‘Torture can be justified if it serves the greater good’ critically discuss this statement with reference to human rights theories.

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‘Torture can be justified if it serves the greater good’ critically discuss this statement with reference to human rights theories.

Torture, and consequently its definition, has changed through time. A Roman lawyer once stated, ‘torture is the inquiry after truth by means of torment’ (cited in Peters, 1985). This definition is the foundation for the understanding of torture in modern times. It is now looked at not only in terms of physical pain, but mental stress and damage as well, (ScienceDaily, 2009). The United Nations Committee against Torture is responsible for monitoring states and ensuring that they are complying with their duties depicted in the treaty’s resolutions and articles, (McQuigg, 2011). The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, (UDHR) states that “Noone shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”, (United Nations Human Rights, 2013). Theorists arguing for torture stand upon the utilitarian argument that it is for the ‘greater good’. However, torture is illegal and often considered immoral, which underpin the arguments of many anti-torture criminologists. These theories are flawed when asking the question: ‘If put into a situation whereby the choices offered are both immoral, which would be the ‘lesser of two evils’?’ Using human rights theories and commonly-used arguments such as, consequentialism, utilitarianism, social contract theory and more, the justification of torture can be critically analysed to result in a fully supported and reasonable conclusion.

To fully understand the arguments made in this essay, it is imperative to differentiate between morals, ethics, laws and the definitions of the ‘greater good’, ‘moral absolutism’ and torture in itself. Torture is, for the needs of this writing, defined as: “the intentional infliction of extreme physical [or mental] suffering on some non-consenting, defenceless, other person for the purpose of breaking their will”, (Miller, S. n.d.). Morality, as portrayed by Chazelle, is the difference between right and wrong. Ethical codes are used to transform moral judgment or intuition into a decision around action, (Chazelle, B. 2009). The laws surrounding torture, within the human rights domain, depict that, “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.” (United Nations Human Rights, 2013). The ‘greater good’, often used in utilitarian argument, seeks to ensure the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. This statement in itself has much to explain, but for the use in this essay, it will factor the ‘greater good’ as the greatest number of people in any one circumstance according to Western values. Moral absolution, explains the feeling that something is absolutely right or wrong no matter of the circumstance or consequence, usually a Kantian viewpoint, (Barry, P. n.d.). Using these terms and relevant theories, this essay will discuss the justification of torture for the ‘greater good’. The state, as elected by the citizens of the country, has a responsibility to protect its citizens and to protect the rights to security and life that the people hold. Their aim, to ensure protection from various acts such as crime, human right violations and safety from terror and pain, can only be properly ensured if the state is able to use methods such as torture to gain important information against potential terrorist attacks, (McLaughlan, K. 2009). This idea justifies the use of torture in exchange for the safety of the people and bases its arguments on the promise that the torture would ensure the safety of a society over the harm of an individual. It would also imply that if a state were not to use such measures to enforce the protection over its people then the state are risking the lives of their trusting population. On the other hand, arguments against the...
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