Friday, January 22, 2010

Mark Shea on the definition of torture

Here's a great post Mark Shea wrote in May of last year tackling that question of the definition of torture:

One of the funnier falsehood current is the claim that I "refuse to define" what torture is and that I claim that "to ask that question is to sin."

Here is reality: I have, in fact, given multiple replies to the demand "Define torture"

Among them have been such replies as:

A) Check the Dictionary.
B) Check the Army Field Manual or some reference book for police interrogators on proper treatment of prisoners.
C) The Interrogator's Golden Rule seems reasonable: "Don't do it to a prisoner if you'd consider it abuse when done to a buddy or yourself."
D) If you are still utterly baffled, you could try paying attention to Policratus' handy delineation of the question, which is, of course, just a regurgitation of the Church's basic teaching:
[T]he Church defines torture formally (i.e., what makes an action torture):

1. violation of human dignity in the form of
2. intentional mental and/or physical harm in order to
3. use a human person as a means (or instrument) for some producible end
4. against that person’s will.

These are the essential features of torture, and any material action with this form is torture. And it does not take any meticulous reasoning to figure out which material acts bear this essential form.

Church sources: Veritatis Splendor 80, Gaudium et spes 27.

Read the rest here.


  1. I think that the Policraticus/Shea proposed definition of torture simply doesn't work. Why on earth would this issue be approached as an issue of dignity, when the Church has been teaching on this for over 700 years as an issue of integrity? I have examined this issue from the point of view of Church teaching on my blog.

  2. Good to see this stuck up here. I'd strongly recommend making this post, or at least point (D) ((B) and (C) aren't really definitions, I think) available on the sidebar somewhere - an FAQ, or "important posts" list, or "definitions of torture" section, maybe.