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a terrorist with a bomb ready to explode in an unknown location should be tortured to get the info

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 11/14/2015 Category: Politics
Updated: 2 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 368 times Debate No: 82569
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (1)
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hypothetical. a terrorist has a nuclear bomb in NY city. he says he knows where it is, and that it will explode in a day. all evidence supports that there is a bomb, and that he knows where it is, etc.

when i say "torture" i am assuming we might try a progressive set of tactics, rough talk first, then a little violent, then things like water boarding, then full out torture, if necessary.

most would argue against this as a matter of 'the ends does not justify the means'. even if we assume that that might be usually true (read, 'proportionalism' v. deontology), we cannot assume it all the time. it would be immoral to let millions die because of your mere thoughts of what's "moral".... it would be selfish, and immoral as a lack of action in doing what is necessary to save the city.

i am open to other arguments about why we shouldn't torture them, but i assumed the "ends means" argument would crop its head up, so I got it right at the bat.


This is a classic, intriguing hypothetical; one that even until very recently I was uncertain as to what a good answer for it might be.

For the sake of argument, I will exclude treating morality as a perspective-independent standard by which actions can be evaluated. Instead, I will argue from a weaker, practical line of reasoning, and demonstrate that even from this standpoint my counterpart"s claim is unsound. One may still call this rationale "weak moral reasoning", as pragmatism itself seems to carry some moral content--but this seems to be an inescapable reality.

My main argument (MA):

1.Torture, when not used maliciously, is one strategy among many used to extract information.
2.All strategies must, at minimum, be evaluated by their level of efficacy
3.Used as a strategy, torture's efficacy is low compared to other strategies available to interrogators.
4.On a reading of what to do with regards to the proposed dilemma, such a low efficacy strategy is not, pragmatically speaking, wise to pursue.


A terrorist with knowledge of the whereabouts of a bomb that is imminently about to explode should not be tortured to obtain such knowledge.

I will only submit MA to my counterpart"s scrutiny, I will once again emphasize that I think this is the weaker of the two claims I could be making against torture of the terrorist. That latter, stronger claim seems to rest on (you guessed it) an account of morality--call it "strong moral reasoning".

I will readily admit being bested should a credible objection be raised to 3--which seems to be the only premise that does not follow in a deductive fashion.

I will of course provide further elaboration of premises when such is requested of me.
Debate Round No. 1


the efficacy of torture might often be low, but when the knowledge of the bomb and perpetrator with the requirsite knowledge is known, the efficacy increases a lot more. also, there may be alternatives to getting the info, but this assumes all other alternatives are used up and time is running out. you basically are forced to torture or do nothing, which could easily be argued as more immoral, allowing millions to die just to protect an ideology.


It isn't apparent to me that the efficacy of torture is a function of how urgently that information is needed by the interrogator.

The scenario seems a bit stylized, no? It seems if it were as binary as you'd like it to be, then the most ethical answer seems to be that you save the city. But this scenario makes just as much sense as talking about the possibility of a square circle, i.e. one could never truly be confident that "all other alternatives" have been used up, even in theory. In fact, so much does this seem to be the case that it seems to make the hypothetical somewhat incoherent.
Debate Round No. 2


con says it's so apparent that there are more than one way to get info, that it makes my argument 'incoherent'. the problem is that it could easily be the case that there are no other ways to get the info. if you have no leads to find the bomb, and the only lead you have is the terrorist, you would be forced to torture, else you would allow millions to die to protect an ideology.


If that is the constraint of the argument (which was hardly apparent at the outset) then yes, it does seem like, morally, there is something wrong with tolerating the deaths of millions for what it seems must be an inferior moral scruple. :)
Debate Round No. 3
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