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On the Ethics of Torture

Uwe Steinhoff

Publication Year: 2013

A detailed, clear, and comprehensive overview of the current philosophical debate on torture.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

After having written two articles in which I argued that torture is justifiable in certain narrowly circumscribed circumstances, in particular in certain selfdefense situations, I felt no inclination to write anything more on the topic. Then, however, Paul Theodoulou, editor of Global Dialogue, asked me whether I would like to write a piece on torture for his journal. I thought, fine, one...


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pp. xi-xii

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pp. 1-6

Is torture sometimes justified? This book answers, “Yes,” and it will defend this answer against a host of objections. In doing so, it will provide the reader with a detailed and comprehensive overview of the current philosophical debate on torture. Moreover, this means that the book must also deal with topics of wider ethical (and sometimes legal) significance, namely, topics such as ...

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1 What Is Torture?

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pp. 7-10

I shall define torture as follows:
Torture is the knowing infliction of continuous or repeated extreme physical suffering for other than medical purposes.1
Some claim that torture has to involve the intent to break the will of the victim.2 This might be true for interrogative torture, where the torturer seeks to get some information out of the tortured person. I say “might” because it is not entirely clear what “breaking the will” actually means, nor is it clear...

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2 The Moral Justification of Torture

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pp. 11-52

In this chapter I will discuss the self-defense justification of torture (where the term “self-defense,” as is usual in legal parlance, also comprises other-defense), the justification from the culpability for creating a forced-choice situation, the necessity justification, and the utilitarian justification. However, I only endorse the first three. The latter one I only discuss in order to counter certain claims that have recently been made to the effect that torture cannot be justified in ...

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3 Defusing the Ticking-Social-Bomb Argument

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pp. 53-60

Human beings have a right to self-defensive torture against culpable aggressors. As we have seen, this is hardly surprising: since people even have a right to kill a culpable aggressor if under the circumstances this is a proportionate and necessary means of self-defense against an imminent threat, and since most forms of torture are not as bad as killing, people must also have a right to ...

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4 Against the Institutionalization of Torture

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pp. 61-68

Even if torture can be morally justified, this does not mean that it may or should also be institutionalized, as already pointed out. Indeed, I think it definitely should not be.
However, some think that legalizing and institutionalizing torture would be a very good idea. In particular, the lawyer Alan Dershowitz has made the infamous suggestion to introduce legal “torture warrants,” issued by judges.....

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5 Legalizing Torture?

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pp. 69-78

There are quite a few scholars who take the position that, while torture is morally justifiable under certain conditions, it should still remain legally prohibited. 1 Rainer Trapp, however, thinks that this is a “dishonest compromise,”2 indeed, an “institutionalized hypocrisy.”3...

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6 Objections

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pp. 79-154

As mentioned above, absolutist opponents do not like the self-defense justification of torture. Very often, they do not even engage with it. Rather, they try to simply dismiss it. There are at least three reasons for this: One is that a few absolutist opponents of torture quite simply do not understand what the legal (and moral) defense of self-defense actually is and involves. A second ...

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7 Is Justifying Torture Bad Even IfTorture Is Sometimes Justified?

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pp. 155-160

Some people claim that our talk about torture should be accompanied by a certain “shyness.” What that means is that rational argumentation should only be allowed to go so far. Bielefeldt, for example, claims:
The uncircumventability [Unhintergehbarkeit] of human dignity also has an emotional side. It manifests itself, for instance, in a kind of intuitive shyness about argumentatively engaging with fictional...


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pp. 161-180


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pp. 181-186


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pp. 187-BC

E-ISBN-13: 9781438446233
Print-ISBN-13: 9781438446219

Page Count: 203
Publication Year: 2013