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Terrorist and Torture

  1. Oct 1, 2004 #1
    We live in an age in which we are threatened by terrorists. Suppose for a moment that we could rid the world of all terrorism on the condition that one person be condemned to suffer a slow and painful torture for the rest of his life. Clearly the majority of people in the world would be safer and happier. It seems, then, on utilitarian grounds that we should, if we want to be ethical, allow the person to be tortured. Given this supposition, would you elect to accept the have the terrorism-free world with the tortured man? Why? Why not?
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 1, 2004 #2


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    There is a similar ethical case study where a society of happy, healthy people relies on the fact that there is a child somewhere locked in a basement, eating fish-heads. Everyone knows he's there and everyone knows that letting him out will mean the end of their utopia. So do they let him out?

    Well, its a trick question (yours and mine are functionally the same): you can't have a utopia if you know this person exists. Ethical people would always be haunted by the thought of his existence.
  4. Oct 1, 2004 #3
    I think a more interesting situation is not to make the lockup and torture a necessary condition, but instead make it a necessary precondition. If the prisoner escapes then the paradise continues. So then what do we do? Should it solely be up to the prisoner to escape his predicament? Some would agree, and argue that many people have escaped from jails before, and all it takes it a bit of hard work and ingenuity; others would argue that the statistics on successful prison escapes don't bode well for the prisoner; yet others would argue that he deserves to be in prison, and that prison is not so bad, after all, he gets free room and board. Should do we do everything in our power to help the prisoner escape? Some would agree, and argue that we are morally bound to do so; others would argue that such an undertaking would be prohibitively expensive and thus risk the paradise everyone (but the prisoner) enjoys; yet others would argue that it would be immoral to help the prisoner escape, and that God only helps those who help themselves. And then, consider these questions again when there isn't just one prisoner, but say, 10% of the world population as prisoners, or 30% of the population, or 60%. What then?
  5. Oct 6, 2004 #4
    http://www-rohan.sdsu.edu/faculty/dunnweb/rprnts.omelas.html [Broken]

    Its a very strange story. I suppose you would have to quantify the amout of suffering and joy. Life requires work. We need energy in order to live. The only utopian society is a society without people. Work must be invested in order to gain something. Suffering is the work and labor. Joy is anything thats not Suffering, and therefore using up time invested in suffering. In order to survive, your suffering must equal or outweigh your joy. (Money represents this)

    For a society to live, suffering must come from some place. It can be place all upon one person so everyone can live in joy, or it can be evenly distributed so you have as much joy as suffering. Those are the two extremes.

    I think it is unjust to force your sufferings onto others. If it were a sacrifice given to me, I would accept it willingly. Given our pecemistic mental tendencies, I think it is best to rotate the burden over an extended period for one person. For example, it is best if a father works hard so that his child may have years without burden, then reverse it and the child should take care of the father. Nature seems to push us to this decision. A child cannot take care of himself because he is too young, then the father cannot take care of himself because he is too old. Untimately, it all balances out.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 1, 2017
  6. Oct 6, 2004 #5
    This what people already do and have done since time immemorial. It hasn't worked yet so I don't see anyway it ever will succeed. Studies on happiness show that in general people are more than willing to trade their happiness for other benefits such as money or longevity. This is why terrorism exists in the first place.
  7. Oct 6, 2004 #6
    You give them bush for utopia dammit.

    "Studies on happiness show that in general people are more than willing to trade their happiness for other benefits such as money or longevity. ***This is why terrorism exists in the first place***."

    Jesus! You just discovered the cause of terrorism, and it's as simple as that! I was blind, sooo blind!
    Now THAT offends your own intelligence and feeds your naiveness to a disproportional size, i've nothing to add...sorry.

    And about the dilemma up there; nietzche put it nicely with his beast fighter. well i'll explain; west and "The Terrorists" have each their own values and differ in most of them, each wanting to shape history by their lifestyle which they consider the BEST.

    Since west does not have a value that promotes torture, and we despise the values of the terrorists that do promote torture, we could torture the man, thus leaving our ethics behind or not torture him, thus keeping the *distinct difference* between ours and the ethics of the terrorists.

    The ethical question is actually very clear and i do not see the dilemma, only statistics. it only depends how far do you go with this "ethics". if you take absolutistic view and consider one life as worthy as 1000 000 000 lives then you must not leave your ethics behind, or you'll be unethical, and won't have a very strong will. (like movies with your american soldiers who always go searching for a wounded comrade deeeep into the creepy jungle, risking 100 men for 1, being then proud of it. or like with that american girl soldier who was captured in iraq and then rescued). these are your values, and are promoted in your country, and generally in the west. If you want to be americans you must not disband them when opportunity arises.

    of course value system between individuals differes even more, perhaps within the boundaries of the value system of the group he connects himself with or feels he belongs to it, perhaps without boundaries. So this question only leads to individual's valuing, or debate about our value system or the terrorist's value system and that's all logical and boring.

    oh yeah, to support the question and thus my writing; "you can't have a utopia if you know this person exists. Ethical people would always be haunted by the thought of his existence."

    let's suppose that only one man of the utopians knew about that, and after he did it, he banged his head into a wall until he got short-term memory loss.
  8. Oct 6, 2004 #7
    Can we pick who is being tortured?
  9. Oct 6, 2004 #8
    Did the story of Christ influence you at all in writing this?
  10. Oct 7, 2004 #9
    How is the condemned selected? Does everybody have an equal chance of being selected as the condemned? Does the one who eventually is selected consent? There are all sorts of morally relevant features of this situation you have left out.
  11. Oct 7, 2004 #10


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    That's the one, thanks.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 1, 2017
  12. Oct 7, 2004 #11
    Good point cogito about who is selected. Another thing we have to consider is: does the world remain terrorism free forever, even 1000 years after the martyr dies, or must he/she be constantly replaced?

    Even if the person is randomly determined and doesn't get to object or appeal I say do it. More people would benefit, it's a net improvement.

    I will even volunteer. I'll feel better than Jesus must feel.

    Who else wants to volunteer?

    If I get more volunteers, can we take our torture in shifts? If I can get a million brave volunteers we'll all just get slapped in the face once a day.
    Last edited: Oct 7, 2004
  13. Oct 7, 2004 #12
    One thing I wanted to ask, sorry to stray, but is there a reason some of you are quoting the question in your reply? We already know the question, it was the primary post.
  14. Oct 9, 2004 #13
    People torture people because of free will. (whether its the free will of the torturer, or the dictator, etc..). If we torture a child, we are abusing our free will. In my opinion, sacrifices should ONLY be voluntary. I don't care if there are people getting tortured and terrorized, if this child is given a choice and chooses not be locked up in a dungeon for the rest of his life, then we have to respect that, NO MATTER what kind of utopia we will get, no matter how long the utopia will last, i dont care...

    now this is assuming the person is innocent. If they have tortured somebody else, then so be it.. because i also believe "an eye for an eye".. but since its just a child.. im assuming he's innocent.

    so like i said, a sacrifice should always be voluntary.

    i read that story, and would without a doubt be one of those people who walks out of the city. I'd go live in a cave if i have to.
  15. Oct 9, 2004 #14
    How voluntary could it be? If you were asked to be tortured so that countless others would have a utopia, wouldn't you probably feel obligated to do it even if you didn't really want to. If there was ever a war, and I was drafted, I would not want to do it, but feel obligated to go. With such a high price on the line, it would be hard to be voluntary and not obligatory.
  16. Oct 13, 2004 #15
    Current human existance is based on the assumption that whatever one has comes at the cost of others having the same.

    Human life is by defintion inmoral.

    We only do our best to be as little inmoral as possible.
  17. Oct 13, 2004 #16
    It should be voluntary, but if it's not, the selected doesn't have a choice, whether they feel obligated or not. They can't run to Canada. If there's a draft, there may still be plenty of people who would voluntarily enlist to fight the war, and may not feel obligated at all, they just want to do a truly selfless service. I know I don't have to (unless I'm picked) but I volunteer for altruistic reasons.

    One clarification: the result is a terrorism free world, not a utopia. There would still be poverty, crime, pollution, famine etc.
  18. Oct 13, 2004 #17
    Who told you that?
  19. Oct 15, 2004 #18


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    I saw it live, on TV on 9/11.
  20. Oct 16, 2004 #19
    I wonder if for example "terrorists" used poison gas or some form of bio weapon and kill thousands or even hundred thousands of New Yorkers what then with the war on terror thing?
    Nothing beats explosions and buildings collapsings to influence people with hate and vengence.
  21. Oct 16, 2004 #20


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    You mean, would I still be pissed if instead of knocking down a building to kill 3,000 people, they'd gassed 3,000 people? Uh, yeah. Buildings can be rebuilt - people can't be brought back to life.

    Its breathtaking, by how much you miss the point. Have you no regard for human life at all? That's a pretty sick question.
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