hero act that Pro is counting on to wipe away the morally unacceptable means, thus justifying the ends, won’t be available to the actor in his scenario.

If these techniques showed any evidence of being effective, I’d actually agree with Pro, but since they don’t, his argument doesn’t even hold up in hypothetical, make believe world. It fails both measures he has set for this debate, and does nothing to advance the idea that torture is morally permissible.

Example number three - giving into the demands of a terrorist

In his second category, Pro suggests that capitulating to the hostage taker and having one bystander torture another bystander will ultimately lead to the release of the hostages, and no further torture.

Now, in the Fairy Tale Land where this were true, that would be wonderful, and again, I would agree with Pro. However, in the real world, there is a reason why one does not give in to the demands of someone who has taken hostages - once you do, you give the hostage taker carte blanche to make more demands, and when the demand to which you capitulated was the torture of one person, the guaranteed successive demands will be the torture of additional people.

Moreover, once others with the hostage taker’s proclivity for watching the suffering of others get word that if they can secure the capture of 10 children they can have free reign to watch others torture themselves all day long, that one act of torture which Pro postulates will save the torture of 10 children, will have actually caused the torture of thousands of people for ages to come.

There’s a reason we don’t give in to terrorists, and there’s a reason we aren’t supposed to act like them. Terrorist techniques are not tactically sound, and to pretend that they are in order to justify them is almost as morally deplorable as the tactics themselves.
Debate Round No. 2


Scenario Purposes

Con starts off incorrectly. None of my scenarios were redundant. They each served a distinct purpose.

  1. Torture to stop much worse torture. This scenario addressed using the action that con is against (torture) in order to stop a greater use of it. It was made to ask the question, if torture is so bad, why is using one torture to stop ten not permissible? You’d be preventing what con already agrees is immoral.
  2. More typical, terrorist bomber, consequentialist outlook on torture. Was made to address torture in way for which the ends would outweigh the means. The benefit gained and the harm prevented would far outweigh the one act of torture.
  3. A less typical argument which coincides with deontological principles. This was made to approach the issue from a scenario where the common objections do not apply.

Con somehow confuses 1 and 2 as having the same purpose. The fact that con mainly only responds to two should count at least partially against him in regards to the argument points.

In fact the way con does portray my purpose for them is so skewed, it goes as far as a complete straw man which discredits his rebuttal significantly.

Cons Requests

Note, I have absolutely no binding to agree to any of the requests con asks for as none were stated in round one which they should have been.

  1. Denied. I do not see why I would need to limit myself in such a way. It does not matter if the torturer has any training in interrogation. Torture is torture. Whether the torturer is trained or not, does not matter.
  1. As stated, I deny cons request about interrogation training. I don’t think it detracts from the debate. For his request regarding average intelligence, if he means of the torturer, I will charitably accept. If he means of the one being tortured however, I do not accept that he must be of average intelligence but I assure con I will not go into absurd or unfair lengths making my case. I’m not a fan of that type of arguing.

Hypotheticals 1 and 2

None of cons statistical assertions stand if he does not back them up with sources. Thus I do request he do so. He may say he has the sources but that is irrelevant until he presents them. None of these statements therefore bare any weight as of yet.

Cons whole rebuttal can be summed up as follows;

The torture would not work, therefore is not morally permissible.

I find he has done very little to justify his first assertion. And despite making numerous psychological and statistical claims, he hasn’t provided any sources whatsoever. This obviously discounts basically his entire rebuttal. Without sources, there is no reason to accept his claims.

What con fatally commits is a non-sequitur. His conclusions do not follow. He takes an inductive argument to postulate certainty. First he says it can’t work but the reasoning he uses, is that in cases of torture, it most likely won’t work. That’s like saying it probably won’t work, therefore it can’t work. It clearly does not follow. If it’s only probable, the counter result is still possible. So even if it were probable it wouldn’t work, it’s still possible it would work and thus could conceivably, which defeats cons rebuttal.

The only way for cons rebuttal to work however, is if he were to prove that it wouldn’t work period, not that it most likely wouldn’t work which basically boils down to saying it usually wouldn’t work. Con actually says that he would agree with me if it were shown to be affective. That means, if the torture did work, con would agree that it was moral. But what con states is only that torture is, “more likely, and in fact much more likely, to yield incorrect information than it is to produce correct information.” So while I disagree that it’s much more likely not to work (which con gives no evidence for), con’s only argued that it usually doesn’t work…But he says he’d agree with me if it were effective. Since con has basically conceded that it could, in certain situations work, even if he says they’re very few, he’s essentially conceded the debate.

So con never denies that in certain situations it could work, but also fatally states that if it were effective, he would agree with me. That means cons arguments do not rule out that it could be effective at times, but that failure to rule out all possible scenarios loses him the debate.

I’m also left unconvinced that it would likely not work. Water boarding, one of the weakest forms of torture, if it can even be called torture, has worked in multiple cases. Its use is rare but it’s helped capture major terrorists.[1] So we have proof that water boarding is effective so why not whatever torture method used in my hypothetical? It surely could work. Plus we have to consider, the criminal would have more than just the absence of pain to gain from telling the truth. Surely telling the truth to the police and giving them valuable information would at least give him the possibility of a softer sentence than if he lied and so let the torture of ten people occur. He would have nothing at all to gain from lying. He’s not a loyal member of some cult or group, just a crazed criminal. He has good reason to give correct information.

I’d also add that though some studies say torture is likely to yield false information, they also say torture is usually implemented incorrectly. This is often a cause to its ineffectiveness.[2] But if it is used correctly, by someone who knows what he’s doing, then it’s more likely to yield results. So let’s say not only is the interrogator in the scenario an expert, he’s one of the world’s leading experts in regards to interrogation and psychological related matters. Adding this one factor, it becomes a whole lot more likely that it would work.

Hypothetical Three

I never stated the torture would necessarily work, just that it conceivably could, which is all I need to do.

Most of cons objections can be easily addressed with just a slight modification to the scenario.

First con says this will just give rise to allowing the criminal to make more demands. Well suppose we have good reason to believe he will not do so? First we could say the bomb is a time bomb which would blow up before anything more than the one torture could take place. In that scenario, we would know he could ask no more demands afterwards because he would have no leverage or time left.

We could also say he was a known infamous criminal who found trust to be a useful tool and so always fulfilled his terms in the past. After all, if you always keep your word, people are going to be more inclined to negotiate with you. In that case, we’d have good enough reason to believe he would let everyone go, if his terms were fulfilled. We could even say a lie detector was used on him or that experts of psychology determined he was likely telling the truth. I think it evident, there are easily conceivable situations where the hypothetical holds true.

Con then goes on to misinterpret my hypothetical in a way that significantly undermines the point. I said an entire school was in danger. Con takes that number down to 10 children. I have to say that’s poor conduct.

Con’s last objection is just unrealistic and exaggerated. He postulates that one single instance of giving in to the criminals terms would result in countless future scenarios of criminals doing the same thing. Well just consider, the high rarity of my hypothetical. An ordinary citizen voluntarily allows himself to be tortured and another citizen volunteers to do the torturing? Though it’s conceivable, it would be very rare. The terms of the criminal are also very rare. Who wants to watch people tortured? Well in the scenario, a crazed man with a twitch who built a torture machine that he couldn’t operate. For one thing, crazed men don’t really pay as much attention to the rationality of whether their plan will actually succeed. Two, it’s just highly rare. Con’s prediction is highly exaggerated.

Sources in link



On Morality and Debate Criteria

Based on Pro’s own criteria, how moral a person wants to be is completely inconsequential. There must be one of two outcomes:

A. There must be a “net moral good” (1 million people saved minus 1 sadistic killer tortured = good), or
B. The act must be entered into because it is the morally preferable decision, and and only after this determination is made are results moot.

Other than by completely dumb luck, neither of those criteria can be met, because while the ends don’t necessarily need to justify the means, there must be either a reasonable belief that they will.

Morality is about the moment in time when a decision is made, and one cannot consider themselves moral should they perform an act they know to be both immoral, and completely unlikely to yield “positive moral results”, and then have some fluke occurrence sweep in and “save their morality”.

Unless, of course, we’re now adding in the concept of Christian absolution to this discussion, in which case, bring me my almond scented Kool-Aid and let me quietly drift into death.

I can’t say that any act will fail with 100% certainty, and I certainly can’t prove it, but fortunately, requiring me to do so would be fallacious, and regardless, I don’t need to. All I need to prove is that in each given scenario, when faced with a choice to torture or not torture, the moral option is to choose not to torture because torture will not produce a “net moral” outcome, nor is it the most likely choice to do so. The actor in each scenario has a number of choices, and if torture gives the least likely chance of success, then it is therefore not the moral choice, whether or not it succeeds by some sort of dumb luck. The duty, under the Deontological criteria, is to make the choice which is believed to produce the best outcome, or at least a net morally positive one. Under the Consequentialist criteria, it is making the choice which actually produces that outcome.

Scenario Purposes

As Pro discussed, these scenarios are about both a means and an end, and since by one of his criteria, the end is inconsequential, we have before us ONLY TWO SCENARIOS:

1. Coercive Interrogation
2. Capitulation to the Demands of a Terrorist Hostage Taker

And, even if the ends were of any consequence, Pro’s actors only need to save 2 people, conceivably, from a fate worse than the torture of 1 person, so who cares if there are a million people, twenty people, or the fate of every human on the planet hangs in the balance?

There only needs to be 2.

Implausible Morality Under Each Scenario, Using Each Criteria

As I have stated, nothing can be proven to be 100% ineffective for any purpose. I walked my dog this morning. I can’t state with 100% certainty that I did not save an entire planet, teeming with life, by doing so, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t, and even if I did, it was by pure luck and it has no bearing on my morality one way or another.

In my previous round, I stated that I could provide numerous studies which supported my positions, but that I didn’t believe it necessary, however I would be happy to provide them upon request. This, it seems, inspired Pro to accuse me of deceiving onlookers with false tales of nonexistent studies. Unfortunately for Pro, he was wrong in that accusation.

Scenarios #1 and #2 - Coercive Interrogation

It doesn’t work, no matter how “good” the reasons are for the tortured party to provide correct information. If the terrorist (which is what we’re dealing with in both scenarios) has a good reason to give correct information, then why the need to torture him in the first place? Once captured, why would he not just spill the beans.

It is because the need to torture the terrorist implies that he has incentive, for whatever reason, to hide the truth.

Choosing to torture the terrorist means that, for it to be moral, the torture must produce truthful information around the questions asked during the torturing, or it must be the most likely means to do so, given all the other restraints of a situation, for how can an act so deplorable be considered moral when a less despicable means of extracting truthful information is both available AND is more likely to be successful?

Fact One: To recall information stored in the brain, you must activate a number of areas, especially the prefrontal cortex (site of intentionality) and hippocampus (the door to long-term memory storage).

Fact Two: Stress such as that caused by torture releases the hormone cortisol, which can impair cognitive function, including that of the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus. Studies in which soldiers were subjected to stress in the form of food and sleep deprivation have found that it impaired their ability to recall personal memories and information[1]

So, even in Pro’s utterly ridiculous scenario where the terrorist, really, really, really wanted to tell the truth, they more likely than not would actually be unable to do so because the torture itself would render them unable to do so.

Torture, in and of itself, make information received from a tortured individual less reliable than information from someone not tortured. Given everything hanging in the balance of Pro’s scenarios, is it moral to choose a technique that is more likely to produce false information when other techniques produce correct information?

According to the U.S. Army’s own field manual on interrogation, published in September 2006, torture “is a poor technique that yields unreliable results, may damage subsequent collection efforts, and can induce the source to say what he thinks the [human intelligence] collector wants to hear[2]

Rather than limiting the use of harsh interrogation techniques to a few cases, exemptions for torture and cruel treatment very quickly allow them to become routine.[2]

Now, I’m sure that Pro will state that in his scenario, the people doing the torture “really, really, really promise” not to make this the standard for information extraction, but that just isn’t the case in the “really, really, really real world”. Once you open up Pandora’s box of testicle electrodes, there’s no going back.

When torture and cruel treatment yield misinformation, the cost of pursuing the wrong lead can be enormous. [2]

And, since it is much more likely than not to produce false information, one is much more likely to cause additional damage by using it.

Lastly, I will state once again, morality comes down to a choice. When the choices are using a morally deplorable means which are less likely to meet your ends, or using a morally agnostic means which are more likely to meet your ends, both of Pro’s criteria fail because should the torturer, by some ridiculous luck, garner correct information from the tortured, another method of information extraction was available which not only would have been more humane, but also faster and more reliable.

When there is no good reason to torture, torturing comes down to sadistic pleasure, which Pro already stated was absolutely immoral. Since there is no good reason to torture, sadistic pleasure is the only reason to do so. This, by Pro's own admission, means a FAILUE of both his DEBATE SUCCESS CRITERIA.

Scenario #3 - Capitulating to the Demands of a Hostage Taker

...if anyone who took hostages immediately had all of his or her demands granted, the world would face one hostage crisis after another.[3]

‘nuff said (or, it should have been when I said it originally).

Debate Round No. 3


I thank con for the debate. I have found it very enjoyable.

I’d also thank all voters for taking the time to read and evaluate the debate and for hopefully doing so as fairly as possible.

Scenario Purposes

I don't know why con still clings to his hypothesis that I only had two scenario purposes. Just because two of them have something in common, doesn't mean they have the same purpose. This should be obvious. I differentiated between all the purposes the previous round but con hasn't responded, instead still reverts to the fact that they're similar, which does not really say much.

Con incorrectly says that according to my theory, it doesn't make any difference whether it's 1 million persons or two. Well I have to differ. As I clearly reasoned for scenario two, one reason why it was permissible was because the stakes were so high. If it were just two people, the stakes would not be as high, so con is clearly unwarranted in his interpretation. Actually, judging from cons entire rebuttal, I have a hard time seeing if he even noticed that I added in that part about high stakes countering in to the moral permissibility of torture.

Scenarios 1 and 2

Scientific Evidence

Con misses one important fact. The criminal conceivably could only have good reason to give the correct information because of the torture. Before the torture, he might posses enough loyalty or at least sadistic pleasure in wanting the ten people do be tortured, to not give any information then. He wouldn't have much incentive to give him any information, that is, until pain became a factor. Once he was tortured, he would gain a reason to give information.

Con's scientific statements about the difficulty of telling the truth under torture all ignore one very important factor, which is that the torturer was an expert in torture. As I already pointed out last round, the reasons tortures often don't work is because the torture is implemented incorrectly. The source itself mentions water boarding as “an extreme stressor" which has "the potential to elicit widespread stress-induced changes in the brain” thus making it unreliable. This has already been refuted long ago when I cited sources claiming it's helped capture multiple terrorists. The source even says water boarding "in particular". This is saying water boarding is particularly ineffective when that's already been dealt with at the beginning of the debate.

But besides all that, con's whole arguments rests on the absurd premise that the only time the criminal can give information is while he is being tortured. Even if it is difficult to remember the truth while being tortured, why can he not wait a minute or two or whatever is needed after being tortured? I'm sure con isn't saying torture leaves someone forever unable to tell the truth. So why can he not simply say he will give the information, then the interrogator waits whatever necessary period of time, and asks him to give it. The source he sites says soldiers found it hard to recall information. They were using soldiers as a test. I'm sure they wouldn't inflict permanent harm on them. The disability to recall information is only temporary. While banging someone’s head against the table while shouting at him to give him information may be a little silly in light of cons evidence, using the torture and then afterwards making the inquiry completely escapes con's contentions.

Con's arguments all also ignore the fact that we have enhanced methods of discerning whether someone is telling the truth or not. I can't provide any new sources in the last round, but I'm sure everyone's heard of a lie detector.


Stakes: Con says one must not commit an act he knows is likely not to work. This basically means one must have belief that it will work. Well to start off with one of many sound objections to this, what about taking into account the risks? Must we never be cautious or take risks? I already stated in last round, that whether scenario two worked or not, the risks were so high that the man was fully justified in implementing the torture. Millions of deaths are too high a stake to not take the risk. Even if the torturer thought it wouldn’t work, he still believed it could. If he didn’t do anything, millions would inevitably die. If he did do something, it changes the inevitable to just a small likelihood. Using the torture in light of the lives at stake, would be permissible regardless of whether it would probably work or not. Con didn't even respond to that when I stated it last round despite it being very relevant to most of his rebuttal.

Self-Refuting: Con's argument is also completely self-refuting. By his own standard, if someone didn't know that it likely wouldn't work, than he is not acting immorally. If someone thought it would work, according to con, he wasn't acting immoral. So if the torturer thought the torture would work, he was justified in doing it. It is completely conceivable to believe in certain scenarios, someone would have good enough reason to believe the torture would work. Even if statistics and experts all said it likely wouldn't work, that doesn't mean the interrogator knows that. If he's not aware of it, then by all data he's aware of, he could have good belief to believe the torture would work. According to con, this means it would be permissible.

Reasonable Belief that the Torture would Work: Not everyone would have to be ignorant of psychological research to have reasonable belief that it would work however. Con never addresses that the men in scenario one and two are each one of the world’s leading expert interrogators. Because of this, they know exactly how to enact a torture. Like I showed in the previous round, when tortures don't work, it's usually because they're implemented wrongly. If it were experts handling it however, they would know how to enact the torture in the most effective ways, therefore having good enough reason to believe they could make it work. In fact, as experts, they would have a little justified arrogance over their abilities and thus would justifiably believe it would work. Since con advances a moral criteria based entirely upon belief and probability, this refutes him.

Dumb Luck?: Con's assertions, that it would only work by "dumb luck" are completely unwarranted and entirely undefended. Besides just stating it, he doesn't even explain how it's just luck when torture works. It's not luck. That's absurd. Does con think the water boarding used that I mentioned last round that gathered valuable information on terrorists, was just luck? It wasn't luck. It was because of trained interrogators who knew what they were doing.

Studies: I never accused con of supporting non-existent studies. I just said he never provided any sources which is 100% truth. Don't know why con is making a qualm about it. It's only natural that sources are required when making statistical claims.

Scenario 3

Con almost completely drops this. Last round his counter argument was merely an array of unsupported assertions. Now it's simply an unsupported assertion made by someone else that’s just a recap of all his previous unsupported assertions. He ignores my entire refutation and purports to basically the exact things he said initially as if I didn't provide a counter argument.

None of his previous objections apply to this scenario. The probability of it working for example is irrelevant as the one being tortured volunteered to be tortured. The scientific evidence also bares no weight because this isn’t about gathering information.

Con does add one contention that supposedly responds to all scenarios but all it is is stating that he can’t prove anything with certainty which I don’t see any relevance and the continued assertion that dumb luck is irrelevant. But scenario three has nothing to do with dumb luck. Even if it were dumb luck, it’s about permissibility, not obligation. We’re not arguing it’s morally good, just that it’s permissible.



Thanks to Pro for the debate, and thanks to anyone who does vote. I hope this is as much fun to read as it was in which to participate. Now, back to our regularly scheduled program, already in progress...

Why Magnitude Is Irrelevant

What Pro seems to be missing here is that I was conceding that if he could simply prove that torturing one person could conceivably, or actually, save two people, then I would consider that a net moral positive, he would have proven the moral permissibility of torture, and thus won the debate. He should have embraced this concession, but instead railed against it for reasons I still don’t quite understand.

Unfortunately for Pro, he failed so miserably in his argument that he couldn’t even meet this generously low standard.

Increasing The Intensity of Torture Increases The Unreliability Of The Information Received

In my last argument, I noted (and sourced) that the stress from torture releases cortisol into the prefrontal cortex as well as the hippocampus, and this causes any information received from a torture victim to be inherently unreliable.

Pro’s counter to this, because he noticed that the test referenced in the journal article that I sourced was conducted on soldiers, was that in his scenarios, he would simply torture the subjects more intensely. This was implied when he noted that U.S. soldiers in that study weren’t permanently harmed (ergo, there was no restriction on the subjects in his scenarios to cause this level of harm).

What Pro failed to realize with this utterly ridiculous counterargument was that a more intense brand of torture would release more cortisol into the victim’s brain, which would make the information that they recited EVEN LESS RELIABLE.

This, into addition to being even more morally deplorable, essentially assures a failure of any positive result, and it should be obvious to anyone before they engage in the more intense torture that it ensures a failure of their goal, thus it fails both of Pro’s criteria even more spectacularly than the otherwise spectacular failure that Pro described in his original, unmodified hypotheticals.

The Obvious Counterargument...That Pro Didn’t, And Couldn’t, Make

Much of my argument revolved around the fact that torture had a greater likelihood of failure when compared with the alternatives available. In fact, it has almost no chance of success, and this is demonstrated by the fact that Pro was able to offer no example of any torture extracted information that was, in any way, reliable.

One example and my argument is significantly weakened - and yet Pro was unable to offer even that small bit of real world evidence to back up his position, because his position is untenable.

Lie Detectors Don’t Work

This is really the point in Pro’s final argument that I began laughing hysterically. Time is already of the essence, his method of information extraction is already lengthier than traditional methods, but no worries because the actors in his scenarios will be able not only to pull a lie detector out of thin air, but also someone with the training to perform the test.

Even if the magical fairy tale land existed where this was possible, there are two problems:

1. Lie detectors are unreliable (this is why their results are inadmissible in a court of law)
2. The cortisol released into the victim’s brain has the effect of confusing the victim such that they have no idea that the information they are offering is unreliable (stated and sourced previously).

Even if lie detectors worked, which there is much evidence to suggest they don’t, in the case of stress induced confessions, the person confessing is unlikely to know that the information they gave was false.

Additionally, lie detectors are considered to cause a stress great enough as to be categorized as torture themselves, and would only serve to waste time and offer no assistance in the process.

Let’s say they did work, though, but that the results showed that the victim was lying. What then? More torture? It didn’t work the 1st time, but maybe if we just do it some more, then it will really work, right?

I already noted why this is an inherently ridiculous and logically fallacious conclusion.

[see sources regarding lie detectors below]

Hostage Situations

I did not, as Pro stated, ignore his third (second, really) hypothetical in my previous argument. I had already stated all the reasons why it was a spurious argument in the 2nd round (1st round of arguments), but Pro challenged my conclusions and then virtually ignored them because they weren’t sourced. In the last round, I sourced them. In the interest of saving voters from unnecessary redundancy, I made a note of the crux of my initial argument against capitulating to hostage takers, and then I noted the source which completely backed everything I stated in my argument against this practice in the previous round. I have no plans to expand on the argument here either as Pro did nothing whatsoever to refute it. How could he? It’s common knowledge and common sense, and it also happens to be backed up with scientific evidence and expert opinion.

The Nature Of Morality...AGAIN

Here, I will be a bit redundant, because it is important for this point to be iterated - Morality comes down to a choice. Until one reaches the point of a choice where one or more options are moral and one or more options are immoral (i.e. the choice to eat a banana instead of an apple, given the methods of cultivation for each is as non-damaging as possible, serves no purpose in the determination of morality, while choosing to eat a hamburger over an apple, conceivably does). Moreover, when the outcome of a choice is unknown, the choice must be made with the intent to be moral for it to be moral, and intent is a function of the knowledge that the person has when making the decision. The fact that a moral outcome accidentally occurs has no bearing on the morality of the person who made what they knew to be the immoral decision, or the less moral decision, simply because a lucky set of events, independent of their choice, lead to a positive outcome. They must know the moral outcome would occur, or have a reasonable belief that it had the greatest possibility to occur, given the other choices available to them, or else their initial immoral decision remains immoral, because it was immoral.


In none of Pro’s hypotheticals would there be any chance of “success” which lead to moral plausibility under either of his criteria, and because in order to try to fit his increasingly illogical and fantastical scenarios into his own success criteria, Pro brought in an interrogation expert (lie detector tech), after specifically refusing to imbue his actors with this expertise when I proposed it, the actors in his hypotheticals would have been well aware of the imminent failure of Pro’s chosen methods for them.
The only way a moral outcome that could have arisen from any of the examples that Pro offered would have been through pure chance or a reversal of human nature as we know it, and since morality is not a function of luck, nor is it plausible that the human psyche will begin magically operating contrary to how it does currently, Pro has failed in all aspects of his argument and the votes cast in this debate should reflect that fact.

Sources (re: lie detectors) - Yep, the Chinese think lie detectors are unreliable and also a form of torture. THE CHINESE!!! C’mon...
Debate Round No. 4
115 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by malcolmxy 5 years ago
Congrats, man. I'm done arguing about this.
Posted by wrichcirw 5 years ago
"wrichcirw is the only one though his RFD was a little puzzling IMO."

Yeah, when I looked over my RFD again, I probably would have phrased certain things differently. I'd have to look at the details again, but I think my justification for arguments based on #2 could have been extended to #1 and #3 as well. I was just very annoyed at (what was to me) the evident trolling nature of the resolution.

Regardless, I'm out now. :D
Posted by phantom 5 years ago
"Most voters stated that the rules were impossibly stacked in your favor, and even with that advantage, I was quite close to winning."

You keep saying this. Why?

Deadlykris never said the rules were stacked impossibly in my favor and didn't hint that you were close to winning, just that you won 2/3.

Jarhyn obviously didn't either.

TUF said it was a hands on win for me and even agreed with you beforehand.

Roy said it was close only because I didn't use sources, but I did use sources so he was simply mistaken. He also never said the resolution was impossible to defeat.

Blackvoid seemed to think the resolution was pretty easy but said nothing about you being close to winning. In fact he said I won all three hypotheticals.

wrichcirw is the only one though his RFD was a little puzzling IMO.
Posted by malcolmxy 5 years ago
Whatever happened to a little surf and turf with some Barry White or Isaac Hayes playing in the background?
Posted by wrichcirw 5 years ago
My argument in the thread is essentially such torture CAN be morally permissible, in that a country seeking to protect its citizenry could seek out US female military officers (who are now much more highly promotable due to the shattering of the glass ceiling of restrictions to combat duty) for the specific goal of information acquisition via torture.
Posted by wrichcirw 5 years ago
BTW, I am engaging in a thread right now that demonstrates the consequences of the use of torture being morally permissible:
Posted by malcolmxy 5 years ago
just sayin'...
Posted by malcolmxy 5 years ago
Phantom - No. My job was to prove you wrong. If I failed to do that, it was a function of the rules of the game.

Most voters stated that the rules were impossibly stacked in your favor, and even with that advantage, I was quite close to winning.

You've done nothing to prove me wrong, and the arena in which you had to do so (this real conversation) is much more equitable to those goals than mine was (which I agreed to...I'm not complaining).

TUF - it would have been helpful if you didn't make logically contradicting statements in your justification. Before you ask, I'm pretty sure I already laid them out, but if I didn't, then ask.
Posted by phantom 5 years ago
Malcolm, have you considered the possibility that...Gasp! could be wrong?
Posted by TUF 5 years ago
Before I waste time, arguing with Malcomx's accusation of me liking the pro (completely untrue btw), does anyone else find something wrong with my vote?
8 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 8 records.
Vote Placed by youmils03 5 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: Pro has a higher level of argumentation. I like the Lincoln-Douglas style, which is concerned with philosophy, criteria, and values.
Vote Placed by wrichcirw 5 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: see comments - yuck
Vote Placed by BlackVoid 5 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: Comments
Vote Placed by RoyLatham 5 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: This was a very close debate, because Pro insisted on trying to argue without evidence. Still, Con granted the possibility that torture would sometimes yield useful information. That's enough to make the mass destruction hypothetical viable due the overwhelming back consequences. Even a small probability of saving a city from being nuked is a net moral positive. Con won the the third hypothetical on the grounds that person mad enough to make the demand is surely mad enough to not honor compliance. Pro only had to provide one circumstance. I'll give sources to Con because Con at least recognized the importance of sources in the debate; however proving torture unlikely to yield accurate data wasn't enough. Con was overboard in denouncing stuff as "ridiculous" and the like, but it seemed pretty much posturing so I'll call conduct tied.
Vote Placed by TUF 5 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: I think this debate was a hands on win for Pro- And here is why. Con didn't convince me, nor really seem to pursue an argument that had the capability of convincing me that torture was completely morally un-permissable. I was actually Con on this issue, prior to reading this debate, but I think Pro has permanently changed my mind. Consequentilism I feel was supported strongly throughout all of his arguments, and hypotheticals. While it is true that realistically, some of those situations are not likely to happen (in your hypotheticals I mean), it doesn't mean they are not impossible. And what could we as humans do? Morally, I found torture permissable in each situation, try as I did to find a deterrent. Then I looked to the Con's argument, in hopes of seeing a deterrent. Let's face it, proper interrogation tactics won't always work. And when they don't, the gruesome reality, is choosing between one person's temporary pain, or the casualties of many more. I choose to punish the aggresor
Vote Placed by baseballkid 5 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: FUCK YOU THATS WHY
Vote Placed by Jarhyn 5 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: Convincing to CON, as CON clearly showed all of PRO's hypotheticals to be wrong, and due to the fact that PRO's arguments in favor of torture are directly contra my own experience as an intelligence analyst. Further, PRO never suitably answered CON's contentions on morality and committed a fallacy in his failed attempt to show an inverse of CON's argument. CON used an "implies" relationship; just because positive morality implies intent to be moral does not mean that immorality implies an intent to be immoral; people cannot be moral by accident, but they can be immoral by accident.
Vote Placed by Deadlykris 5 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: In the end, I think Pro sufficiently met his burden of proof. EDIT: I've been asked to expand on my RFD, and so I will do so. Pro proposed three hypothetical scenarios. Con pretty much destroyed the second and third, but failed to do so for the first. There's still enough uncertainty to conclude that, sometimes, the use of torture can be morally permissible. If the debate were about a moral obligation, then Pro's burden of proof would have far stricter, but as it stands, the burden is not so strict, and as such, the torture of a criminal under such a scenario could be considered morally permissible.