Critique for Levin's Case for Torture

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There are real-world scenarios which not only allow for the use of torture, but which in fact necessitate it. This is Michael Levin's core argument in The Case for Torture (Newsweek, 1982). Levin effectively advances his argument primarily by presenting a number of hypothetical cases, designed to force the skeptical reader to question whether his opposition to torture is truly absolute. Levin's argument also relies on employing analogy as a rhetorical device and considering a number of counterarguments to his position, which he rebuts in a logical, if not incontrovertible, manner. What the casual reader may fail to notice, however, is how weak the scope of Levin's argument really is. Levin captures his readers' attention with his discussion of three hypothetical scenarios. The first, the dramatic case of the atomic bomb hidden in Manhattan, he acknowledges to be an extreme example, unlikely to occur in real life. However, he argues, the conclusions drawn from this first scenario can be extrapolated to more realistic ones, such as his second scenario, the terrorist hijacking of an airplane with a bomb. Levin's third hypothetical situation, in which a mother chooses to torture the terrorist responsible for kidnapping her newborn baby in order to get her back, at first appears to be an appeal to the emotions of his readers. This is not the case. The emotional response is that of the mother in the scenario, not of the reader, whose sympathy for the mother is not the author's main concern. The author's goal is not to generate sympathy for someone willing to employ torture, but to illustrate the empirical fact (however poorly tested), that most rational women would favor torture in at least one particular situation. In so doing, Levin emphasizes that the decision to use torture is often an emotional one, and further, that since rational people can see at least some value in torture, its taboo cannot be absolute. Midway through his article, Levin has scored a number of...
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