I recently read Justice, what’s the right thing to do? by Michael J. Sandel.

I loved the way the book broke down a lot of moral questions to show you all the pieces that go into a moral dilemma.

One discussion covered the dilemma ‘Is it ok to torture a terrorist to tell you the location of a bomb that is about to go off in a few hours?’

Sandel points out that there are two approaches.

1) Do the maths to figure out the greater good.

2) It is never right because freedom from torture is a human right that is beyond calculation, even if the benefits are huge.

My previous thought was to go with 1 and widen the ‘maths’ consideration to show that the costs will always be higher than the benefits (people can take a lot of pain for a few hours, benefit=0, freedom from torture will encourage people to dob in their friends/family as they can be sure they will be safe from mistreatment, and such citizens information is much more valuable than information extracted under torture).

The second argument is far more courageous and hard.

Sandel then breaks down the pieces of the argument by asking: What if we don’t have the terrorist, but his 5 year old innocent child. Is it ok to torture that child to locate the bomb?

It’s the same cost for the same benefit, but this is much more awful. This shows that our question of torture ‘for the greater good’ is also mixed up with the idea that the terrorist ‘deserves’ punishment. You could say the torture is in lieu of the jail time he would have to serve anyway. Not so with the child.


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