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An essay proving that torture is justifiable and necessary in society

That scenario can serve as a thought experiment able to unsettle absolutist assumptions about the immorality of torture, but it has little purchase as a descriptor of past events. The repeated invocation of Bentham on the permissive side of the torture debate might therefore be a merely decorative gesture. Conversely, it may be that Bentham is being recruited as a source of authority to a degree that has never quite been made explicit. His later writings anticipate the contemporary permissive standpoint on interrogational torture in many more respects than has previously been realized, while his early writings — even though they too defend torture under certain conditions — are more profoundly incompatible with that standpoint than has as yet been appreciated.

The second part seeks to show that bodily pain has an unexpected importance for his philosophy in general. His indecisiveness about whether or not sufficiently intense physical pain is guaranteed to determine the behaviour of its victims goes to the heart of his thought. The first two are associated with his work on penology in the late 1770s: They endorse interrogational torture when the practice is justified by utilitarian calculation. Torture is in itself an evil because it causes pain to its victim, but it is justifiable if it increases the quantity of happiness in the community at large.

The only way in which it might an essay proving that torture is justifiable and necessary in society so is by inducing the victim to give up information that will prevent or bring an end to a serious crime: As we will see, this version of the ticking bomb story is nevertheless strikingly inadequate: Firstly, a calculus of harms that bears overwhelmingly towards the use of torture: Secondly, the imperative pressure of time: Thirdly, the guarantee of independent factual verification of the information extracted — in this case, through the rescue of the hundred innocents.

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To the advocate of vulgar errors, the slave of vulgar prejudices — to the proposer of popular and convenient morality, was [sic] upon the watch to make his profit of the public weakness — to the sentimentalist, to whom the welfare of the public is nothing, and to whom the favour of the public, that is of the unthinking, and therefore in a prodigious degree the more numerous, part of the public, is every thing, there is indeed no difficulty: Considering the matter in an abstract point of view, […] it is impossible for a man, thinking attentively […] to deny, that on [certain occasions], compulsory applications however irresistible, and indeed the more irresistible the better, ought to be permitted an essay proving that torture is justifiable and necessary in society be employed […].

For the purpose of rescuing from torture these hundred innocents, should any scruple be made of applying equal or superior torture, to extract the requisite information from the mouth of one criminal, who having it in his power to make known the place where at this time the enormity was practicing or about to be practiced, should refuse to do so?

To say nothing of wisdom, Could any pretence be made so much as to the praise of blind and vulgar humanity, by the man who to save one criminal, should determine to abandon a hundred innocent persons to the same fate?

Look to Ireland for example and see whether examples are not to be found. On occasions and for purposes such as the above without and against law, severities are exercised with little murmur and almost without notice, severities, which, if instituted by law and exercised according to law, would universally be exclaimed against as grievances beyond endurance.

What then is to be done? Without some species of compulsive force, and that the most promptly as well as certainly efficient that human nature admitts of, one sees there is no bounds to the mischief that may be done: For want of it, the mischief may be perpetrated, and a country laid in ruins: Instead, it is that those properties emerge in tandem with four other changes, none of which are necessary to the logical stipulation of a ticking bomb case, but each of which anticipates in a remarkable way the contemporary permissive discourse on torture.

The nature of that guilt is especially worth noting.

Why do we need it?

In the aftermath of the 1798 Irish Rebellion, Bentham envisaged the use of torture specifically as a way of dealing with terrorism. The texts of 1777 to 1780 explain the actual methods of torture that he had in mind. These are punishments which for the severity of them seem calculated to leave as little pain behind them as any that can be assigned.

In other contexts he identifies picketing and the horse not as torture techniques but as obsolete forms of punishment, which remained longest in use in military contexts.

  1. Having empathy is very useful as it often helps to understand others so we can help or deceive them, but sometimes we need to be able to switch off our empathetic feelings to protect our own lives, and those of others. Oxford University Press, 2009 , pp.
  2. Torture is different from the prospective absolutes among extra-regarding motivations in that it is quantitatively rather than qualitatively exceptional.
  3. The repeated invocation of Bentham on the permissive side of the torture debate might therefore be a merely decorative gesture.
  4. By this knowledge commerce is animated, and there has sprung up a spirit of emulation and industry worthy of rational beings. Lives there a man who, if he have carried his thoughts ever so little beyond the necessities of life, when he reflects on such cruelty, is not tempted to fly from society, and return to his natural state of independence?
  5. On the contrary, the person who is really guilty has the most favourable side of the question; for if he supports the torture with firmness and resolution, he is acquitted, and has gained, having exchanged a greater punishment for a less.

The punishment of Pickeering is to be thus executed. His other foot is to be held up, or kept from assisting its fellow, by […] an inflexible iron bar. An instrument of the figure of the horse is to be provided but in the body part as thin as it can be so as to support the weight of a man. On this instrument the offender is to be set astride; his hands being held behind him […]. To each foot may be fastened weights heavier or lighter.

As stern as this sounds, it does not itself mean that Bentham advocates torture as a punishment for property crime. He notes that these techniques can be employed with varying degrees of severity, and he may well have envisaged that they would be used to punish robbers in a way that would fall short of torture on some definitions.

  • Amongst such men shall we find incorruptible magistrates, who, with the spirit of freedom and patriotic eloquence, will support and explain the true interest of their sovereign; who, with the tributes, offer up at the throne the love and blessing of the people, and thus bestow on the palaces of the great, and the humble cottage, peace and security; and to the industrious a prospect of bettering their lot, that useful ferment and vital principle of states?
  • Lives there a man who, if he have carried his thoughts ever so little beyond the necessities of life, when he reflects on such cruelty, is not tempted to fly from society, and return to his natural state of independence?
  • We are taught by our infallible church, that those stains of sin, contracted through human frailty, and which have not deserved the eternal anger of the Almighty, are to be purged away, in another life, by an Edition;
  • I call those perfect which exclude the possibility of innocence; imperfect, those which do not exclude this possibility.

Torture, as I understand it, is where a person is made to suffer any violent pain of body in order to compel him to do something or to desist from doing something which done or desisted from the penal application is immediately made to cease. A more important criterion is that this pain must be employed as a means of compulsion. The state can legitimately inflict penalties on individuals either as punishment, where deterrence is the major goal, or as a way of compelling some particular behaviour.

He acknowledges the perils involved: Nevertheless, because it will achieve its purpose more rapidly, torture promises to cause less total suffering than compulsion by imprisonment to the man whom it coerces. At times Bentham goes further still, in that he has reasons for thinking torture less morally exceptionable than punishment as such: The very circumstance by which alone what is called Torture stands distinguished from what is commonly called punishment is a circumstance that operates in its favour.

This circumstance is, that as soon as the purpose for which it is applied is answered, it can at any time be made to cease. Of Torture there need never be a grain more applied than what is necessary.

His position is remote from the modern permissive theory of torture, which almost always relies upon a scrupulous distinction between the interrogational and punitive uses of bodily hurt. One reason for this might be the special status that bodily pain has in his penological theory.

Most punishments, he notes, need cooperation or at least resigned obedience from the person punished: Deliberately inflicted bodily pain lies at the heart of his analysis of penal practice, as the irreplaceable medium between punishment and compulsion. The extreme version of this mediating power, torture will take on further complexities because of its unique potency as a means of compulsion.

Partiality towards the offender or against the law, or a fear of such partiality among others, may make witnesses refuse to cooperate with an investigation. Armed with this he can extort information from the person who for a certainty is able to afford it: Torture should be permitted only in the case of those suspected of domestic, non-political crimes, typically acquisitive in nature.

Although Bentham is always prepared to countenance painful interrogation, his early arguments are remote from present-day assumptions in the ethical grounds on which they defend the practice, the procedural framework that they envisage, and the identity of those whom they would render liable to suffer. II [1] Did Bentham think that torture is always effective?

The Utilitarian Justification of Torture

Did he believe that sufficiently extreme bodily pain exerts an authority over the will that it is impossible to resist? The varying answers that can be found in the early torture essays point towards the full importance that the idea of physical pain has for his philosophy. It is hard to reconcile either statement, however, with one that follows almost immediately on from the latter.

Here Bentham tells us that if, for an offender, the pain of seeing the discovery made should be so great as that rather than incur it he would endure any extremity of torture, […] he may take his choice and submit to the evil of the torture if that appears to him the less, and so exempt himself from the greater. To compel infallibly the decisions that someone makes would seem impossible if he is always able to determine privately his own best interests in this way, even though his choice may be reduced to one between torture and a still greater evil.

The former breaks the spirits: It emerges when Bentham discusses what will prove to be a crucial topic: They know therefore that they shall for a certainty be discovered.

In countries where Torture is absolutely forbidden a malefactor scarce ever betrays his accomplice; for why should he? To restrain him from doing it he has the motives of sympathy and the sense of honour; to urge him to do it he has none at all.

Should he do it he could have no excuse either to himself or to the little circle of his acquaintance who in his imagination constitute the tribunal of the public. Establish Torture, and you give him the compleatest of all Excuses, irresistable Necessity. His undecided account of the consequences of acute bodily pain has implications for much more than his discussion of the ethics of interrogation. On one view, the infliction of physical pain is a swift but imperfectly reliable means of compulsion, faced down more easily than prolonged imprisonment.

Torture supersedes the will; it acts with limitless force, to exceed all equivalents. This is in fact his early version of the ticking bomb scenario, the version that fails to match the criteria now usually thought necessary to a watertight case in which torture is self-evidently the right course of action.

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Specifically, the scenario to which he keeps returning — putting it forward as a decisive illustration twice in each of the early analyses of torture — is that of an attempted arsonist who conceals the identity of his escaped co-conspirator. His most concise presentation of the case is as follows: Two men are caught setting a house on fire; one of them escapes: Torture then when not abused, Torture considered in itself is in this point of view less liable to exception than punishment is.

He does not stipulate that the escapee will certainly renew his attempt, only that he may possibly do so.

Nor does he give reasons for thinking that if this man is caught no one else will attempt the crime. The most basic structural problem with the thought experiment is that Bentham disregards the likelihood that the prisoner will lie about the identity of his accomplice, even though Beccaria, with whom Bentham is taking issue directly here, raised that objection explicitly in On Crimes and Punishments 1764: As a justification for the institutionalization of torture for thieves and house-breakers, the example is extremely weak.

It is worth considering the possibility that when Bentham places great and repeated emphasis on the case of the fire-raisers, it is in part because of some further, latent significance that the scenario has for him. He is an essay proving that torture is justifiable and necessary in society first by his crime. Arson is inherently an act of malice.

The difficulty in inducing the man to give up the name of his accomplice stems from a different impulse: A magistrate might offer to spare his life in exchange for his cooperation in bringing his friend to justice. Here too, his behaviour seems purposely at odds with his own interests, his self-sacrifice now extending to his very life.

Perhaps, then, his motivation is more consistent than it first appears. The text with which Bentham was obliged to take issue as the most significant existing polemic against torture was also one that he admired greatly as a critique of public policy with a strongly utilitarian emphasis. Honour, being produced after the formation of society, could not be a part of the common deposite, and therefore, whilst we act under its influence, we return, for that instant, to a state of nature, and withdraw ourselves from the laws, which, in this case, are insufficient for our protection.

Beccaria himself, however, identifies honour as a phenomenon that exists permanently beyond the law; it belongs to a realm of action that is produced by society but from which society must retreat in order to preserve itself. They also exist, but only as abstractions that in themselves do not bring concrete images to mind.

Statements about fictitious entities are meaningful only if they can be translated or paraphrased into statements that refer solely to real entities.

Pleasure and pain are the only real entities that have the special property of motivating voluntary actions. Honour, like loyalty, is nothing if not a structure of thoughts about pleasure and pain. Such pursuit presupposes a calculation — which can be unconscious and erroneous — about what course of action will lead to the greatest excess for us of pleasure over pain; we can only perform the actions that come out on top in such calculations, or we would effectively be preferring pain to pleasure.

Bentham does not hold that the relative values of different kinds of pleasure and pain can always be judged perfectly, or even with much accuracy. He does hold that any pleasure or pain felt by one person bears some definite if unknown proportion to any other pleasure or pain felt by the same or another person.

Any given motivation will be overcome by a contrary one that comes higher on that scale. His work includes innumerable taxonomies of the different kinds of pleasure and pain. If each kind produced its own, autonomous category of the good, hedonistic utilitarianism would have no hope of the objectivity that Bentham ascribes to it: