Discussion Board Forum 2Topic: To Torture or Not to TortureNote: You must read Holmes chapters 4–7 and 14 in order to complete this assignment. If you have not done so, stop now and read that mater

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Discussion Board Forum 2


To Torture or Not to Torture

Note: You must read Holmes chapters 4–7 and 14 in order to complete this assignment. If you have not done so, stop now and read that material.

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The ethical issue: One of the ethical controversies of recent times is the practice of using torture to obtain information from suspected terrorists or those with knowledge of terrorist activities. Some believe that the current threat of terrorism warrants such drastic means, while others believe that torture is never a justifiable manner of handling prisoners of war.

The scenario: Suppose a situation presents itself in which there are strong reasons to believe a major attack on U.S. soil is immanent and that many lives will be put in danger. Security forces have captured a terrorist and they have very good reasons to believe he has vital information that can lead to thwarting this attack. They have tried the usual means of obtaining information from the prisoner and none of them have been successful; his resolve not to talk is quite strong. However, security forces are now considering torturing the prisoner. They believe, with a high degree of probability, that torture will break his resolve and he will supply the needed information.

The question: Should they torture the prisoner?



(at least 350 words) must consist of 2 parts:

  1. From your understanding of Holmes’ discussions, explain how each one of the following theories might answer the question of torture described in the scenario: utilitarianism, Kantian duty-based ethics, virtue ethics, and Christian-principle based ethics.
  2. Select the theory you think is true in the context of the torture issue, and explain why.

Discussion Board Forum 2Topic: To Torture or Not to TortureNote: You must read Holmes chapters 4–7 and 14 in order to complete this assignment. If you have not done so, stop now and read that mater
chapter 4 Ethical Egoism In the last chapters we examined two positions that, if followed consistently, undermine the possibility of truth in ethics. We now move to two popular and influential ethical approaches that base moral decisions on what will maximize certain consequences of a policy or an action. Egoismconsiders only the consequences for oneself, while utilitarianism considers the consequences for people at large. We must ask, among other things, whether reducing moral judgments to the question of maximizing benefits for oneself or for people generally is adequate for a consistent and workable ethic, particularly a Christian ethic. We shall look at egoism in this chapter and utilitarianism in the next. It is difficult to overstate the pervasiveness of ethical egoism in our society. We are familiar with it in teenagers’ struggling to establish an identity of their own and in the enticements offered us daily by the advertising industry. Slogans like “Live it up!” and “Go for the gusto!” are simply today’s versions of the ancient egoist’s “Eat, drink and be merry.” These forms of it are marks of a hedonistic egoism, the pursuit of my own pleasure as my highest and all-encompassing good. Another form is the narcissism that dotes on one’s own body, putting physical health and appearance before all else, or again, the self-fulfillment that is the accepted goal and has become the focus of an entire approach to psychological counseling.[1] How strangely idealistic it is for finite and fallen beings in a messed-up world like ours to think that fulfillment is perfectly possible! How insulated can the egoist be from desperate problems of people the world over? Yet this is characteristic of the “me-generation,” whose individualism bears tragic fruit—especially in marriage and the family, where interdependence, common goals and mutual service are indispensable. Novelist Ayn Rand popularized egoism in political and economic affairs;[2] and it is, I think, no exaggeration to say that self-centered nationalism in any country’s policies is simply a kind of corporate egoism. Religion too can become a means to an individual’s selfish ends, something that C. S. Lewis’s Screwtape took ready advantage of in seducing professed believers. Today evangelical Christianity is sometimes billed as the path, if not to personal affluence, at least to fulfillment, happiness and much else that I might desire for myself. Egoism runs rampant. Psychological Egoism What makes ethical egoism so attractive? Undoubtedly, it is the fact that in all of us there runs a strain of self-centeredness: we are motivated at least in part by our own self-interest. Psychological egoism seizes on this fact and generalizes so as to claim that all people are continually motivated by self-interest. The ethical egoist argues that, if people are motivated by self-interest anyway, then they ought to pursue their own good as deliberately and ef fectively as they can. Notice here the step from psychological “fact” to ethical “ought,” from a description to a normative obligation. In the first place, one cannot draw a normative conclusion directly from a descriptive premise alone. By itself, apart from some other additional premise, “is” does not imply “ought.” The egoist is likely to respond that while no direct inference is possible, ethical egoism is still the most naturally acceptable approach since we are all psychological egoists anyway. His step from “is” to “ought” is not necessarily intended as a logical inference, but more as a recognition of the psychological status quo. In the second place, then, we must question the status quo. Is psychological egoism altogether true? If it is put forward as a universally valid description, then we need only one counterexample to deny it, one nonegoistical person or at least one nonegoistical action. The supreme counterexample, of course, is Jesus Christ with his self-giving love. But the egoist can respond that unselfish acts may still be in one’s own interest and may provide a great deal of satisfaction, ego-fulfillment and other long-term rewards. Citing examples of unselfishness therefore is not enough to convince us. Indeed the Bible significantly appeals to our self-interest regarding both the consequences of belief or unbelief and the consequences of our actions. Its rewards and punishments appeal to an egoistical motivation. The question we must ask then is whether psychological egoism tells the whole story, whether self-interest is our sole motivation or even the overriding one. Does concern for our own welfare really outweigh concern for anyone or anything else? The eighteenth-century Bishop Joseph Butler responded that while I do indeed desire my own inner happiness in general, motivation is tied in specific cases to particular external objects.[3] I do not want food for the sake of my own happiness in general, but because I am hungry and need it to go on working, perhaps to go on serving others. A husband does not want sex just for its maximum pleasure but because he loves his wife and values closeness to her. The desire for food or sex may be self-referential, but it is not self-confined, not purely and solely egoistical.[4] This is the difference between what Butler calls true self-love and unnatural or debauched self-love. Debauched self-love separates the things we value for their own sake from the pleasure they afford, thereby indulging itself in ways that may be counterproductive to true self-interest. Another important psychological fact now arises: the “hedonic paradox” that the pursuit of pleasure for its own sake often results not in pleasure but frustration. Parallels exist with regard to other forms of egoism as well, so that we can speak of the “fulfillment paradox” and the “egoism paradox.” Concentration on maximizing self-fulfillment can so distract our attention from enriching activities and external objects that the sense of fulfillment slips through our fingers. Aesthetic and intellectual pursuits require a high degree of detachment and disciplined attention to an object, and so are notoriously unsatisfying for the debauched. Observe this paradox in its classic statement by the Hebrew poet. I said to myself, “Come now, I will make a test of pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But again, this also was vanity. I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?” I searched with my mind how to cheer my body with wine—my mind still guiding me with wisdom—and how to lay hold on folly, until I might see what was good for mortals to do under heaven during the few days of their life. I made great works; I built houses and planted vineyards for myself; I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees. I bought male and female slaves, and had slaves who were born in my house; I had also great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem. I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and of the provinces; I got singers, both men and women, and delights of the flesh, and many concubines. So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem; also my wisdom remained with me. Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them; I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had spent in doing it, and again, all was vanity and a chasing after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun. (Eccles 2:1-11) True self-love, on the other hand, does not conflict with loving people and things for their own sake. A good novel or play, a symphony, a research project or a good conversation can capture and hold my interest and, as it were, “take me out of myself.” Consider also friendship, marriage, parenthood: they naturally develop in us nonegoistical motivations to such an extent that we will sacrifice our own interests for those we love. We desire their well-being as much and sometimes more than our own. The Bible tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves and that a husband is to love his wife as his own body (Lk 10:27; Eph 5:28). Self-love is properly matched by love for others, Butler insisted, and it no more conflicts with benevolence than it does with love for God. Psychologically, this seems much closer to the overall picture than the self-confined love of psychological egoism. Some have held that it is overly optimistic to talk about natural benevolence in fallen human beings, that Thomas Hobbes was more to the point when he pictured our psychological egoism as leading to the war of all against all.[5] Butler may well have absorbed too much Enlightenment optimism, it is true, but on the other hand we must still recognize the common grace of God which preserves society from turning its back altogether on benevolent concerns and plunging wholesale into the depths of debauched egoism. Every good thing, not least the love of parent for child and the concern people show for peace and justice on this earth, comes ultimately from God. There is no need to stress our need for God by exaggerating our egoism. Psychological egoism, it then seems, is a mistaken view. Not only can apparent exceptions to the rule be cited, but human motivation is more complex than egoism allows. Self-interest is not the whole story, but coexists with altruistic concerns. Egoistical motives do not always override all else; in fact, by themselves they are often counterproductive. As a steppingstone to ethical egoism, psychological egoism fails. Is Ethical Egoism Viable? What sort of social order would be required for conflicting self-interests to be brought together in some sort of peaceable and orderly way? In the context of the English civil war, Thomas Hobbes was utterly pessimistic about egoism left to itself, uncontrolled; he saw human life in that condition as “nasty, short and brutish.” Enlightened self-interest, he argued, requires that individual liberties be surrendered to a benevolent monarch with absolute power. But if psychological egoism were true, would the absolute monarch really be benevolent or would his own self-interest override the interests of those entrusted to his care? Can egoism work—if it is egoism without exception even in those who rule? In The Republic, Plato proposed to train a ruling class in whom egoism could not take root. Their genetic inheritance, education and socialization would all be so arranged, their economic and sexual needs so fully supplied, that self-interest would not distract their minds from truth and justice. Only with nonegoistical rulers, he maintained, is a just society possible. The eighteenth-century Enlightenment was more optimistic. The French Baron de Mandeville likened humanity to a swarm of bees, each pursuing its own ends, yet by nature composing a harmonious and peaceable realm. Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” was able to function because a natural benevolence combines with our natural self-interest. Karl Marx, however, saw no hope for a peaceable or just society until the conflicting self-interests of social classes are overcome in an eventual classless society. The question social philosophy poses, then, is whether egoism can provide a viable ethic or whether it leads to anarchy. Can the ethical egoist be trusted to do what is good for others? To consider this question more closely, we shall distinguish two kinds of egoism. The individual egoist says she should seek always and only her own individual good, and everyone should so serve her in particular. The universal egoist says that every individual should seek always and only his or her own good. Consider Sally, an individual egoist. Who would listen to her advice? Sally will only advise me to do what is in her own self-interest, using me as fully as she can for her own ends. If I ask what I ought to do for my own good, she in effect tells me to serve her ends, even though that may not help me. Even if she advises me to be an egoist too, I will have to conclude she does so for her own benefit; to take her advice I may have to reject it. Sally can give no objective counsel, can make no disinterested judgments. She cannot even make me an egoist like herself. She should never be trusted, except to pursue her own interests regardless of the cost to others. Nobody would want to elect Sally to public office. And who would want to marry her? To avoid this impasse, the individual egoist would likely become a universal egoist like her friend Bill and advise each of us to seek his own individual good. But can I trust Bill any more than I do Sally? For if each seeks his or her own good, so too does Bill when he gives advice, and we are back in Sally’s grasp. If we take Bill’s advice at face value, then we create Mandeville’s swarm of bees, so unrealistic in its idealism, and we are likely to end up, as Hobbes put it less optimistically, with a war of all against all. While individual egoism retreats to universal egoism, then, universal egoism threatens to collapse into anarchy—that is, unless Bill and Sally and all the rest of us can be made to work for the common good. To suppose that somehow, without our forsaking egoism, nature or providence will work all things together for good, independent of our efforts, takes considerable credulity in light of human history and our sinfulness. If we think universal egoism would not be so bad as to create anarchy but would rather make life into a stimulating competitive sport, then there must be rules to the game, natural laws we all obey willy-nilly. This again takes credulity. Moreover, if natural laws do hold our egoism in check, then psychological egoism does not have the last word after all, and the ethical egoist’s basis is lost. So while individual egoism retreats into universal egoism, and universal egoism collapses into anarchy. Egoism seemingly fails as a consistent and workable ethic. It should be noted, however, that this line of criticism depends on the assumption that self-interest can indeed get out of hand and become destructive to others. Hobbes took this point of view, possibly because he was influenced by the biblical doctrine of sin, possibly because he lived amid conflicts that tore seventeenth-century England apart. Broad church thinkers did not share his pessi mistic view of human nature, however, holding to a more na-tural moral order in human society, more natural altruism and benevolence. But this means rejecting both psychological and ethical egoism. Some utilitarians claim that I should seek good consequences for all people because that is what will make me happy: they adopt utilitarian means to egoistical ends. But that does not justify their egoistic ends, even if it does keep them from bestiality or anarchy. And the adequacy of a utilitarian approach must itself be considered. What can we conclude about egoism from a Christian standpoint? First, we observe that while a legitimate psychological self-interest is assumed in Scripture, it is balanced by ethical concern for others. All persons are created in God’s image of equal worth: the Christian must love her neighbor as she does herself. Second, egoism views people much more individualistically than does Scripture. In the Bible, people are considered in relation to others—as members of families, of the community of faith, or of nations—and their responsibilities are largely those of these groups. We shall come back to this point subsequently. Third, the doctrine of human depravity must be balanced by the doctrine of common grace: that is, God in his goodness restrains the evil possibilities inherent in a degenerate egoism, maintaining a degree of order in both nature and society to bear witness to himself as Creator and Lawgiver. Finally, neither egoism nor altruism, nor even a balance of the two, suffices to describe an overall biblical ethic. The highest end is rather to glorify God and enjoy him forever, to seek first the kingdom of God. The highest motivation is love for God: true neighbor-love and true self-love properly follow from this. And both of them logically lead us back to their source in love for God.


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