Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Opposite of My View on Torture

It comes as no surprise this moral philosopher has published such an abhorrent view in an international journal. Most of the time, if "international" appears in the scholarly journal's title, then that should signify how "unrecognizable" that journal is. (I have no qualms about committing ad hominems in my own blogspace. The virtue comes in recognizing one's own pronouncement as a fallacy)

A Defense of Torture

In response to this article, I can only claim that we have competing intuitions. I start from the intuition that for principles to matter and spell out exactly how we ought to act, they must be able to stand on their own. Even if I were a particularist or contextualist, the role of principles as spelled out in a codified law, such as due-process still stand on their own feet without collapsing them away by offering the intuition of ticking-time bomb scenarios as ultimate defeasibility of my position. The reason why I cannot accomodate the intuition supporting torture is that I do not think the intuition can be accomodated---period, end of story. I find myself repeating myself on this point: To truly value a principle, such as in our jurisprudence, is to think such a principle so laudable that the value endorsed speaks about who our character as a nation. This may sound like rhetorical nonesense, but I will explain.

A character of a person is determined by the set of principles and values that person endorses. The set of endorsed values form the practical identity people see as a salient criteria used in judging people morally. For example, if Jones is honest all the time and he lied about X, then we should think something is up for why he lied about X. Similarly, if he then changed from an honest person to constantly lying, Jones' honest reputation and good character become undermined by the complete change of character. Let's assume his lying is based on endorsing the value of his wants and desires over others no matter what. In fact, he firmly admits that committing himself to principles of putting himself ahead of others, including in truth-telling, is something he sees himself as neglecting from years of being an upstanding honest person. He acquires a new character somewhere over time. Thus, practical identity is a moral feature of our experience used in judging the character of moral agents. By extension, this holds for a state.

Practically speaking, the United States is like Jones. When in times past if the United States called attention to human rights violations, then the world would listen. Now, the Junta in Burma are slapping down democracy and our want to call attention to this in international circles is defeated by our inconsistency on the one hand of judging others to be violators of human rights when at the same time the US cannot honor commitments of non-torture. This is an inconsistency in what we say we value from how we act. Our practical identity of a free nation is supplanted by the truer picture of our character. In essence, our practical identity is held as a salient feature for morally judging the US. This is a consequence of the inconsistency between a nation founded on the rule of law with those in power causing the split between the good principles we value from putting their wants ahead of what is truly morally good.

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