Relativism about Torture: Religious and Secular Responses

  • Philip L. Quinn
Part of the Claremont Studies in the Philosophy of Religion book series (CSPR)

Abstract

Torture is wrong, we say. Do we mean that torture is always wrong? Some of us do. We do who honour Amnesty International because it acts on this moral judgement. Included in its mandate is a commitment ‘to oppose the death penalty, torture, or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment of all prisoners’ and ‘to oppose abuses by opposition groups — hostage taking, the torture and killings of prisoners, and other arbitrary killings’.1 But there are hard cases to consider. Suppose the only way to find out where a bomb is located in an airplane, before it explodes and kills all on board, is to torture the terrorist who planted it. Does the prospect of saving many lives that would otherwise be lost render it morally permissible for security forces to torture the terrorist? Or suppose the terrorist would remain mute under torture but would crack if her child were tortured before her eyes. Would it be morally right for security forces to torture the terrorist’s child? Respectable opinion divides on the answers to questions about such hard cases.

Keywords

Manifold Europe Defend Metaphor Folk 

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Notes

  1. 2.
    Gene Outka and John P. Reeder, Jr, ‘Introduction’, Prospects for a Common Morality, Outka and Reeder (eds) (Princeton, NJ; Princeton University Press, 1993 ), pp. 3, 4.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Robert Merrihew Adams, ‘Religious Ethics in a Pluralistic Society’, Prospects for a Common Morality, Gene Outka and John P. Reeder, Jr (eds) ( Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993 ), p. 93.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Jeffrey Stout, Ethics After Babel ( Boston, Mass.: Beacon Press, 1988 ), pp. 222–3.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    William P. Alston, Perceiving God ( Ithaca, NY, and London: Cornell University Press, 1991 ), p. 71.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    Jeffrey Stout, ‘On Having a Morality in Common’, Prospects for a Common Morality, Gene Outka and John P. Reeder, Jr (eds) ( Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993 ), p. 220.Google Scholar
  6. 14.
    See, for example, John Rawls, ‘Justice as Fairness: Political not Metaphysical’, Justice as Fairness: Political not Metaphysical 1985, vol. 14, pp. 223–51.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Claremont Graduate School 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Philip L. Quinn

There are no affiliations available

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