Monday, March 1, 2010

Zippy on torture: it's about the action, not the effect

Zippy has an excellent post on his blog that walks through the reasons that torture is still torture, even if the prisoner doesn't "break."

This is, of course, a great example of why consequentialism is bogus reasoning: if what really matters is the effect or the outcome, then there's no such thing as "attempted murder" or other such crimes. There's no reason for security at airports, because there's no consequence to carrying a weapon onto an airplane - until someone uses it!

Ironically, the reasoning used to justify torture is exactly the reasoning that would undermine all the legitimate security and defense measures this country (and most others) have put into place.

25 comments:

  1. "psychological disintegration." is better expressed as causing a man to become irrational. It's same reason why drunkenness is sinful, because it's causing oneself to become irrational.

    It also helps in understanding where the limits are. The causing of pain to produce an intended result lies in the mean, just and consumption of alcohol does.

    Obviously ( for the moral police out there ready to save my soul), this is not to excuse those who use lesser amounts of pain which do not cause irrationality but are none the less excessive to the circumstance.

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  2. Robert writes : "if what really matters is the effect or the outcome, then there's no such thing as "attempted murder" or other such crimes."

    Interesting point. But attempted murder is not murder of the intended victim. The intended victim does not suffer murder anymore than a man lusting after a women from afar is an act of intercourse.

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    Robert writes : "There's no reason for security at airports, because there's no consequence to carrying a weapon onto an airplane - until someone uses it!"

    True. Carrying a weapon is not intrinsically an act of aggression.

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  3. Knowing if this or that act is an act of torture is rather like knowing if this or that is pornography. It's easy in the extreme, such as graphic XXX movies, but not so easy when the flick is Valley of the Dolls. Some say it's pornographic, some can just as legitimately say it's not.

    And most of the arguing seems to be on which side to err.

    When it comes to dating, the advice to our children is to err on the side of chastity because dating is in of itself an occasion of sin, and prudence advises to play it safe.

    But when it comes to self defense we err on the side of going too far, so to speak.

    Is ascertaining the limits so as to not commit an act of torture in a particular circumstance more akin to ascertaining how far to go on a date? Or is it more akin to ascertaining how far to go when defending oneself against an aggressor?

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  4. But attempted murder is not murder of the intended victim.

    True. I invoked "attempted murder" as an analogy, and adopted provisionally the language "attempted torture". But since there is no such thing as "attempted torture," or "attempted contraception" for that matter - our everyday use of language doesn't distinguish between successful and unsuccessful attempts in certain kinds of acts - we can drop the provisional "attempted" and just call it torture.

    And most of the arguing seems to be on which side to err.

    Not to me. Waterboarding is manifestly torture. Rejecting it isn't "erring on a side" any more than rejecting suction aspiration is "erring on a side" when it comes to abortion. I don't doubt that there are more and less brutal methods of abortion. There are even very specialized cases - e.g. ectopic pregnancy - where the casuistry gets difficult.

    But it hardly follows that waterboarding is a hard case. It isn't.

    I'd be pretty understanding about it if the contention was that immediately following 9-11 there was enormous pressure and fear, that we went too far, and that we shouldn't have and we should back off and make sure that it doesn't happen again. But needless to say, that isn't the message coming from Thiessen and company.

    When it comes to dating, the advice to our children is to err on the side of chastity because dating is in of itself an occasion of sin, and prudence advises to play it safe.

    But when it comes to self defense we err on the side of going too far, so to speak.


    The Church does give guidance on "which side to err" when it comes to prisoners. CCC 2313: "Non-combatants, wounded soldiers, and prisoners must be respected and treated humanely."

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  5. Zippy writes : “Not to me. Waterboarding is manifestly torture.”

    Yes, and XXX movies are manifestly pornography. Abortion, like contraception, or any other similar intrinsically disordered act does not permit of variation of degree. It’s not possible to err on the side of the disordered act.

    But interrogation is not intrinsically disordered, and it does permit of variation of degree, what is disordered is using means of interrogation to excess.
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    Zippy writes : “The Church does give guidance on "which side to err" . . . “

    If it does, then the Church tells us to err in the same manner as we do in self defense, because when it comes to issues of subsistence, we can err to our benefit.

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  6. Knowing if this or that act is an act of torture is rather like knowing if this or that is pornography. It's easy in the extreme, such as graphic XXX movies, but not so easy when the flick is Valley of the Dolls. Some say it's pornographic, some can just as legitimately say it's not.

    And most of the arguing seems to be on which side to err.


    Our Lord seemed to be pretty emphatic about this: if you so much as look at a woman with lust in your heart, you've committed adultery; and if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out - better to enter the Kingdom one-eyed than be damned with two.

    The idea of "erring on the side" is called tutiorism, and it's a condemned notion of moral theology that has been supplanted by the schema of virtue-ethics. One of the main weaknesses of tutiorism is that it's very minimalistic and just about avoiding, rather than trying to compel the person to be perfect.

    Anyway, we're not debating the liceity of a certain kind of means to an end. We're talking about actions which are or are not intrinsically evil. IF waterboarding is torture, then it is an intrinsically disordered act. Act. That's the key. Let's say beating a man for the purpose of interrogation is also to be regarded "torture." What about beating a man as a form of punishment for a crime which he is already certainly convicted of? It's the same "means", the evidently same substantive physical action. But the moral act is totally other. In one case, the act is directed toward the person: the person is the end, and the goal is to punish and chastise him. In the other, the person is made a means himself, the action of violence toward him is not directed at his person per se but at some less proximate good which is itself questionable (for he might not have the information sought, after all).

    Interrogation is not intrinsically disordered, and as long as interrogation is the act - that is, the question of a free individual which will or will not result in his free cooperation - then there is no worry of "erring" on this or that "side." The thing is what it is, and the threat of punishment that is really deserved for what the interrogated person already certainly guilty of can be used as a legitimate kind of "coercion," because it is an incentive which is only helping the person to see his own proper end and good. It is directed properly toward his dignity. But once the person's dignity becomes removed and put somewhere on the circumference of the consideration of the matter, we're in dangerous waters.

    The same litmus test, in fact, works for pornography. The question we can ask ourselves is, "is this in keeping with that person's fundamental, infinite dignity and worth - does this image make the other a fully thematic subject capable of a donation of true charity and love, or does it in any way, to ANY degree, make that person an object?"

    The answer to this question bears the key to both problems of discernment. For pornography, I used to recommend to young men that they personalize the question by saying "Would I want my daughter treated this way?" Maybe that's at least a fair first step for the other question as well, recognizing of course that the analogy is not perfect because of the guilt of a crime which may be involved in the latter scenario. Still, if we can personalize the other in the question of interrogation, we are a step closer to knowing what is or is not acceptable.

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  7. @Joey G. -

    Thanks for giving a word to a concept I hadn't been able to articulate before!

    Here's a Wikipedia link. Do you have any more authoritative links or resources you can recommend?

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  8. But interrogation is not intrinsically disordered, and it does permit of variation of degree, what is disordered is using means of interrogation to excess.

    Torture is intrinsically immoral, just like contraception, murder, abortion, etc. Therefore used as a means in interrogation it is always wrong, just as (e.g.) rape used as a means in interrogation is always wrong.

    And while you are entitled to your own opinions, you aren't entitled to your own facts. The fact is that the casuistry of every kind of intrinsically immoral act deals with edge cases: that is why I referred you to the subject of ectopic pregnancy as an "edge case" of abortion.

    Waterboarding prisoners repeatedly until they crack and cough up information is not an edge case of torture though, any more than suction aspiration is an edge case of abortion. That there are in fact more brutal forms of both torture and abortion doesn't make these particular ones edge cases.

    ... the Church tells us to err in the same manner as we do in self defense, because when it comes to issues of subsistence, we can err to our benefit.

    I noticed several things about this comment. First, this is just asserted without citation. Second, it begs the question of whether waterboarding a prisoner falls under "self-defense". Third, it completely ignores the actual explicit guidance of the Church on the treatment of prisoners, which I cited.

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  9. Joey G. writes : "The idea of "erring on the side" is called tutiorism, and it's a condemned notion of moral theology"

    I call it Summa II II q.64 a.7

    "Nor is it necessary for salvation that a man omit the act of moderate self-defense in order to avoid killing the other man, since one is bound to take more care of one's own life than of another's."
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    Joey G. writes : "a long winded bunch more of which the only interesting part is that he thinks that coercion is inexplicably joined with punishment.

    Now while I agree that the purpose of the interrogation is to cause a man to do what it is right for him to do, but coercion is a proper means of interrogation, not something which is accidental to it.

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  10. @ Robert,

    Perhaps I opened something of a can of worms by bringing in the issue at all. Haha. However, a good source to begin understanding it is the Catholic Encyclopedia entry on Probabilism.

    Another great essay dealing with the issue can be found here. The most salient quote from there: [Regarding] Liguori's battle with tutiorism, [that is,] the view that you should always follow the view that risks less morally; in his view it is wicked to try to circumvent prudence by imposing obligations solely with a view to avoid even approaching the possibility of sinning -- it is morally wrong to treat one thing as obligatory when something contrary to it is also prudent, even if riskier. For one thing, he thinks that this can often lead to the wrong course of action; for another, prudence is prudence.

    In other words, tutiorism is the name given to the "rigorist" side of the debate about probabilism. In older forms, tutiorism had been given to various systems which tried to base ethics over choosing the morally safer course (which is sometimes called a the reflex principle of practical ethics). Anyway, the thing is that this principle doesn't have sufficient parameters. It can be mitigated (Hardon identifies "absolute tutiorism" as the kind condemned by the Church, but admits of a restrained kind called "mitigated tutiorism" - see his Catholic Dictionary), but it tends toward extremes: laxism and rigorism.

    It's sort of a moot point, because the development in theology following the manualist tradition (when this debate was all the rage) has shown strongly in favor of "virtue ethics." On that, I'd recommend Servais Pinckaers, OP in his Sources of Christian Ethics. From a virtue-ethics point of view, these questions become clearer if anything for the layman in his pursuit of holiness. There are better tests of what is or is not torture and what is or is not charitable and prudent than simply asking "how will this be treated in the confessional?" That business is for confessors to worry about, and perhaps an old Jesuit manual or two would not be a bad thing to keep on the shelf for some situations. But in terms of the man living a virtuous life and trying to pursue perfection, it's best rather to ask "what more can I do to conform to Christ?" than to look merely for the "safest" route.

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  11. @ love the girls:

    In your short-winded insult I don't know whether perhaps you really meant "inextricably" rather than "inexplicably;" all I do know is that, in either case, I haven't a clue what you mean. I wasn't saying coercion is joined with punishment or that the only coercion justly applied in interrogation is necessarily tied to punishment; I was giving one conceivable example of such coercion that would be legitimate. It would be legit because punishment is legit; punishment is legit because it's duly aimed to the good of the person.

    I had said this because a certain physical act, such as flogging, may be legitimate for the purposes of punishment, because the "purpose" (i.e., object of the act) condition it as a morally distinct act which is licit for a just authority and may be performed in the utmost charity to an individual. On the other hand, the same physical act, when undertaken in order to get a hostage to "spill the beans" (which he may not even have canned in the first place), is a totally different moral action, the object of which does not keep the dignity of the person at the fore of the consideration. It rather deposes the person and makes him, and his coerced cooperation, a means to an end.

    If interrogation will use licit means of coercion, this coercion must be used in such a way that it is directed toward the dignity and progress of the other person; one conceivable event for this is when it is tied to punishment, but the ends of the act must not be construed, and the relative immediacy from the action undertaken have everything to do with how the act is ultimately to be evaluated. If the "breaking of his will" is more immediate than his just reform, then he has not been conceptually held intact as a whole and integral subject and end, not means, and the full moral act has done wrong, even though the physical exigency might look exactly the same.

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  12. Although as a rule, I consider waterboarding to be within a category of torture, nevertheless, I volunteer to submit Zippy and Joey G. to it for once again referencing their comments as if I was in any manner defending waterboarding, or was in any manner even referring to waterboarding. Waterboarding may be your talisman, to which you all are drawn like flies, but it is not mine.

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  13. "In your short-winded insult I don't know whether perhaps you really meant "inextricably" rather than "inexplicably;""

    Both are fitting, although I intended the latter.

    And as for the insult, offer it up. Just as I offer up your long winded posts.

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  14. ... as if I was in any manner defending waterboarding, or was in any manner even referring to waterboarding.

    OK, fair enough. Since the post title itself references "action", as in a specific action, just what sort of specific action are you talking about?

    Waterboarding may be your talisman, to which you all are drawn like flies, but it is not mine.

    I explained its significance to these debates here.

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  15. @ love the girls:

    Not to be rude, but read more carefully before you snark. Hit CTRL+F and search my comments. You will find one reference to waterboarding, and that only one occurrence I'm using it as a stand-in (and only hypothetically, you'll note, following an IF) for "intrisically evil acts" generally. And the point was not to assign to you a particular position on waterboarding, but to re-point the question into a context which matters. When dealing with moral acts that are intrinsically evil, we're not talking about physical "stuff." Thus, a contraceptive pill that helps with a type of cramping problem (provided that sex is abstained from during the course of using the pill) can be taken and legitimately so, because it's not contraception: same physical stuff, different moral act. The act judged is the fully human act which includes objects and intentions. The object conditions the act fundamentally. You know all this, I know, and I'm not bring patronizing.

    My point is that the "err on the side of" argument is spurious with regard even to self-defense, because you're not really even dealing with "risk" fundamentally. You're choosing a good, a good which is more approximate to the act than a proportional evil which may flow from the act unintentionally.

    You're not "erring on the side" of the intrinsically evil, or choosing to risk one evil rather than another evil. I won't use the term waterboarding if you like; in fact, I haven't, more often I've used the less ambiguous example of flogging to demonstrate my points. At this point I'm just repeating myself, but I'm repeating myself, saying again what I said before, because it's not what you think I said...

    By all means, ask for clarification, but show a little charity in debate and give me the benefit of the doubt at least and I'll do likewise. I don't think I've done reading into your posts, be it about waterboarding or anything else. If I have, correct me, forgive me, and let's move on.

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  17. @ love the girls:

    Sorry if I think these matters deserve some perspicacity and breadth and care in writing rather than thrown-out quotations from the Summa which (1) have nothing to do with the reflex principle and the issue of probabilism and (2) beg the question of relevance at all since they refer to self-defense and the onus would be on the one using the source to demonstrate that the issue of self-defense is analogous to detainee interrogation.

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  18. Joey G. writes : "the "err on the side of" argument is spurious with regard even to self-defense, because you're not really even dealing with "risk" fundamentally."

    Taking risk to mean an imminent threat.

    Risk depends on circumstance. For instance, an interrogated soldier would be done so because of risk from an aggressor army of which he is a part.

    Secondly, self defense is certainly not dependent on risk, since a state can justly slay the evil doer who is no longer an imminent threat to that state. And within this category, the state can err to its benefit since the state's duty is first to the community and secondly to the evil doer.

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  19. @ love the girls:

    No, sorry, I was unclear. I meant moral risk. In other words, in self defense, you're choosing a good. Double-effect is the principle applying if you tolerate an evil in the choice of action. But you're not really dealing with choosing the "safer" course, or with "erring" this or that way. There's no err, because there's nothing deliberately chosen other than a positive good, namely defense. Thus, no risk of moral compromise.

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  20. Joey G. writes : "the onus would be on the one using the source to demonstrate that the issue of self-defense is analogous to detainee interrogation."

    The catechism of the Catholic Church puts preservation of the community under self defense, is that sufficient?

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  21. Joey G. writes : "There's no err, because there's nothing deliberately chosen"

    Error does not require deliberate choice, a man taking care to preserve his life may go to far without deliberately choosing to go too far, but nevertheless, his going too far is an error. What is of issue is which direction a man should take more care?

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  22. What is of issue is which direction a man should take more care?

    And again, in the specific case of the treatment of prisoners, the Church gives clear guidance here. CCC 2313: "Non-combatants, wounded soldiers, and prisoners must be respected and treated humanely."

    So if we aren't sure that the proposed action respects the prisoner and treats him humanely, rule it out.

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  23. Of course they have to be treated humanely, that is true of all men, at all times. Even in the heat of battle we should strive to treat the enemy humanely.

    When St. Thomas writes that "one is bound to take more care of one's own life than of another's." That is not to say he needs not take care to treat the other man humanely, but in which direction he can act, if an error is made.

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  24. What particular acts against prisoners do you think this justifies?

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  25. zippy writes : "What particular acts against prisoners do you think this justifies?"

    I have almost no idea. I'm still simply attempting to pin down some of the applied principles.

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