February 26th, 2012
A Moral Understanding of Utilitarianism and Torture
KSM is a mastermind terrorist who has been captured by the CIA. He refuses to reveal any information about his organization or the members thereof that could be fundamental to the welfare of hundreds of lives. Even under the presence of coercive methods such as sleep deprivation and water boarding, he has refused to talk. His nine and eleven year old children have been brought into custody and a suggestion has been made to torture the children. Is the option ethical or moral in any sense? Utilitarianism provides two answers for the question; one asserting the general rule of utility, the other expanding on justice implicating that the notion that no harm should be inflicted on the children. Each case will be dissected and assessed to reveal the most feasible answer to whether or not the children should be tortured. This conclusion will also be questioned on whether or not the provided answer is approaching the situation in the best possible manner.
Utilitarianism in its simplest form distinguishes the difference between right and wrong by asserting that what is right is any action of good that will positively affect the common welfare of all. In short, the principle of utility implies that what is good is whatever promotes the greatest amount of happiness. This implies that the happiness of one individual is not as relevant or important as the happiness of a multitude of persons, or that the value of life can be measured in numbers and not by specific individuals. The general idea is that if five people are saved as compared to saving one life, then there is more happiness being created and as a result more good is being created.
In KSM’s case, if the general rule of utilitarianism is to be applied, then the option of torturing KSM’s children is a plausible means of coercion. This rule fundamentally subtracts the happiness lost...
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