Torture has been a controversial topic in many countries for many years, and there are a lot of varying opinions on it. Utilitarians, for example, decide if an action is good or bad by analyzing the consequences of the action. The aim of the utilitarian is to maximize the good and minimize the bad. Of course, it’s controversial in itself as to what being good truly is, which is why philosophers like Jeremy Bentham utilized the hedonic calculus to measure the consequences of actions. In Bentham’s hedonic calculus, it’s stated that those things that maximize pleasure and minimize pain are good. Thus, in a utilitarian perspective, torture would ultimately be a good act. Although the act itself, torturing, is looked down upon and bad, the outcome, which is the possible saving of millions of lives, outweighs the bad here. The lives of many being saved will bring pleasure to all those lives which the utilitarians regard more than the pain that single terrorist experiences.
Immanuel Kant didn’t agree with utilitarianism, and was famous for his categorical imperative. According to Kantian duty-based ethics, something should be judged right or wrong depending on the act itself. Kant believes that one should “always treat persons as ends and not just means.” (Holmes, 2007, pg. 63) What he means by this statement that an act’s goodness or badness can’t be determined by matching it to the situation one is in. According to Kant, if an act is bad in one situation than it should be deemed bad in another situation. Even if millions of people would die due to not being able to obtain the secrets from the terrorist, Kant would be against torturing him or her. Kant wouldn’t attempt torturing his loved ones or children, as he wouldn’t attempt to torture a terrorist. Either way, he sees it as wrong.
Virtue ethics states that it’s neither the act or the consequence that matters in the situation, but how one arrives to that situation or decision to begin with. Thus, virtue ethics won’t be exploring the act of torture or the consequence of someone dying due to torture while others being saved, but rather it will explore the motives and intentions involved within this act of torture. Is this person truly being tortured to save others’ lives or is he being tortured as a sick game by the authorities? As was made clear in the scenario in this case, the authorities are considering the option of torture because they have run out of all other options and many people’s lives are on the line. Since the motives and intentions are good here, the torturing of the terrorist will be acceptable using virtue ethics.
Christian-principle based ethics is primarily founded upon the love one has for God. It is an ethical system that focuses on love, and thus would reject any idea of torture because it doesn’t comply with the idea of love for God or the love God provides to us. According to Holmes, “A Christian ethic will be concerned about the consequences of punishment, concerned for what it does to the criminal, concerned for him as one created in God’s image, one whom Go loves and for whom Christ died”. (Holmes, 2007, pg. 100) Torturing someone would not be justifiable by God and would be rejecting Christian ethics. Although the saving of many human lives does sound more substantial than the loss of a terrorist’s life, that simply goes toward human happiness, which always should be the second plan. As a Christian, one’s duty should be to spread the love they have for God in any way possible, which one could accomplish by refusing to torture someone.
As a Christian, I believe any form of torture is wrong, and thus, although my beliefs agree with Kantian-based ethics, my reasons for my belief are due to Christian-based ethics. The lives of millions of people are of course important, but as we discussed with the problem of evil, God has underlying reasons for everything that happens in this world. Humans having a free will brings its consequences and this is yet another one of them, the risk of millions of lives. However, this doesn’t imply that one should use their free will evilly and give up their love and reverence for God. Although the terrorist here has lost his way, that doesn’t mean the authorities should also lose their way by torturing him.