Thursday, December 03, 2015

Ticking Time-Bomb

Suppose an occasion to arise, in which a suspicion is entertained, as strong as that which would be received as a sufficient ground for arrest and commitment as for felony — a suspicion that at this very time a considerable number of individuals are actually suffering, by illegal violence inflictions equal in intensity to those which if inflicted by the hand of justice, would universally be spoken of under the name of torture. For the purpose of rescuing from torture these hundred innocents, should any scruple be made of applying equal or superior torture, to extract the requisite information from the mouth of one criminal, who having it in his power to make known the place where at this time the enormity was practicing or about to be practiced, should refuse to do so? To say nothing of wisdom, Could any pretence be made so much as to the praise of blind and vulgar humanity, by the man who to save one criminal, should determine to abandon a hundred innocent persons to the same fate?
[from Jeremy Bentham, "Means of extraction for extraordinary occasions" (1804) UC 74b/428–30.]

Bentham, because of the above passage, is generally regarded as the originator of what is usually called the 'ticking time-bomb' justification of the use of torture in interrogation. (It's one of many reasons to dislike the influence of Bentham on ethics, I think, but not at all the least.) Jeremy Davies has a very good discussion of Bentham's views on torture in The Fire-Raisers: Bentham and Torture.

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