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« Defining Torture: An Initial Exploration | Main | Defining Torture: One More Thought »

November 27, 2006

Comments

Randy

I don't know if pain quite covers it. For example, making someone crawl around naked while wearing a dog collar being carried by a woman. That would be torture in my mind but there is no pain involved. It is more degradation. That is the key. Have we respected their dignity as humans?

Jimmy Akin

I'm considering forcing a person to feel degraded as a form of mental pain.

Realist

Hmmm, I wonder how many of us are Catholic because of the torture or threat of torture of the "Inquisitioners"??

And I wonder if the Vatican archives has a book(s) describing the more effective torture methods used during the Inquisition?

MenTaLguY

Apparently it wasn't very effective.

Joy Schoenberger

It must be considered that pain is subjective. Different people have different tolerances and coping methods, so that the same act can qualify as torture when committed against one person, but not against another.

As a simple example, threatening to force someone who's a vegetarian for health reasons to eat a piece of steak is a form of mental pain, but would be much more so if that person was a Hindu, who considers the cow a sacred animal.

Likewise, physical pain, to a child, is much more traumatic than it is to an adult.

That makes your hypothetical blurry line very blurry indeed. The definition still holds, but objectively applying it is problematic.

David

Jimmy, your definition allows you to say that waterboarding (under certain circumstances) might not be torture:

"I would not say that it is torture if it is being used in a ticking time bomb scenario and there is no other, less painful way to save lives (it is proportionate since there is not a better solution)."

But what about sticking needles under the fingernails and into the fingers of that person, if waterboarding didn't work?

Or what about beating the person with brass knuckles? or using electric shocks to the genitals?

Your definition allows just about any pain-delivering act (short of killing?) to be licit under your specified criteria. That, IMO, is entirely too permissive a definition of torture.

TM Lutas

All torture discussions are difficult. Bless you for taking it on in an adult fashion. Whether or not I agree with the definition in the end, the effort needs to be made. So far, it's looking pretty good.

I would say that so far, one of the drawbacks of the approach you are using is that it seems very susceptible to distortion. There is a real utility to bright lines and giving them up in favor of a more nuanced approach can yield to lost souls who successfully rationalized their way into doing intrinsically evil acts.

This may be unavoidable but this too should be part of the discussion.

Jeff

I agree with the statement above that "all torture discussions are difficult."

What I think advances the discussion is for everyone to admit that there is a discussion going on, that the teaching on torture is extremely unclear and that they ought to avoid arrogance in dealing with those who disagree with them.

I don't at ALL mind those who are dissatisfied and want something less contextual and more absolute seeming. What I DO mind is those Catholics who rant and point fingers and make assumptions about motives and insist that there is only one way to read the texts of the documents involved.

Hopefully, with Akin in the debate arguing that torture depends on context and things that are brutal and excruciatingly painful might NOT be torture, the Sheas and their cohorts will cut out the j'accuse! nonsense and the sneering and fake-magisterium-posturing and condescend to TALK to those they disagree with as honest Catholics in good standing.

Three cheers to Jimmy for leaping into this debate and biting the bullet at the same time. Hard to coordinate those two... And kudos to him again for facing all the issues squarely and not ducking and weaving.

Jeff

I myself think--along with the Sheavians and their ilk--that there are probably some acts, some degree or some quality difficult to define characterizing them--which ought not to be entertained. I have the uneasy feeling that there are some things that I ought simply to refuse to be a party to, regardless of the result of my resistance.

Perhaps Fr. Harrison's proposal that the Church--despite her long history of using it--definitively condemns torture to extract confessions (you must distinguish this from gathering information in a crisis) is helpful. I wish more attention were given to his two part essay on torture which actually is significantly helpful in many ways to the Shea/Zippy/Miller faction--though they don't condescend to appreciate it.

What do you, Jimmy, think of Harrison's contribution. Have you decided?

Tim J.

"That makes your hypothetical blurry line very blurry indeed. The definition still holds, but objectively applying it is problematic."

Well, see, this is the problem and one that is not addressed by morally defining the SIN of torture.

It is extremely important to make the distinction (as Jimmy does) between the moral definition and the legal/civil definition of torture.

No moral/theological definition of torture can spell out for us what torture will "look like" in every situation. It will be up to lawyers and politicians (God help us) to define torture in the legal/technical sense, but this work needs doing because we are talking about prison (or worse) for people accused of war crimes (or police brutality, or what have you).

I do think we should be firmly on the right side of the fuzzy torture line. We should offer no one an excuse to - even in error - accuse us of torture. IMHO, we ought to be sending the message that "We are Americans, and that's not the way we do things.".

Christine

Torture very often consists of physical pain, combined with humiliation. The goal, of course, is to break the will of the person being tortured.

Christine
TheWorld...IMHO

horatio

Torture exists when the act you are performing does not respect the inherent dignity of the individual. Something we absolutely failed to do (as did Calvin and everyone else torturing people into "confessions") during the Inquisition.

In terms of the War on Terror, it is never excusable to use torture. The assumption in the ticking bomb example is that the person clearly has the information to stop the bomb in time. That is so far from the practice of modern torture as to be inconsequential to our debate. The people who are being tortured know far less and suffer far worse. To frame the debate with such an absurd hypothetical does us little good. We do not disrespect the inherent dignity of life, of God's creation. That is how you keep from torturing. You punish when something is proven, almost always, we torture for reasons far less concrete than that.

David

That, IMO, is entirely too permissive a definition of torture.

er, that's not quite clear. What I mean is, that your definition, Jimmy, is permissive in this sense--it allows far too much pain-causing behavior to not count as torture.

Tim J.

"Torture exists when the act you are performing does not respect the inherent dignity of the individual"

People act against the inherent dignity of other human beings all the time, but by far we don't classify most of that as "torture". Having premarital sex, for instance "does not respect the inherent dignity of the individual".

The "inherent dignity" test can't be used by itself to define torture.

"That is so far from the practice of modern torture as to be inconsequential to our debate."

Not so. Battlefield situations in which VERY recently captured (like in the last few minutes) combatants may hold vital life-saving intelligence are common.

In terms of the day-to-day policies of the CIA, et al... I quite agree that the indiscriminate use of torture (cold cells, sleep deprivation, etc...) are appalling. Such aggressive interrogation should never be used as a matter of policy just to find out if a prisoner MIGHT know something useful.

Extreme cases ARE relevant, though.

SDG

er, that's not quite clear. What I mean is, that your definition, Jimmy, is permissive in this sense--it allows far too much pain-causing behavior to not count as torture.

Not necessarily. We just have to hash out what is or isn't disproportionate.

I think we can agree that some acts are intrinsically contrary to human dignity and thus always disproportionate. To give an extreme example, it would obviously be wrong to rape or sexually abuse someone as a form of torture, or to torture someone by exposing him to the rape or sexual abuse of his loved ones (or of anyone).

Similarly, to take a scenario mentioned earlier in the combox, to make a prisoner crawl around naked while wearing a dog collar being carried by a woman, or even to threaten a prisoner with photos of some, seems to involve an offense of a similar kind to rape, though to a lesser degree. It is a form of ritual sexual humiliation or abuse, thus contrary to human dignity and always disproportionate.

Another scenario mentioned earlier, electric shocks to the genitals, is at least arguably likewise akin to a form of sexualized abuse. Whatever degree of pain is involved, in the event of a ticking-bomb scenario, there are surely ways of eliciting the requisite pain without the sexual humiliation of exposing and afflicting someone's genitals.

A third method mentioned above, beating with brass knuckles, carries an obvious stigma by association with gangsters and back alleys, but in principle I can't see that it is inherently different from other forms of administering corporal pain.

To give a slightly less unsavory example, I wouldn't want to condemn as inherently wrong all instances of caning or whipping, either as punishment for a crime or as a means of resolving a ticking-bomb scenario. Caning may be felt to be viscerally somewhat more removed from mere thuggery than a beating with brass knuckles, but in principle I don't see that the use of brass knuckles would inherently contrary to human dignity.

The assumption in the ticking bomb example is that the person clearly has the information to stop the bomb in time. That is so far from the practice of modern torture as to be inconsequential to our debate. The people who are being tortured know far less and suffer far worse… You punish when something is proven, almost always, we torture for reasons far less concrete than that.

This is very likely true, and is at least a credible POV -- thus Jimmy's Big Red Disclaimer.

The fact that Jimmy's analysis would allow for, say, waterboarding in some cases does not mean that actual instances of waterboarding in Guantanamo or wherever are in any way justifiable. Jimmy's analysis is concerned with principles, not current events.

Tim J.

Well, brass knuckles are going to go beyond causing mere pain to the point of actually causing serious bodily injury, which also would seem to be intrinsically evil for purposes of punishment OR interrogation.

Caning causes severe pain, but can be done without causing serious injury.

Manalive

"Tell me about the oranges, Lilly.".

SDG

Well, brass knuckles are going to go beyond causing mere pain to the point of actually causing serious bodily injury, which also would seem to be intrinsically evil for purposes of punishment OR interrogation.

Caning causes severe pain, but can be done without causing serious injury.

You're probably right, Tim -- I hadn't considered that. (Never having been beaten with brass knuckles... ;-) )

Since it is possible to administer even severe pain, where proportionate and necessary, without causing serious injury, it would seem that any form of pain-administration for purposes of punishment or eliciting emergency info that causes serious injury inflicts an unnecessary evil and would thus constitute the sin of torture.

This is not to say that we can never do another individual serious bodily harm. However, I can't see a way it justify it within the context of punishment or eliciting emergency info.

francis 03

I would add that the pain and its disproportionality would have to be intended by the putative torturer as either an end in itself or else as a direct means to an end. This would exculpate the battlefield physician, for instance, since he is intended to heal, not inflict pain. Further, it solves the subjectivity problem by focusing not on how much pain the subject experienced (which is impossible even for the putative torturer to measure) but instead on how much pain the putative torturer intended to inflict.

David

Well, brass knuckles are going to go beyond causing mere pain to the point of actually causing serious bodily injury, which also would seem to be intrinsically evil for purposes of punishment OR interrogation.

According to Jimmy's contrual of things, causing serious bodily injury through administering pain isn't itself intrinsically evil. He says:

"I find it hard to think of particular physical acts that automatically count as torture irregardless of the circumstances."

So if applying the brass knuckles in a t-t-b-situation is somehow proportionate, the only effective and available means, and not motivated by hatred, then it would be, on his view, licit.

Tim J.

"So if applying the brass knuckles in a t-t-b-situation is somehow proportionate, the only effective and available means, and not motivated by hatred, then it would be, on his view, licit."

I humbly submit that any definition of torture would have to include the intentional infliction of serious bodily injury for the purpose of interrogation or punishment. We cautiously work backward from there.

Now, hitting someone with brass knuckles in self defense, or in the defense of another against an aggressor is another thing.

But, a bound prisoner is hardly an "aggressor" even if he might be part of some deadly plot, and so the use of bodily injury to gain his compliance would be out of bounds.

Ken Crawford

Jimmy, thanks for delving into this subject. My one thought would be the accidental running over of someone with a bus would be considered torture by your definition. I think there needs to be the addition of the word "intentional".

SDG

According to Jimmy's contrual of things, causing serious bodily injury through administering pain isn't itself intrinsically evil… So if applying the brass knuckles in a t-t-b-situation is somehow proportionate, the only effective and available means, and not motivated by hatred, then it would be, on his view, licit.

As I said, it is not the case that we can never do another individual serious bodily harm.

However, given the availability of non-injurious methods of administering even extreme pain, I'm not clear how brass-knuckle type injurious torture could ever be proportionate.

I guess maybe in principle you might hypothesize a TTB scenario in which a captured bomber is determined to resist any amount of pain, but might just crack in the face of threatened bodily harm. However, brass-knuckle type injury would surely be inadequate for such a purpose. You would have to threaten him with more serious bodily harm than that -- say, amputating his fingers.

In such a case, it might be possible that such a method, and only such a method, could be successful in saving countless lives from the terrorist's bomb. In that case, it might be possible to argue that threatening to amputate the bomber's fingers, or even actually doing so, would not be the sin of torture. (I'm not sure this could ever actually be justified, but I'm not sure it couldn't, either.)

Needless to say, if the threat or infliction of serious bodily harm is ever justifiable, as in cases of self-defense it would have to involve the least harm possible. E.g., you could not threaten to amputate a hand if a finger would do.

SDG

I humbly submit that any definition of torture would have to include the intentional infliction of serious bodily injury for the purpose of interrogation or punishment. We cautiously work backward from there.

Just to clarify, Tim, you don't mean to say that in order to qualify as torture it has to involve serious bodily injury for the purpose of interrogation or punishment -- only that anything involving serious bodily injury for the purpose of interrogation or punishment would certainly qualify as torture, right?

But I'm not sure that this is the case, cf. above.

Zippy

Torture is intrinsically evil because it is the infliction of disproportionate pain on a subject.

That is similar to what I first came up with many months ago. That attempt came under quite a lot of legitimate criticism in various comment boxes and elsewhere. I think it pretty clearly fails the second criteria, as well as resulting in a sorites paradox.

I do hope you've had the chance to read my own attempt at a definition.

Matt McDonald

Jimmy,

you bucking for a job at the CDF? This is an excellent posting.

I think you're absolutely right to focus on defining what constitutes the sin of torture, and get away from the silliness of "whatever violates human dignity".

God Bless,

Matt

Zippy

...so that the same act can qualify as torture when committed against one person, but not against another.

This is a common mistake. The constitution of the person being tortured is in fact completely irrelevant to the morality of the act.

Think about the corresponding situation with an attempted abortion. If the means are particularly ineeffective and/or the constitution of the victim is particularly strong, an attempted abortion may fail. But that doesn't mean that, if it succeeds, it is not an abortion.

Tim J.

"Just to clarify, Tim, you don't mean to say that in order to qualify as torture it has to involve serious bodily injury for the purpose of interrogation or punishment -- only that anything involving serious bodily injury for the purpose of interrogation or punishment would certainly qualify as torture, right?"

Right.

Tom K.

Does "the disproportionate infliction of pain"
really correspond as much as possible to our pre-reflective sense of what constitutes torture?

When a boy starts a fight on the playground, would we pre-reflectively say he is committing an act of torture? If a woman gets angry at a neighbor and slaps her in the face, is that torture?

I'd say the disproportionate infliction of pain is a necessary but not sufficient component of torture.

Tim J.

As much as we may identify with a frustrated interrogator, we have to be extremely careful about codifying that into law.

For instance, as much as I might sympathize with a man who severely beats (maybe even to the point of death) a man who has raped his daughter, I can't allow for that sympathy to be encoded in law. The worst thing we could do as a society would be to say "Assault and murder are wrong, unless someone has raped your daughter.".

Now, does rape deserve severe punishment? Yes. Does the rapist really deserve any better than a beating? No.

As much as we may sympathize with an interrogator who desperately wants to prevent some kind of deadly attack, but we can't allow that sympathy to be codified into law.

In my opinion, serious bodily injury for the purpose of interrogation or punishment would be right out... would always be torture. That means that sometimes we might just have to allow ourselves - or others - to be victimized in order to live by our principles. Is this anything new for Christians?

"I would rather die than do something which I know to be a sin, or to be against God's will." - St. Joan of Arc

Chad

Is not "disproportionate" too general, in that it includes possibilities on both sides of the spectrum?

Therefore inflicting *less* pain than what is proportionate would also be considered torture (e.g. a murderer who receives only a verbal scolding from the judge).

SDG

Is not "disproportionate" too general, in that it includes possibilities on both sides of the spectrum?

In the world of Catholic moral theology, "disproportionate" is widely understood to mean "more than what is proportionate," not less.

Dave

Despite all the argumentation so far:

It still seems like this definition is inadequate, because from it no act of inflicting pain could be considered evil apart from a consideration of proportionality.

This, I would think, leaves to much to the pragmatic. He's still not saying where the bomb is? Turn up the electroshock dial even higher (a la Rambo II, or a real life version of the Milgram experiments).

I think there is a point where we ought to say that "this action of inflicting pain is wrong, regardless of the circumstances". I don't think every case should ultimately depend upon a prudential judgment as to proportionality. Some actions are just too heinous.

SDG

In my opinion, serious bodily injury for the purpose of interrogation or punishment would be right out... would always be torture. That means that sometimes we might just have to allow ourselves - or others - to be victimized in order to live by our principles. Is this anything new for Christians?

"I would rather die than do something which I know to be a sin, or to be against God's will." - St. Joan of Arc

We have to distinguish between acts that are intrinsically wrong always and everywhere regardless of circumstances or motive, and acts that are extrinsically wrong under some circumstances or for some motives, but not others.

For example, sexual abuse is always intrinsically wrong no matter what, and therefore you cannot torture a prisoner by sexual abuse even to save countless liveds in a TTB scenario.

However, causing others serious bodily injury is not intrinsically wrong always and everywhere. For example, it can be done in self-defense, or in wartime. When you say serious bodily injury for the purpose of interrogation or punishment, you are not just naming a particular act, but specifying a particular set of extrinsic circumstances and a motive.

The question then becomes, why can causing others serious bodily injury be justified under certain circumstances, including self-defense and in warfare, but not in another scenario when any number of lives might be on the line?

Of course we must never do evil that good may result, i.e., we cannot do what is intrinsically evil for any purpose, however good in itself. But what is only extrinsically evil can be justified given sufficient reason, and it seems that if self-defense counts as a sufficient reason for causing serious bodily harm to another, saving a city from a bomb might very well be another.

FWIW, I'm not at all sure of this logic. I'm just trying it out.

JohnD

Dave,

If the action is "too heinous", isn't it also disproportionate?

francis 03

I like this definition, but does it really do any of the work that the participants in this debate seem to have been hoping it would do? Seems like all the definition does is to say that a certain class of what we commonly call "torture" is objectively immoral. Fair enough, but we all knew that already (I hope); what we really want to know is where the bounds of that class lie.

Zippy

It still seems like this definition is inadequate, because from it no act of inflicting pain could be considered evil apart from a consideration of proportionality.

Precisely. And the whole point to Veritatis Splendour is to condemn the errors which underly moral philosophies such as (for example) proportionalism. An intrinsically evil act cannot be justified by having a proportionate reason to perform it, and it cannot be justified as being a proportionate response to some circumstance. It is impossible in principle, as I understand it, for an intrinsically evil act to be defined as such-and-such an act by a disproportion in intentions or means.

An abortion isn't an abortion because it is a disproportionate response to some evil which will occur if it isn't performed. It is an abortion because it involves the direct killing of an innocent person: thus it is never justifiable, not even to save the life of both mother and child. Thus the moral quandaries over (e.g.) salpingotomies versus salpingectomies.

People need to stop reading (and initiating) blog threads and start reading Veritatis Splendour.

Zippy

Maybe part of the problem is that there is too much effort expended in trying to reconcile the ordinary sense of how people use words with what is objectively true morally. If the way we use our language has been badly corrupted by teleological (as opposed to deontological) moral theories, as JPII says in VS - in other words, if JPII had a legitimate pastoral motive in writing Veritatis Splendour when he did - then we have to expect that the way most people ordinarily use moral terms is riddled with error. How many times have people commented "but the Church says war is OK, and war means choosing the lesser of two evils".

Giving in to the world's corruption of language on moral matters contributes to the spread of wickedness. There is no reason why any Catholic should buy into it. Torture is intrinsically immoral. Therefore the difference between an evil act of torture and a licit act of interrogation cannot -- cannot by definition -- be merely a matter of disproportion in a means or end.

SDG

It still seems like this definition is inadequate, because from it no act of inflicting pain could be considered evil apart from a consideration of proportionality.

Depending on what you mean by "proportionality," how is it clear that this is not the case? Other forms of punishment, up to and including capital punishment, cannot be considered evil intrinsically. So why do you presuppose that some forms of causing pain must be intrinsically evil, apart from considerations of proportionality?

And the whole point to Veritatis Splendour is to condemn the errors which underly moral philosophies such as (for example) proportionalism. An intrinsically evil act cannot be justified by having a proportionate reason to perform it, and it cannot be justified as being a proportionate response to some circumstance. It is impossible in principle, as I understand it, for an intrinsically evil act to be defined as such-and-such an act by a disproportion in intentions or means.

Yes, that is true of intrinsically evil acts. But not all evils involve intrinsically evil acts, and it has not yet been shown (at least, in this discussion) that any particular act of causing pain (qua causing pain) is ever intrinsically evil.

Tim J.

"Therefore the difference between an evil act of torture and a licit act of interrogation cannot -- cannot by definition -- be merely a matter of disproportion in a means or end."

Why? The difference between a licit spanking and an evil act of child abuse may be precisely the degree (proportion) of inflicted pain. Taking proportion into account in defining torture need not equal proportionalism.

As I posted on another blog -

Torture consists not in any single definable act, but is the convergence of several different categories of human experience; pain, anguish, fear, humiliation, hatred, sadism... all may come into play. Removing any one of these aspects from the situation might make the difference between torture and having a tooth pulled.w

Zippy

Yes, that is true of intrinsically evil acts. But not all evils involve intrinsically evil acts, ...

Agreed. That torture is intrinsically evil is Jimmy's second criteria for a valid definition. So if the definition states something which conflicts with that criteria, it is the definition that has to go.

Zippy

Why? The difference between a licit spanking and an evil act of child abuse may be precisely the degree (proportion) of inflicted pain.

Assuming that child abuse is intrinsically evil, rather than evil by disproportion of means, then the difference cannot be one of degree or proportion.

That might not be true of child abuse: perhaps child abuse is evil only by the disproportion in its means. However, we know that this isn't the case with torture. The whole point of Jimmy's three-post series is to come up with a definition of torture which satisfies two criteria: 1) torture as defined matches our ordinary use of the word reasonably well; and 2) torture as defined is understood as intrinsically evil.

The fact that the definition is stated in (one kind of) proportionalist terms means that it doesn't satisfy the second criteria. (This is the same problem I ran into with my own attempt at a definition many months ago).

SDG

That torture is intrinsically evil is Jimmy's second criteria for a valid definition. So if the definition states something which conflicts with that criteria, it is the definition that has to go.

Yes, torture is intrinsically evil. Just as stealing, perhaps, is intrinsically evil. It doesn't follow that any specific physical act is always torture, any more than any specific physical act is always stealing.

Assuming that child abuse is intrinsically evil, rather than evil by disproportion of means, then the difference cannot be one of degree or proportion.

Yes, but it remains true that the same physical act might be child abuse in one circumstance and not in another, depending on circumstances.

The fact that the definition is stated in (one kind of) proportionalist terms means that it doesn't satisfy the second criteria. (This is the same problem I ran into with my own attempt at a definition many months ago).

I think you are confused about the nature of criteria 2. The criteria is not that any specific physical act is inherently torture and thus inherently wrong, any more than any specific physical act is always theft. The criteria is that torture, like theft, is always wrong. But what constitutes torture, like what constitutes theft, involves reference to circumstances and proportionality, not just specific physical acts.


Tim J.

Zippy -

Your distinction about treating a person as ONLY a means to an end touches on my thoughts regarding the difference between inflicting serious injury in self defense, and doing the same for interrogation or punishment.

Hitting someone because they are trying to kill you is justified, but hitting someone because you want something they have (even life saving information) is not.

This view leaves room for corporal punishment (like caning), though, which many would see as a form of torture. In your view, would caning be possibly justified for discipline, but not for interrogation?

It also seems to leave room (as Jimmy indicated) for the Inquisitorial idea of inflicting pain for the sake of bringing about repentance ("this is for your own good") or "reprogramming" an errant individual. Most would classify this as torture, as I know I would. How does your definition deal with these?

Also, if someone has something that rightly belongs to me (say he has picked my pocket) can I not justifiably use violence to get it back? If so, am I not treating this person as merely the means to an end (getting my wallet back)?

Zippy

It doesn't follow that any specific physical act is always torture, any more than any specific physical act is always stealing.

Right. I've been arguing for many months, on may blogs, that torture is not defined by physical observation of what takes place. I've argued that questions like "OK, if waterboarding is torture then are stress positions torture?" and "how much sleep deprivation can we inflict before it rises to the level of torture" are wrongheaded questions. They can't be answered: they are like the old "so, have you stopped beating your wife yet" question, only worse. The implicit premeses in the questions are wrongheaded before the question itself is even uttered.

So we are in violent agreement on that point.

It is here that Veritatis Splendour disagrees with the "torture can be defined as a disproportion of suffering inflicted" attempt at a definition:

The criteria is that torture, like theft, is always wrong. But what constitutes torture, like what constitutes theft, involves reference to circumstances and proportionality, not just specific physical acts.

When the Church says that an act is intrinsically evil - and I encourage everyone to read Veritatis Splendour as many times as necessary to internalize this point - she is saying more than just that the act, however it is defined, is always wrong. She is saying that the act is evil in its object, independent of intent and circumstances. Intent and circumstances do not define the act (any more than a pure physical description defines the act).

VS says:
"One must therefore reject the thesis, characteristic of teleological and proportionalist theories, which holds that it is impossible to qualify as morally evil according to its species ..."

...and goes on to list torture among its examples of this kind of act.

If Pope John Paul II had intended to say "when an act is intrinsically evil, that means it is always wrong" he could have said it in a sentence, without writing a whole encyclical on it -- an encyclical which proportionalists specifically and teleolologists generally found very unpalatable, as it rejects their entire view of moral theology outright. Someone who thinks "always wrong" is a synonym for "intrinsically evil" has gotten VS completely wrong. There is more to an act being intrinsically evil than just that however it is defined, it is always wrong. One of the ways there is more to it is that an intrinsically evil act cannot be defined as a prudential judgement of whether or not some means is proportionate to some end. In other words, Jimmy's way of defining torture doesn't cohere with his second criteria: that torture as defined is intrinsically evil.

Zippy

In your view, would caning be possibly justified for discipline, but not for interrogation?

I would tend to say no, but you have definitely identified the place in my definition/understanding where there is potential for abuse. You ask it more generally here:

It also seems to leave room (as Jimmy indicated) for the Inquisitorial idea of inflicting pain for the sake of bringing about repentance ("this is for your own good") or "reprogramming" an errant individual. Most would classify this as torture, as I know I would. How does your definition deal with these?

I addressed the question in a longer thread on another blog here. A partial quote:

I think it is clear that there are some acts which are never done without treating the person as nothing but a means to an end. Particularly cruel forms of execution, for example, even when execution per se is licit, are a way of satifying a lust for vengence: importantly, even if the person deserves it.

The contributor Maximos earlier in that same thread said:
But that we would continue to waterboard him - perhaps he does deserve this, as it seems likely that malefactors can merit punishments graver than the mere cessation of mortal life, although it is not licit to impose them - would be absurd, obviously, because it seems evident to us that waterboarding, among other things, is the sort of thing which is only done conditionally at all - with reference to a utilitarian end - and, in a perverse way, this seems to be a reflection of the idea that evil men can deserve things that it is illicit for us to inflict upon them.

None of this provides the kind of legalistic "slam dunk" machinery that positivists want in order to predetermine moral answers in every particular case. But I think it is pretty clear, at least intuitively, that when someone is being tortured to get him to (say) confess to a grave crime we aren't treating him with the dignity due to every human being -qua- human being. That KSM might indeed, objectively, deserve death by drowning doesn't translate into a license for us to waterboard him to get information.

Zippy

Sorry Tim, I missed this question in all of my blabbing:

If so, am I not treating this person as merely the means to an end (getting my wallet back)?

As I understand it, it is not licit for you to take the law into your own hands and employ violent means to recover your own wallet. Only the competent authority may do so.

francis 03

Feel free to ignore this question if it is too dumb to deserve an answer. Seriously. But if neither intent nor circumstances nor a physical description can define an act for purposes of determining its intrinsic evil, then what can? The desired effect of the action?

Zippy

In general, the morality of an act consists of its object, its intent, and its circumstances. Very roughly speaking, the object is what you choose to do and the intent is what you hope to accomplish by doing it. The object isn't a physical description, it is the choice of a specific act or behavior: an abortion for example is to choose to kill an unborn child. The intent of a particular abortion might be (for example) to save the life of the mother.

For intrinsically evil acts, the evil is in the nature of the object of the act itself. No circumstance or intent can make an intrinsically evil act into a good act. Equivalently, an act which is intrinsically evil is not defined as the kind of act it is ("species" is the term used by JPII) by intent or circumstances. If an act is intrinsically evil, the difference between that act and a licit act cannot be merely that the licit act employs proportionate means or is done for a proportionate reason.

The important thing about VS isn't that it lists torture as an example of an intrinsically evil act. The important thing is what it teaches about intrinsically evil acts; and there is much more to it than that "intrinsically evil" implies "always wrong".

SDG

When the Church says that an act is intrinsically evil - and I encourage everyone to read Veritatis Splendour as many times as necessary to internalize this point - she is saying more than just that the act, however it is defined, is always wrong. She is saying that the act is evil in its object, independent of intent and circumstances. Intent and circumstances do not define the act (any more than a pure physical description defines the act).

But you cannot know the object of the act independent of intent and circumstances. The morality of all acts is a function of those three things: the nature of the act itself, the circumstances, and the intent.

If an act is intrinsically evil, the difference between that act and a licit act cannot be merely that the licit act employs proportionate means or is done for a proportionate reason.

No, the act itself must also be of a kind that is not intrinsically evil.

Veritatis Splendor lists homicide as an offense to life. But not all killing is homicide. Some killing is self-defense or warfare combat. This doesn't change the fact that homicide rightly so-called is intrinsically evil and cannot be committed for any reason. But that fact doesn't allow us to define all killing as homicide.

Likewise, we can say that torture is always wrong. But in that case not all causing pain is torture. Some causing pain is lifesaving surgery. Other causing pain is legitimate punishment. Still other causing pain is a proportionate attempt to elicit lifesaving information in a TTB scenario.

That doesn't change the fact that torture rightly so-called is intrinsically evil and cannot be committed for any reason. But that fact doesn't allow us to define all causing pain as torture.

You cannot murder an innocent man in order to appease a psychotic killer or concentration camp commandant, no matter how many lives it might save. Likewise, you cannot torture a bomber by, e.g., caning his innocent wife and children in order to elicit the location of the bomb, no matter how many lives it might save. But I wouldn't say that you couldn't cane the bomber himself. You couldn't sexually abuse him, even if it might save lives, but you could cause him pain in a way that is not intrinsically evil, and that would not necessarily be torture.

A question

Would the flagellation of our Lord before his crucifixion be considered torture under Jimmy's sliding definition? Afterall, it had a purpose, to discourage sedition - which arguably serves the greater good, and was not delivered to compel a confession. What amount of pain is disproportionate and who makes that judgement?

francis 03

So the intrinsic evil in the case of torture would inhere in the object of inflicting pain?

That would be logically consistent and elegant, but it would also mean that practices like spanking naughty children would be intrinsically evil!

John Henry

But you cannot know the object of the act independent of intent and circumstances. The morality of all acts is a function of those three things: the nature of the act itself, the circumstances, and the intent.

While the morality of all acts certainly does take into account the object of the act, the intent of the act, and the circumstances surrounding the act, you can certainly know the object of an act independent of intent and circumstance. E.g., the object of an abortion is the killing of an unborn baby. That is the object, and, independent of intent and circumstance, it is wrong always and everywhere.

Veritatis Splendor lists homicide as an offense to life. But not all killing is homicide. Some killing is self-defense or warfare combat. This doesn't change the fact that homicide rightly so-called is intrinsically evil and cannot be committed for any reason. But that fact doesn't allow us to define all killing as homicide.

But note that the distinction between "homicide" (i.e., murder) and "self-defense" (in war or peace) does not rest upon a recourse to intent or circumstance. The distinction excludes all recourse to issues of proportion. Rather the distinction between the two species of acts is based upon their objects alone. The chosen act (i.e., object) of homicide is the intentional taking of an innocent life, whereas the object of the act of self-defense is the protection of the good of life. Consequently, the one is evil by its object, always and everywhere, without recourse to intent and circumstance. The act of self-defense is not evil by its object, but can be rendered evil by means of use of disproportionate means in protecting the good of life.

Likewise, we can say that torture is always wrong. But in that case not all causing pain is torture. Some causing pain is lifesaving surgery. Other causing pain is legitimate punishment. Still other causing pain is a proportionate attempt to elicit lifesaving information in a TTB scenario.

That there is a distinction between torture and lifesaving surgery, everyone grants. But the distinction, as in the case of homicide and self-defense, cannot be one of intent and circumstance. That's what "intrinsically evil" means. It has to be a distinction of object. For surgery, the object is something like self-defense, i.e., the protection of the good of life. The object of torture is...I don't know...to use a person as an end or a means to an end not in keeping with his human dignity. This part I don't know.

But this is, IMHO, what the discussion needs to be about. Only this will do justice to Jimmy's second criteria (i.e., intrinsically evil). Because, for an act to be intrinsically evil means, by definition, that it is evil by its object. Therefore our definition needs to focus on the object of the act, and not on intentions and circumstances. And thus not on sliding scales of pain.

Tom McKenna

There is a symantic issue in this entire discussion that has (I think) been unstated: the Church apparently used not to categorize "torture" as an intrinsic evil-- because She defined torture roughly (somewhat along the lines Akin suggests) as proportionate use of coercion to attain an end to which the "torturer" had some right.

Now it seems that VS and the contemporary Church propose re-categorizing "torture" to mean disproportionate or morally unauthorized use of coercion, which would always and everywhere, regardless of justification, be intrinsically evil-- just as it always has been of course, only now we're simply calling this class of unjustified coercion "torture" where before we might have called it "unjustified or improper torture."

Much of the combox arguments are going past each other over this fundamental failure to define terms.

No one supports disproportionate use of coercion--[old definition: "impropoer torture," new definition, "torture"(Comeford's oft-repeated "pliers on the genitals" scenario)]; however, what Akin and many others like Fr. Harrison are suggesting is that EV does not, by its own terms, forbid the measured, proportionate use of coercion by the state that seeks vital (life-saving) intelligence.

Zippy

But you cannot know the object of the act independent of intent and circumstances.

Then Veritatis Splendour is just flat wrong. (I don't believe this to be true. I believe it is that proportionalists and other teleologists are wrong):

For this reason — we repeat — the opinion must be rejected as erroneous which maintains that it is impossible to qualify as morally evil according to its species the deliberate choice of certain kinds of behaviour or specific acts, without taking into account the intention for which the choice was made or the totality of the foreseeable consequences of that act for all persons concerned.

VS also states outright that it is itself the first time that this teaching has been promulgated authoritatively by the Church:

This is the first time, in fact, that the Magisterium of the Church has set forth in detail the fundamental elements of this teaching, and presented the principles for the pastoral discernment necessary in practical and cultural situations which are complex and even crucial.

Zippy

But in that case not all causing pain is torture.

Right. I have been arguing for many months now that thinking about the evil of torture in terms of causing pain, or how much pain is caused, is wrongheaded.

John Henry

So the intrinsic evil in the case of torture would inhere in the object of inflicting pain?

That would be logically consistent and elegant, but it would also mean that practices like spanking naughty children would be intrinsically evil!

I think that is precisely why the object of the act of torture has to be something other than simply inflicting pain.

SDG

Would the flagellation of our Lord before his crucifixion be considered torture under Jimmy's sliding definition? Afterall, it had a purpose, to discourage sedition - which arguably serves the greater good, and was not delivered to compel a confession. What amount of pain is disproportionate and who makes that judgement?

The guilt of the individual and the deservedness of the pain is also a factor in proportionality. Otherwise in a TTB scenario you could torture a bomber by inflicting pain on his innocent family members in order to induce the bomber to confess the location of the bomb.

Jesus being wholly innocent, any deliberate pain inflicted on him, whether for reasons of punishment, intimidation or appeasement, would be objectively torture. Whether the participants were subjectively guilty of the sin of torture would depend on the extent to which they were aware of (or culpably unaware of) his innocence.

Zippy

So the intrinsic evil in the case of torture would inhere in the object of inflicting pain?

No. The intrinsic evil in torture would inhere in treating a human being as nothing but a means to some end: in exchanging his suffering for a fungible commodity. This, by the way, is the same way that all the other intrinsic evils listed in Veritatis Splendour are constitutively evil, as far as I can tell.

Zippy

The guilt of the individual and the deservedness of the pain is also a factor in proportionality.

That is true, but it has nothing to do with torture, because torture is evil in its object; and therefore considerations of proportionality are irrelevant.

SDG

For this reason — we repeat — the opinion must be rejected as erroneous which maintains that it is impossible to qualify as morally evil according to its species the deliberate choice of certain kinds of behaviour or specific acts, without taking into account the intention for which the choice was made or the totality of the foreseeable consequences of that act for all persons concerned.

Okay, Zippy, you got me -- I'm using the word "circumstances" in a difference sense than Veritatis Splendor -- and Catholic moral theology at large -- which is confusing.

But go back to my example of murder/homicide vs. justifiable killing. Murder/Homicide is intrinsically evil. But not all killing is homicide. Some killing is self-defense, wartime combat, or legitimate capital punishment.

The word "circumstances" could be used to describe the differentiators between murder/homicide and self-defense or other forms of non-murderous killing.

But it's true that that's not the way the word has historically been used in Catholic moral theology. Catholic moral theology would say that murder/homicide is intrinsically wrong regardless of circumstances, and would find other ways of expressing the differentiators between murder/homicide and non-murder killing.

So let's drop the word "circumstances." The fact remains that while we can say (depending how we define our terms) that torture is intrinsically wrong, not all causing pain is torture. Corporal punishment for children, for example. Or training soldiers to resist torture techniques.

So, we have to find ways of expressing the differentiators (I'm trying to avoid the word "circumstances") between torture and other forms of causing pain.

Tim J.

Zippy -

By your understanding of VS, if one chooses to inflict disproportionate pain, that could be the sin of torture, no?

If one chooses to inflict only moderate pain, proportional (in his judgement) to the circumstance - rather than choosing to torture - he could not be guilty of the sin of torture, could he? Keep in mind we are not necessarily talking about physical pain, but also imprisonment that causes mental anguish, etc...)

Here is a problem I have with your understanding of the "treating people as mere objects" approach. You said:

"As I understand it, it is not licit for you to take the law into your own hands and employ violent means to recover your own wallet. Only the competent authority may do so."

Now, I can see this if the initial episode of stealing my wallet is truly over and the thief has got clean away... then, sure, call the cops rather than stalking the streets yourself trying to find the guy and then beating him until he coughs up your wallet.

But if he has - just a second ago - taken my wallet and is running off through the crowd, I hardly see how it could be illicit to chase after him, knock him down and take my wallet back. Indeed, I expect the crowd and even the police might give me some props for that.

Further, let's say he has JUST stolen, not my wallet, but the purse of an old lady in my tour group. Again, if I were to chase him down and recover the purse by force, I would expect not only the support of the crowd, but maybe a few cheers from the saints in heaven, as well... NOT because I treated the man as an object, but because I was trying to PREVENT him treating the old lady as an object.

In other words, the object of my action was to prevent a theft, not to engage in theft.

Now, if I can retrieve a purse from a purse-snatcher (and I maintain that I can) or a wallet from a pickpocket, can I not retrieve information that is morally owed to me on pain of imprisonment (like the contempt of court scenario, or the TTB)?

Understand, I am not arguing for torture, as I have said above, only arguing that not all pain inflicted for the purpose of interrogation may properly be called torture. My feeling is that we should eliminate painful interrogation of any kind as a matter of policy, but this does not address the morality of what might happen on the battlefield in circumstances where people may be acting under great stress. I am not going to hand a soldier over to an international criminal court for the crime of arm-twisting.

A final thought - bear with me, because I would like to get your response...

Let's say I am a soldier engaged in a war with a country across the river. Politics being what they are - muddy and complex - let's say that the whole issue of which side is "right" or "wrong" is fuzzy and that I am just doing my duty and fighting for my homeland.

The enemy is set to take the only major bridge in the area and that if they are successful they will decimate our forces beyond the bridge and may be all but unstoppable after that.

Let's say that I am part of a team that has just planted hidden explosives on the bridge, to blow it up just in case it is taken by the enemy.

Now, let's say I am captured by the enemy and am identified as part of the bridge espionage team.

In this case, might the commander who holds me be morally justified in forcefully interrogating me, and might I ALSO be morally required to resist?

Tim J.

"Would the flagellation of our Lord before his crucifixion be considered torture under Jimmy's sliding definition?"

I don't know, would it be torture by Zippy's definition? I don't see how.

Zippy

SDG: I am in violent agreement with your last post. Many months ago I proposed a definition of torture very like Jimmy's: that the evil in torture involved choosing some (dis)proportion of suffering visited upon a helpless captive. It got torn to pieces by various objections around the blogosphere, which in itself would not be enough to make a stubborn SOB like me give it up. But it is also flat incompatible with Veritatis Splendour, and that is the last nail in the coffin.

I'll link again to my most recent summary statement on the issue. (As a summary statement it necessarily leaves off a great many things that were discussed in a great many threads, but it works more or less well as a summary, I think). Notice that (1) I don't assume that all intentional infliction of pain is immoral; (2) I don't assume that torture is evil because it involves any disproportionate use of an otherwise licit means.

John Henry

So let's drop the word "circumstances." The fact remains that while we can say (depending how we define our terms) that torture is intrinsically wrong, not all causing pain is torture. Corporal punishment for children, for example. Or training soldiers to resist torture techniques.

The question is, can we define torture with reference to pain, without dragging in other "differentiators" which amount to circumstance and intent?

Tim J.

Sorry, Zippy, I can't get that last link you posted to work. It just takes me back to the top of Jimmy's page.

Zippy

I don't know, would it be torture by Zippy's definition? I don't see how.

And I think it is just obvious that some acts involve choosing to treat a human being not as an independent imago dei but as nothing but a means to some end. The fact that some of those acts may be performed under a pretext of licit punishment doesn't alter their moral character; if anything it just adds a lie on top of the torture.

Zippy

Sorry Tim, forgot to paste in the URL: here it is.

Zippy

In this case, might the commander who holds me be morally justified in forcefully interrogating me, and might I ALSO be morally required to resist?

Well, at the end of the day, one of the two of you is wrong in fact. Veritatis Splendour addresses it this way:

It is never acceptable to confuse a "subjective" error about moral good with the "objective" truth rationally proposed to man in virtue of his end, or to make the moral value of an act performed with a true and correct conscience equivalent to the moral value of an act performed by following the judgment of an erroneous conscience. It is possible that the evil done as the result of invincible ignorance or a non-culpable error of judgment may not be imputable to the agent; but even in this case it does not cease to be an evil, a disorder in relation to the truth about the good.

SDG

The question is, can we define torture with reference to pain, without dragging in other "differentiators" which amount to circumstance and intent?

Only if we want to include corporal punishment of children, training soldiers, triage surgery, etc. as torture.

Zippy

Only if we want to include corporal punishment of children, training soldiers, triage surgery, etc. as torture.

Which, pretty obviously, would be a straw man. I have never seen anyone argue ever that performing surgery is the sin of torture.

John Henry

Only if we want to include corporal punishment of children, training soldiers, triage surgery, etc. as torture.

Exactly. Which is precisely why taking the meaning of "intrinsically evil" seriously requires ditching the definition of torture with reference to pain. Otherwise, one is forced to bring in qualifiers (circumstance, intent) which, by the very nature of the case, are excluded a priori.

In other words, pain is a non-starter precisely because it is *not* intrinsically evil.

Tim J.

So, what you are saying, Zippy, is that the infliction of pain may be licitly used for the purpose of discipline or punishment, but never for mere interrogation, because this involves treating the person as an object (a repository of information)?

This still leaves open the possibility of corporal punishment (like flogging) infliction of pain as a means of "reprogramming" a subject or to hasten repentance "for his own good". You didn't address these before, but seemed to acknowledge them as weaknesses in your case.

It may be, again, the difference between the common usage of words and their more technical definitions, but the common understanding of torture would include disproportionate corporal punishment, as well as pain either for the sake of "reprogramming" or to secure repentance.

Josiah

I think one of the things that's tying Zippy in knots here is that he refuses to distinguish between the specifying circumstances and intent of an act, and any further circumstances or intent that the act might involve. If an action is intrinsically evil, then it will remain evil regardless of any further intention or additional circumstances that may obtain. But this doesn't mean that the definition of an intrinsically evil type of act can't include a certain intent or certain circumstances. That's absurd. Acts are defined by their intent and circumstances; if they couldn't be specified in that way they couldn't be specified at all. (A lie, for example, requires both a specific intent, the intent to deceive, and specific circumstances, e.g. that what is said is false).

I also don't think that there is anything wrong in principle with including proportionality as an element in the definition of an intrinsically evil act (though I'm not to keen on Jimmy's definition in this case). The intrinsically evil act of theft, for example, consists in taking property against the reasonable will of the owner, and reasonable is a key proportionalist word. If I have time later, I'll try to address the sorties concern that Zippy mentioned.

Zippy

This still leaves open the possibility of corporal punishment (like flogging) infliction of pain as a means of "reprogramming" a subject or to hasten repentance "for his own good".

Sure. Abortion has "hard cases" too, and cases where the claim of one kind of choice is really being used as a cover for another. This is a general moral theology issue, or even more generally is a result of our ability to cling to falsehood unintentionally and even tell deliberate lies. It isn't a specific problem with my understanding of torture.

Tim J.

Without pain, the act of torture does not exist. Pain must therefore be part of the definition of torture.

Zippy

I think one of the things that's tying Zippy in knots here is that he refuses to distinguish between the specifying circumstances and intent of an act, and any further circumstances or intent that the act might involve.

And I think, Josiah, to be blunt, that you have spent too much time reading John Finnis and not enough time reading JPII. I am not the one who is "tied in knots". Nowhere in Veritatis Splendour will you find Finnis' concept of "specifying circumstances".

Zippy

Without pain, the act of torture does not exist. Pain must therefore be part of the definition of torture.

Sure. That means that while torture does involve the infliction of suffering, the thing that is intrinsically evil in torture isn't the infliction of suffering -qua- infliction of suffering nor is it a disproportion in he infliction of suffering.

Josiah

Zippy,

Veritatis Splendor doesn't use the words "specifying circumstances" either with approval or with condemnation. However, Catholic tradition pretty clearly has defined intrinsically evil acts in terms of certain intents and circumstances and the list of intrinsically evil acts given in Veritatis Splendor pretty clearly has to be defined in those terms as well.

By the way, the last restatement of your position that you linked to is much improved. I didn't understand before why you kept talking about the fungibility of information. Now I think I get it.

Tim J.

Here are two cases of people treated as objects;

1). The military.

2). The criminal prosecution of individuals "as an example" to the community, or as a deterrent.

Indeed, many of our incarcerated citizens are kept in prison not for reasons either of discipline or punishment for crimes actually committed, but out of utilitarian concerns - to keep them from committing further crimes, in other words, to protect society.

Tom McKenna

But Zip, you're equivocating-- when EV says "torture" that means "disproportionate use of coercion for an improper end." To discern if this or that concrete scenario is in fact torture, one must determine: 1) Is the coercion proportionate 2) to a proper end?

Comeford's pliars to the genitals would (almost?) never be proportionate to even a proper end; and coercion that might be proportionate to a proper end will not be proportionate if the end is not proper (such as coercion for obtaining confessions or for some other improper motive).

In other words, one cannot figure out if an act is "torture" without assessing the means and ends for which the coercive activity is taking place.

Any other conclusion would result in absurdity, such as spanking a child to get him to comply with parental wishes being torture, etc.

Zippy

Gotta go for now. I'll check in later.

But Tom: I am not basing any of my argument on EV. I am basing it on VS. VS specifically states outright that it is the first Magisterial statement ever to lay out in detail what this kind of moral reasoning means. Therefore to invoke EV - or any prior perceptions of tradition, for that matter - is simply to agree with VS that it is the first detailed authoritative statement on the matter, correcting prior errors in interpreting the Tradition.

Zippy

Oh, and this:

Any other conclusion would result in absurdity, such as spanking a child to get him to comply with parental wishes being torture, etc.

is flat wrong. I have spent a lot of pixels describing a non-absurd way to understand torture as an intrinsic evil in a way coherent with what VS actually says, as opposed to a way which works around and takes the wind out of the sails of what VS actually says. Whether my particular approach is right or not is an open question; but there most definitely are non-absurd approaches. I've provided an example of one.

Tim J.

Thanks for your responses, Zippy. I am not any kind of philosopher, theologian or scholar, so I appreciate you all listening to me thinking out loud (if it can be called thinking).

I think Zippy has touched on something very deep in his understanding of what makes torture sinful, that is, that it involves treating a human being as merely an object, a repository of information or an impediment to your plans, etc... but as right as I think he is on the moral evil at the ROOT of torture, I don't see how torture can be defined strictly in those terms. Torture can't be just "a way of looking at people" or just an interior disposition... it involves moving on that disposition by an exterior act.

One could move on that interior disposition (seeing a human being as an object) in any number of ways that are not torture. So, as much as Zippy has described the sinful impulse behind torture, he has not (IMO) defined torture itself.

Torture involves certain kinds of external acts which can be proportionate and just, or disproportionate and unjust.

If disproportionate hangs us up, what about torture being "the unjust infliction of pain"?

Julianne Wiley

Perhaps we also need a fuller examination of the whole question of interrogation, with some focus on the "moral coercion" and "dignity" issues as independent of the "pain" issue.

For instance: what is our moral evaluation of the use of a drug which causes a person to verbally disclose what he feels he is morally obliged not to disclose? I'm thinking of giving a jihadist a (theoretically effective) "truth serum" which causes him to betray his fellows, in violation of his own sense of religious obligation.

Or what about some kind of direct brain surveillance which enables an interrogator to monitor and record thought processes?

Neither of these would involve physical pain, but would make the captive suffer the indignity of being morally coerced to make disclosures which amount (in his conscience) to treason and result (he believes) in his eternal damnation.

I personally don't think that either of these two techniques (truth serum or brain monitoring) would be torture, but the first, especially, would deprive the subject of his moral freedom, and thus a key component (or the key component) of his human dignity, which is something worth thinking about.

Tim J.

I think Zippy's definition would make any sort of coercion out of bounds, but you would have to ask him.

John Henry

I think Zippy has touched on something very deep in his understanding of what makes torture sinful, that is, that it involves treating a human being as merely an object, a repository of information or an impediment to your plans, etc... but as right as I think he is on the moral evil at the ROOT of torture, I don't see how torture can be defined strictly in those terms. Torture can't be just "a way of looking at people" or just an interior disposition... it involves moving on that disposition by an exterior act.

One could move on that interior disposition (seeing a human being as an object) in any number of ways that are not torture. So, as much as Zippy has described the sinful impulse behind torture, he has not (IMO) defined torture itself.

Torture involves certain kinds of external acts which can be proportionate and just, or disproportionate and unjust.

If disproportionate hangs us up, what about torture being "the unjust infliction of pain"?

Tim...I am in this way over my head, trying to play catch up and learn to think like the Church does (and neglecting other duties to boot). In that respect, I love these types of discussions. I especially appreciate Zippy's thoughts because he seems to be trying to truly engage VS in the fullness of what it is saying. But like I say, I am in over my head. I am merely thinking out loud, and appreciate all criticism.

I don't think Zippy is saying that torture is merely an interior disposition, as he has said that the infliction of suffering is a part of "torture". However, it is not the suffering that constitutes the intrinsically evil part of the act. That is the part that treats the Imago Dei as an object, or a means to end. So if you were to act out on your "interior disposition" in a different manner, you would end up with a different intrinsically evil act. And I think that is what is really interesting in what Zippy says regarding the other intrinsically evil acts listed in VS besides torture. Murder, arbitrary deportation, abortion...all are different ways of acting out the same "interior disposition", and all are intrinsically evil for that reason. That's what they all have in common.

John Henry

Sorry, I didn't mean to quote all of Tim's post...

Tim J.

"Murder, arbitrary deportation, abortion...all are different ways of acting out the same "interior disposition","

Exactly. So the differences between these sins can only be defined by their exterior components - the action itself.

I would maintain that torture - instrinsically evil because it objectifies a human being - consists of the unjust infliction of pain.

The just use of pain would take into account the fact that the person is a human being, and would NOT therefore treat the person as SOLELY an object. Pain which is irresistable, or which is designed to negate human will and freedom DOES treat the person as a mere object, and would therefore be torture.

It is possible to aggressively interrogate a person - even with the infliction of proportionate pain (mental, emotional or physical) while remembering and maintaining his/her dignity as a human being.

Josiah

I promised I would say a few words about the sorties issue, so here it goes (I suspect this one may run long, so the impatient are advised to skip to the end).

In the course of these discussions, it has often been said (sometimes by me) that torture cannot be defined as the infliction of severe pain and suffering because doing so would mean that inflicting x quantity of torture was intrinsically evil and never to be done, but that inflicting x-1 quantity of torture could be justified. Now I'm not so sure.

Take the case of rape. Rape, which pretty clearly seems to be an intrinsically immoral type of action, is defined as intentionally having sex with someone without their consent. However, consent is something that notoriously comes in degrees. For example, consent can be vitiated by pressure or coercion - if a woman has sex with a man because he puts a gun to her head, this is clearly rape. It isn't the case, however, that any pressure, no matter how slight, turns sex into rape. If a woman has sex with a guy to stop his nagging, we wouldn't call that rape. So a certain level of presure is necessary. Just below that level is not rape, just above it is.

Similarly, consent can be vitiated by incapacity. If a woman gets ruffied or drugged, we would say that she is not capable of consenting to sex. It is not the case, however, that anything less than full capacity turns sex into rape. Sex doesn't become rape just because one of the parties involved has had a few beers.

Or again, consent can be vitiated based on ignorance or a misperception of events. If a woman has sex with a guy who she thinks is her husband, but who is really his twin brother, a plausible case can be made that she has been raped. (In the old days guys used to set up fake wedding ceremonies to get women into bed - if they got caught they were charged with rape). On the other hand, it isn't true that just any misperception or ignorance of the circumstances will vitiate consent. If a woman has sex with a guy because he says he loves her while he really doesn't he may be a jerk, but he's not a rapist.

Or again, we say that in order to consent to sex, a person must have reached a certain age. Why? Because they lack the maturity to full understand what they are doing (sort of a mix of incapacity and ignorance). But here it's very clear. No matter when you set the age of consent, it's going to be the case that having sex with someone just under that age will be rape, whereas having sex with someone just over the age needn't be.

It would therefore seem that a sorties type objection is not sufficient to show that torture cannot be defined in terms of inflicting a certain quantity of pain or suffering.

francis 03

"Murder, arbitrary deportation, abortion...all are different ways of acting out the same "interior disposition","

Exactly. So the differences between these sins can only be defined by their exterior components - the action itself.

Which is exactly what John Henry was doing in the first sentence I've quoted, right? Because VS doesn't have the qualifier "arbitrary" attached to its listing of "deportations," does it?

Esau

Or again, we say that in order to consent to sex, a person must have reached a certain age. Why? Because they lack the maturity to full understand what they are doing (sort of a mix of incapacity and ignorance). But here it's very clear. No matter when you set the age of consent, it's going to be the case that having sex with someone just under that age will be rape, whereas having sex with someone just over the age needn't be.

Well, actually, in New Zealand, they've set the legal age as being 16 (e.g., the girl from Whale Rider who got married and pregnant).

Though this may be a legal age in that country; clearly, at even this age, they lack the maturity to full understand what they are doing.

Josiah

Esau,

I'm not so sure that a 16 year old does lack the necessary maturity to consent to sex. But even if New Zealand's age of consent is too low, the point is that there ought to be an age of consent, and that pretty clearly below a certain age a person can't consent to sexual intercourse.

francis 03

Agreed. But there's a different between the crime of rape and the sin of rape. A person one day under the statutory age will not be able to give legal consent but very possibly could give moral consent. After all, under canon law isn't age an impediment to marriage only if the bride is younger than 12 or 14, and the groom 14 or 16?

Josiah

Francis,

I think what's true for the crime of rape is also true for the sin of rape - it's just than in the case of the law we need some general rule, whereas morality can deal with individual cases.

Put it this way. We would all agree, I hope, that there is something intrinsically evil about having sex with a six year old, and that there isn't anything intrinsically evil about having sex with a twenty year old. At what point you cross over from never permissible to permissible at least in theory is going to be vague and may differ from person to person. But this fact doesn't mean that there can't be anything intrinsically immoral about having sex with a child, or that age can't be a defining element in that type of act.

Esau

Put it this way. We would all agree, I hope, that there is something intrinsically evil about having sex with a six year old, and that there isn't anything intrinsically evil about having sex with a twenty year old. At what point you cross over from never permissible to permissible at least in theory is going to be vague and may differ from person to person. But this fact doesn't mean that there can't be anything intrinsically immoral about having sex with a child, or that age can't be a defining element in that type of act.

Josiah,
You still miss the point that it would then be up to the state to define such limits and even the state can be wrong.

Take for example those places where minor prostitution is legal -- even involving kids as young as 6 or maybe even younger! Don't tell me that just because the state has defined it as legal, it necessarily means that it should also be considered moral!

Esau

No matter when you set the age of consent, it's going to be the case that having sex with someone just under that age will be rape, whereas having sex with someone just over the age needn't be.

Josiah,
This is where your above statement will fall apart because of the fact that it will all depend on the integrity of the state that will set such limits and by which things are defined as legal or illegal.

John Henry

Exactly. So the differences between these sins can only be defined by their exterior components - the action itself.

I would say that the action itself is a composite of the exterior component and the "interior disposition". And the differences between these intrinsically evil sins are certainly more of the external variety, but to differentiate between the intrinsic evil of "torture" and the licit act of punishment would also require recourse also to the "interior disposition" of the individual. So it would seem necessary to maintain both aspects (external and internal) in the definition.

Esau

Josiah,
Can we just get off the construct you proposed?

I believe it's not the appropriate parameters by which to go by.

John Henry

Because VS doesn't have the qualifier "arbitrary" attached to its listing of "deportations," does it?

That's a very good question. I have seen others make the assumption that the qualifier "arbitrary" in VS is also intended to modify "deportation". And so I have followed suit. But the question as to whether that assumption is valid seems reasonable.

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