Can Torture Ever Be Justified for a Democracy?




St. Peter, Jerry

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In this work, I defend the view that torture is an inexcusable practice for a democracy. Philosophical defenses of torture rely on hypothetical, abstract scenarios in which we are asked to imagine that a ticking bomb has been planted in the center of a metropolitan area and will kill thousands of innocents unless the terrorist, who has been captured by state agents but refuses to divulge the bomb’s location, is tortured. This model gives insufficient attention to the problematic relationship between pain and truth and reduces the recognition of torture as a practice of social and political domination. By taking a closer look at how democracies have practiced torture and how they have tried to reconcile its practice with democratic norms such as accountability and the rule of law, we are better equipped to understand what is at stake in justifying torture. The justifications that service and promote this violent practice fail to satisfy epistemic conditions of truth and evidence, and neglect moral restraints regarding our treatment of others as well as the profound consequences for allowing torture to persist in a democratic society.



torture, democracy, accountability, philosophy, justification