Monday, January 30, 2012

Fritz Allhoff's "Terrorism, Ticking Time-Bombs, and Torture"

Fritz Allhoff is associate professor of philosophy at Western Michigan University and a senior research fellow at the Center for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at the Australian National University. He is coauthor of What Is Nanotechnology and Why Does It Matter? and the editor or coeditor of numerous volumes, including Wine & Philosophy, Physicians at War, and The Philosophy of Science.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Terrorism, Ticking Time-Bombs, and Torture: A Philosophical Analysis, and reported the following:
Terrorism, Ticking Time-Bombs, and Torture explores the conceptual and moral underpinnings of terrorism, then asks, when terrorism is wrong, what we may do to prevent it. In particular, the central question of the book is whether torture can be justified in ticking time-bomb cases, as well as how those cases gain traction in the real world.

Page 99 falls within a critical chapter in the book, the fifth. In this chapter, the discussion is not about whether it is morally permissible to torture in ticking time-bomb cases, but rather is about what ticking time-bomb cases are and what role they are supposed to play in our moral methodology. These cases ask us to countenance torture as the lesser of two evils: with torture, many lives will certainly be saved and, without it, many will be lost. The moral calculus is supposed to be configured such that the harm of torturing the terrorist is outweighed by the value of the lives saved, though, again, this chapter is methodological; the normative issues are deferred to the following chapter.

Setting aside whether ticking time-bomb cases are ever actualized—for more on this, see chapter 7—a standard assumption is that we intuit the permissibility of interrogational torture in these cases. But do we? Or, even if we do, what, precisely, is it that we are intuiting? That the torture is, all things considered, permissible? That it is morally wrong but that we may do it nevertheless, perhaps with moral residue (cf., dirty hands)? These are very different answers. Page 99 falls in the midst of this discussion, and within a chapter more generally that marshals empirical data on intuitions to make arguments as to what ticking time-bomb cases are doing and the role they play in our thinking. To be sure, the goal here is to vindicate ticking time-bomb thinking; in other words, contra critics, the author wants to make a legitimate role for ticking time-bomb cases in our moral discourse. This methodological project is important given the normative discussion that follows, as well as for later chapters in the book where the discussion shifts to torture in the real world.
Learn more about the book and author at Fritz Allhoff's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue