Evil is Not Washed Away by Good: Torture and Zero Dark Thirty
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Zero Dark Thirty and Torture: Evil is Not Washed Away by Good

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Think Pieces | December 19, 2012 | Comments ()


The political blogs are all aflutter with talk of Zero Dark Thirty and who can blame them? We get movies and television to rant about all year, but they've got this whole Pon Farr thing in which they only get the big show every couple of years, so they have to find a little on the side now and then to keep them going. Dan will have a review for us on Friday, but if the political blogs can ramble about movies before they come out, so can we. It's certainly never stopped us before. And the very special thing being discussed is the role of torture in the film.

By all accounts, Bigelow does not preach in any direction about the shadow of torture embedded in the American pursuit of terrorists over the last decade. It shows horror and neither seeks to justify nor condemn its use, dwells on neither its efficacy nor its morality. It shines a light on an evil without editorial. The result is that the film is heralded on both sides as justifying their position, which makes it either an exceptionally cowardly or exceptionally saavy script. Given Bigelow's nuanced film making, I'd go with the latter, because by refusing to make a point it it refuses to engage anyone in their argument and simply makes them look. It points at horror and says "we did this" and calls it by its name instead of some lawyer dance about enhanced interrogation techniques. And because the film refuses to participate in the argument it forces acknowledgement of the raw facts.

In high school I read a lot of nineteenth century philosophy, a side effect of being a debater of some seriousness. And of course I was a master, to answer everyone's automatic question. John Stuart Mills was the easy favorite since he eloquently argued for all the sorts of ethics that modern Americans simply accept as the way the world should work. John Rawls existed to blow your mind in ways that made you realize just how abominable Ayn Rand's philosophy really was. According to debate legend, Rawls had an ongoing problem with high school debaters tracking down his office line at Harvard and calling to try to ask him for quotes that they could use. He apparently became quite adept at hanging up and taking his phone off the hook.

Immanuel Kant though was an enigma in his insistence on absolute morality that drove me insane in any example used to illustrate it. Lying is wrong. And so even though hiding a Jew from the Gestapo is right, lying to the agents who knock your door is wrong (bear with the example even though the Nazis were long after Kant's time). That sort of example illustrated to me quite clearly at the time that Kant was simply an ivory tower idiot incapable of understanding the nuance of morality in the real world. The fact that Kant was a primary influence of Rawls' was lost on me at the time. I could make no connection between the two.*

As I've aged like wine into the finest of vinegars, I've reconsidered Kant, realizing that the lack of nuance is actually as profound a nuance as you can derive. Kant is not arguing that one should tell the Gestapo about the Frank family in your attic, but that you cannot claim that the action is right just because by some moral calculus you end up on the positive side of the ledger. Like Doyle told Angel back in the day, there is no grand scale, saving a life doesn't balance out the evil of ending another. That's not to say that there isn't a time for ending a life, and certainly not to say that sometimes an evil act isn't needed for the greater good. But it is an almost Catholic vision of the nature of sin: even when we must commit evil for good, we should never pretend that our accounts come out positive. Sin, evil, whatever you call it, stains us, eats at us. Evil is not balanced by good, it keeps its own accounts.

And this brings us in a roundabout way back to torture. The argument of which I think misses the point on all sides, a point brought home by Bigelow's decision to simply show instead of tell. The efficacy of torture should be completely beside the point in any argument. One side argues that the means justify the ends, the other argues that they do not. But whether torture was effective, or whether it provided bad intelligence, is completely beside the point. It is an evil.

Consider the trite example of the ticking time bomb, the warhead buried in a storage locker and counting down to a mushroom cloud of a million dead. The prisoner knows something, and there's no time. The one side argues that of course torture should be deployed. They point to the fictional scale of good and evil, note that its clear which side outweighs the other. The other side argues that either the situation is contrived and never happens or that the information obtained would be worth less than nothing anyway. Note the tacit acceptance of the basic premise of cost and benefit.

Both sides are wrong, trapped in the alluring simplicity of a morality in which good and evil can cancel each other out, rather than being orthogonal concepts. The soldiers who believe that the prisoner holds the key to saving a million lives should under no circumstances be allowed to torture. There should be no legal sanction, no appeal to some rule that specifies under what conditions evil is permitted. And that rule should not be a wink, it should be iron clad law. Those who break it will be arrested, will be cast into the machinery of the system.

And I expect that one of those soldiers will break the rule anyway. That is what a hero is. That is what a martyr is. We must make our rules against great evils have no exceptions, so that when it is necessary for horror to be deployed for good, it is done out of sacrifice not out of a subsection of a bureaucratic handbook. The fate of that hero is terrible, it is unfair, and it is absolutely necessary for a moral society. And if our society is such that not one person will sacrifice themselves in that way, then either the need for the evil was not so pressing, or we are a society without heroes and not worth the saving anyway.

In a sense this is exactly what Star Trek's Prime Directive boils down to: the unbreakable rule that you know must be broken. The solution to such a quandary is not to get rid of the rule, not to codify the means by which it can be broken. No, the answer is to put a man in charge who is willing to break the rule. But this is only half the answer, and it's definitely the easier half. It's simple to put a rulebreaker in charge, trivial to give the wink and nod expectation that the rule only exists to pacify those who complain about morality, or to tame those lesser men who feel bound by such intangibles. The really hard part about morality is accepting a system that will bring down the thunder even when we agree that the breaking of the rule was justified.

The evil is not washed away by the good.

Steven Lloyd Wilson is a hopeless romantic and the last scion of Norse warriors and the forbidden elder gods. His novel, ramblings, and assorted fictions coalesce at www.burningviolin.com. You can email him here.

*I'm recalling impressions of hastily read philosophy filtered through the shady lens of years and my eleventh grade intellect, so I'm inevitably not doing justice to these theories.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Such a great movie, can't wait for the sequels.

  • Untamed

    It's been a short while since you wrote the above article and I feel I should at last make a comment, since I've been showing it to others and referring to it in discussions. Well done, Steven. Well done.

  • ,

    Back around the election I made the suggestion that it might not take being a sociopath to aspire to be or to be elected to high office (I mean, probably, governor and above), but that from the evidence of what Congresspeople and presidents and their ilk are expected to do or authorize or allow and, in fact, DO do and authorize and allow (for example, drop Hellfire missiles from 30,000 feet to execute suspects and anyone else in their immediate vicinity without charge, trial or conviction and then go out and party with Jay-Z), that it must certainly help.

    For the purposes of this discussion, my question would be: Is having sociopaths in charge a GOOD thing? In a "You WANT me on that wall, you NEED me on that wall" way?

    George W. Bush was condemned in many circles for rounding up suspects and holding them indefinitely and having them tortured.

    Obama just dispenses with all that and executes suspects, for which he is condemned in far fewer circles that I see.

    So the lack of a public outcry about Obama's tactics would lead one to believe not only that we want sociopathic motherfuckers as our leaders, we want the coldest and most sociopathic motherfuckers we can find.

  • Phaedre

    This is reason 100000 why I love this site.

  • brite

    Excellent piece! I'll be mulling this over for awhile.

  • zeke_the_pig

    This was a fantastic piece, Steven.
    I will, however, reserve judgement on whether or not the film really does present events in an 'objective' and 'journalistic' way. Putting aside the fact that the two terms are basically in opposition anyway - as journalism denotes a writer which denotes a personal point of view - I remain skeptical.

  • hypnosifl

    Who said it did? The review doesn't...one of the biggest criticisms of the movie is that it shows an important clue (relating to the identity of Bin Laden's courier) coming from torture, when in fact there's no evidence it really did...this article says: "The film includes wrenching scenes of a terrorist suspect being waterboarded and subjected to other forms of torture by C.I.A. operatives; the suspect eventually surrenders information that helps lead to bin Laden. Bigelow maintains that everything in the film is based on first-hand accounts, but the waterboarding scene, which is likely to stir up controversy, appears to have strayed from real life. According to several official sources, including Dianne Feinstein, the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, the identity of bin Laden’s courier, whose trail led the C.I.A. to the hideout in Pakistan, was not discovered through waterboarding."

    More discussion of this issue in this article, starting with the paragraph that begins 'Yet what is so unsettling about “Zero Dark Thirty” is not that it tells this difficult history but, rather, that it distorts it.'

  • Uncle Mikey

    In the scenario posted above (ticking time bomb), evil doesn't enter into it. Keeping a bunch of people from being killed is the point. That's the justification, not who has the moral high ground. And a known terrorist with means and intent is no less a ticking time bomb than an actual one.

    The fantasy that one can pursue a military course of action but somehow retain the moral high ground is a dangerous and counterproductive one. Sherman was right when he said war is cruelty and that the crueler it is, the sooner it will be over.

  • John G.

    No, that's your point, not THE point. If you're talking practicality, and which action saves the most lives, that's a tactical decision, but if you're Kant, you're talking about higher absolutes, not practicalities.

  • Uncle Mikey

    No, that's the point of the guys doing the torturing in the movie. They're not thinking about morality or philosophy. THAT's my point.

  • hypnosifl

    OK, so let's modify the scenario a bit by imagining that terrorist had a three-year old daughter and the military speculated that he might be motivated to confess if they tortured her horribly for hours or days (I emphasize "might" because one of the contrivances of the ticking time bomb scenario is the assumption that torture would actually work, when realistically most fanatics would probably have the strength of will to avoid confessing for the whatever relatively short time was left before the "time bomb" actually went off). In this case, would you still say that torture is justified because "keeping a bunch of people from being killed is the point", and talk dismissively of those who oppose such action as naive types who have the "fantasy that one can pursue a military course of action but somehow retain the moral high ground"? If not, then it seems like the issue is not so much that you actually feel war justifies tossing away morality in the name of saving lives, but rather that you don't actually see torture as horrifically immoral if the person being tortured is someone "evil" in your eyes (kind of like a Christian who has no problem with the idea of a moral God who sentences "evil" people to eternal torture). And if you would still advocate torture in this scenario, well, hats off for consistency I guess...

  • Uncle Mikey

    All of this is predicated on one's willingness to go to war in the first place. If that's OK with you morally, anything you do to end it more quickly and spare more lives is defensible. For example, if it saved a building full of 3-year-olds, the moral calculus justifying torturing a single three-year-old would be pretty clear.

    If we're going to make random assumptions about what would and wouldn't "work" in a torture situation, I think it's fair to assume a three-year old would be neither fanatic nor terribly strong willed. Is it genuinely more reprehensible to torture a child than an adult? Once you've crossed the torture line there's nothing redeeming about where your squeamishness line lies.

    If you think you can wage war with your morality intact, you are indeed naive and dangerous. Good and evil don't figure into it, and your obsession with Christianity is equally beside the point.

  • hypnosifl

    For example, if it saved a building full of 3-year-olds, the moral calculus justifying torturing a single three-year-old would be pretty clear.

    Not at all. For one thing, not everyone is a utilitarian, and you seem to be assuming a utilitarian "good of the many outweighs the good of the one" type moral calculus. For another, there is the question of uncertainty--we don't actually know that torturing the 3-year-old will work. It is in part because of this uncertainty that even some utilitarians prefer a morality where we have general principles that are expected to lead to less suffering "on average", rather than trying to guess the exact consequences in every specific circumstance--see act and rule utilitarianism. A rule utilitarian might say that even though there are occasional circumstances where torture ends up saving more people than it harms, we can never know whether that will be true in any specific case and it usually tends to create more suffering than it stops, so it's better to adopt a general principle forbidding it (not to mention the psychological consideration that torture tends to harden the psyches of both the people committing the torture and the wider public that supports it, leading to a slippery-slope effect where once society agrees it's OK in some circumstances it tends to become more widespread, possibly leading to the sort of authoritarian state where police routinely torture suspects in hopes of getting information or confessions).

    If we're going to make random assumptions about what would and wouldn't "work" in a torture situation, I think it's fair to assume a three-year old would be neither fanatic nor terribly strong willed.

    Um, it's unlikely the three-year-old would herself have any useful information to give up, the scenario was that she was being tortured in an attempt to cause the terrorist father to confess, and he might well be fanatic and strong-willed enough to put his cause before saving his daughter from pain.

    Is it genuinely more reprehensible to torture a child than an adult? Once you've crossed the torture line there's nothing redeeming about where your squeamishness line lies.

    You seem to have misunderstood the point of my line of questioning--I agree that both are totally reprehensible, but I was checking to see whether you were being consistent in your attitude that torture is OK if it saves enough other people. There are many people in the world who aren't that bothered by torture as long as the person being tortured is deemed "bad" by them--that's why I brought up the example of the fairly widespread belief in hell, not because I have an "obsession with Christianity" as you suggest, but because it's a relevant real-world illustration of how large numbers of people think the wrongness of torture depends on the guilt or innocence of the person being tortured (and not all Christians believe in Hell as a literal place of torture BTW, many would say the suffering of Hell is due purely to the state of "separation from God", and a minority believe everyone will be saved).

    If you think you can wage war with your morality intact, you are indeed naive and dangerous.

    The notion of rules of war, or of criteria to determine when a war is a just war, is one that his been popular in Western countries for centuries, and the West has generally been pretty successful militarily. I would say the victor in war is determined mainly by military strength (equipment and manpower) and battlefield strategy--do you have any compelling evidence that a willingness to use tactics that "just war" advocates would oppose, like torturing captive soldiers or massacring civilians for the purpose of undermining morale, has helped provide victory to a side that otherwise would more likely have lost? (you can't really count Hiroshima and Nagasaki, for example, because the U.S. would have almost certainly defeated Japan even if it hadn't used nuclear bombs on cities, it just might have taken longer, and I don't think it's particularly clear the number of soldiers killed would have been greater than the number of civilians killed in these bombings)

    Also not sure what you mean by "wage war with your morality intact", obviously war is brutal but most moral systems would say a "normal" degree of brutality (killing enemy soldiers as efficiently as possible until they surrender) is justified in some circumstances (like a war of self-defense, or to aid an ally that is fighting in self-defense against a country that attacked them first), but that some "higher" degree of brutality (like the above examples, massacring civilians etc.) is not. If your moral system gives you these lines and you respect them then by definition you are waging war with your morality intact, even if these lines allow you to be quite brutal about killing the enemy.

  • Uncle Mikey

    You proposed torturing a three-year-old, I didn't. I doubt anyone else would find that a viable course of action so spare me the lecture on why it wouldn't work

    And in a military setting, everyone is indeed a utilitarian, or they are removed from a decision making role. Hollywood movies to the contrary, people killing and dying don't have much time for moral quandaries. Later, sure. During, not much. Keeping your people alive while completing your objectives is what matters.

    It's quite clear that more civilians AND soldiers would have been killed had the atomic bombs not been used (why you compare the number of soldiers vs. civilians is beyond me). We'd burned more civilians firebombing than both of the bombs killed together to no obvious effect on Japan's willingness to fight. Hell, between US artillery and bombing and Japanese butchering, 100,000 Filipinos died in Manila alone. Even if you were right, which you aren't, your analysis 70 years later is meaningless. It was clear at the time that it was the right thing to do, and it worked.

    There are plenty of examples of ruthlessness triumphing over morality. Sherman's point is that ultimate brutality will trump any attempt to apply a moral code, and thereby end the conflict in your favor. See Afghanistan/Vietnam for recent examples, but there are far more when you go further back.

    You are engaging in what is politely called wanking. You talk about morality and war without experience of war or warriors or making an effort to study the history thereof. You make up absurd scenarios in hopes of making an academic point with no connection to reality. It's silly.

  • vhrico

    That was excellent, with the mention of the Prime Directive being the cherry on top.

  • Michelle

    Excellent Angel reference.

    I love these think pieces.

  • Your Mom

    So now that all the amateur philosphizing is over, what I really want to know is this: Is it a good movie?

  • Robert

    Perhaps you can wait for the film to actually open in theaters, which happens today, for a review to come out rather than complaining that an entertainment blog put up a post about a big film story lighting up the media right now.

  • Fredo

    Great piece.

    For some reason, it made me think of Nightmare on Elm Street. How all the evil of Freddie Kruger is born out of his murder at the hands of the parents of Elm Street, who cannot stand that he somehow beats the justice system after murdering several children. In return, the spirit of Freddie returns to haunt and murder the dreams of the men and women who burnt him alive.

    Evil begetting evil.

  • John G.

    He haunts the dreams of The Children of those who burned him alive, not the people who did it, which always seemed a little unfair, but since Freddie's a pedophile he probably chose the children because he likes children. In the later stories, he even goes after the children of the children of the people who burned him alive.

    You can also go backwards in time, since Freddie was born from the brutal gang rape of a woman locked overnight in a cell with a room full of the criminally insane. So, Evil created him, Evil was his life, and Evil killed him.

  • In such a conversation, I would think it would be apropos to make a distinction between righteousness - i.e., the morally/ethically good - and justice - the necessary evil. Indeed, we've even adopted the scales as our symbol for justice.

    I also think it's very interesting that based on Kant, one could make the case that evil itself begets evil - that indeed that is the only viable outcome. In other words, that our most natural response to evil is to commit more evil in the name of justice.

    We could suppose, for instance, that denying a man's liberty is evil at some level. Indeed our society was founded on the principle that a good-willed individual has inalienable rights that neither the government nor other citizens should infringe upon.

    Yet we freely accept that if an individual in our society commits an evil act - theft, murder, rape, slander, etc., that it is necessary for that person's rights to be infringed upon. Indeed, depending on how extreme the initial act is deemed, the depth and breadth of our infringement upon the evil-doer's rights is directly proportional.

    Likewise, we feel outrage if we find that an innocent man has been needlessly punished by our justice system. We spend significant time, effort, and resources as a society reforming our justice systems so that they are more equitable - which is really applying the concept of righteousness to justice.

    I am not convinced that our justice is, indeed, righteous. Taking a person's
    rights from them always diminshes the person, always robs them of their humanity. It is always evil. And yet, in a reality in which humans have the free-will capacity to commit evil acts, I am grateful that our society has agreed that some evils are necessary as a punishment of those who themselves carry out evil. (Although our justice system's value as a deterrent is a separate question.)

    And so considering the admittedly contrived example of the bomb/torture scenario. Yes, torture is evil. The fact that the torture is happening to someone commiting evil themselves does not make it righteous. However, it might be enough that it is just. That is what we have depended upon our government to do - carry out justice, evil acts against evil doers - in the name of protecting society.

    There are those who favor the side of righteousness - proclaiming that all torture should be abolished. There are those who favor the side of justice - anything is permissible as long as it is proven that it is carried out against an evil person. And then there are those of us in the fuzzy middle, unsure where to draw the line.

    Or consider a more recent example. Suppose an evil man commits an atrocity with a gun then destroys himself before the system of justice can get its hands on him. That the act was evil is not in question. Yet, our sense of justice cries out for someone to balance the scales.

    And so we once again hear the cries for our government to infringe upon individual liberties. Only this time, the evil-doer is not available, and so innocent men and women are suggested as targets for the infringement.

    What is surprising in this instance, is that the very group that was calling for righteousness above justice in the case of torture is, in this case, calling for justice - an infringement upon individual liberties believed to be necessary for the greater good - over our stated value that liberty for all is the good and righteous path. Likewise, the group that was most closely associated with the justice argument in the torture scenario finds that they are arguing for the case of liberty - the righteous argument.

    As I say, in these dark times it is enlightening to consider such things. Be well, everyone.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    here are those who favor the side of justice - anything is permissible as long as it is proven that it is carried out against an evil person.

    I don't know anyone who defines justice that way - we set limits to the punishments that can be carried out.

    And I find the argument specious that the response to the Conn school massacre is a cry to "punish" someone ("innocent men and women") rather than an effort to prevent a future occurrence. That's as foolish as saying that the right of all "innocent men and women" to cross the street at will was revoked after a number of people were killed at an intersection and a traffic light was put up.

  • John G.

    God DAMN it, Steven!! I love you. Every time the standards of this site start to slip to an American Horror Story level, you are there to class the joint up again.

    I would pay unlimited amounts of money just to spend the day discussing the world over tea coffee beer wine ACID with you.

  • Miss Laaw-yuhr

    Oh to be a fly on the wall for that chat.

  • Jerce

    SLW consistently blows my mind to smithereens. In the good way. Never stop, SLW.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    That is what a hero is. That is what a martyr is. We must make our rules against great evils have no exceptions, so that when it is necessary for horror to be deployed for good, it is done out of sacrifice not out of a subsection of a bureaucratic handbook. The fate of that hero is terrible, it is unfair, and it is absolutely necessary for a moral society. And if our society is such that not one person will sacrifice themselves in that way, then either the need for the evil was not so pressing, or we are a society without heroes and not worth the saving anyway.

    If we want to make this really messy (apparently, I do)...this is what the person who kills abortion-providing doctors thinks.

  • Phaedre

    Scary thought, isn't it? Your observation also reminded me of something I read somewhere: The villain of the piece is always the hero in his own mind.

    THIS is what makes blind fanaticism so scary to me. In their own twisted way they are all convinced they have found the solution to what ails the world.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    The very basic thought is scary, but not new. I never understood how people called the Sept. 11th terrorists cowards, when they were putting it all on the line for what they saw as a heroic & necessary act.

    What I wait for - what I would truly (awkwardly) admire - is the bomber who shows some level of understanding the horror of what they've done, submits to punishment, and says it was a necessary evil to prevent greater evil. It's actually the thing that keeps soldiers human, I think. "I had to do it, but I sure didn't enjoy it, and I wouldn't want to have to do it again."

  • The problem seems to be the way the makers of the movie have presented it. They present it as art by making something that isn't other a documentary. Then they give quotes in public praising the journalistic and accurate way in which they presented the events. But they don't, particularly in relation to torture. So as someone who knows the reported facts of the events regarding torture, I'm going to view the supposed inaccurate way in which they depict such events (at least as described by those who have seen it, I haven't) as trying to say something beyond just presenting an unbiased scene and letting people decide on it's morality.

    As for torture itself, I'm happy to acknowledge that it's a violation of due process and make it completely, 100% illegal in every circumstance and end the debate right there. But many can't seem wrap their head around the notion of such basic rights as due process and why that's important. So then you have to get into the effectiveness. In that case, I don't think there is much reason to agonize over the moral implications of doing evil to accomplish some good. I don't think that because intelligence officers will tell you that it's not effective and potentially counterproductive. Not only that, even if we assume torture can be effective (beyond to simply serve as punishment), that doesn't make it more effective than non-torture intelligence gathering techniques. So the issue of effectiveness is extremely muddled to say the least.

    I think a big reason the belief exists that it is effective is because of popular entertainment. And that gets us full circle to the problems with this film. I despise something like "24" and the apparent real effect it had on people's thinking about issues like torture. But the best we can do is argue against that as accurately and effectively as possible. That's the real moral give and take as I see it; that in a free society we have to let people voice support for possibly evil policy. But that also means others can voice their support against that evil.

  • I forgot to add that John Stuart Mill is fantastic, at least in "On Liberty". And Rawls is indeed thought changing.

  • Amberlark

    Here's the question: Why not follow the thread to the end? Murder is an evil much like torture is an evil; however, when a person kills another out of self defense, we don't call it murder. We determine that under certain circumstances killing is not murder. Would you argue that someone who kills another in self defense should be cast into the machinery of no exceptions? If not, couldn't torture be reframed in the same way? Which is to say, that torture is an evil, but in self defense it is no longer "torture." The intent is not to inflict harm; it is to save life. Of course efficacy of torture then becomes very much the point under that rubric.

  • Fabius_Maximus

    I think you are wrong there. You are still a murderer if you kill someone in self defense. It's just that you go without penalty because of the circumstances. At least it's the case around here (though "murder" has a pretty narrow definition in German law).

  • JAE

    You missed the entire point of Kant. Just because something is "justified" doesn't make it right or moral. And calling something by another name doesn't change its fundamental nature. Hence the debate over the just war theory.

  • Amberlark

    What benefit is there in separating "justified" from "moral?" I struggled with the categorical imperative in undergrad as well. But in the hinterland of real moral struggles - what does the distinction really yield? It isn't simply "calling it another name." It is understanding that actions in different contexts with different intentions have different moral implications.

  • John G.

    Is isn't a cost/benefit analysis. It's not about what's useful in the field. It's the interrogation of truth and exploring ramifications in thought experiments. If you want a beneficial philosophy, then you can make one up any way that benefits you or your particular need.

  • Amberlark

    Answer the question. Is it only justified to kill in self defense or is it also moral? If the answer is that it is immoral to do so then it is a philosophy of little use. I am not advocating relativism. However, if your normative moral philosophy is one to which no actual person can adhere, what is the point?

  • John G.

    you kind of missed my whole point about philosophy and being "of use".

  • Amberlark

    Could be. Answering the question might have helped me understand your point, however.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    I would say a moral philosophy no person can adhere to is not any different than a set of commandments people can't adhere to - it is aspirational. And there is a value in the ideal, even if it cannot be met.

  • Amberlark

    Why? Why is there value in setting out impossible ideals to which we should all aspire? To what end? To be "better" than ourselves by some outside standard that has little to do with who we actually are? No, I side with Aristotle.Virtue is found in the mean relative to us. Developing virtue is aspirational sure - but it is defined in human terms and is steeped in context.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    I think the value in ideals is that you don't know how close to them you can get unless you have a lofty aim. Everything 'impossible' is something that pushes us the excellent among us to strive harder than they otherwise might have.

  • csb

    In what situation is the torturer a hero/martyr and not say a sadist/sociopath?

    Like you say, the ticking time bomb scenario justification of torture, much loved of neocons who've watched a little too much 24, is totally contrived.

  • Uncle Mikey

    Unless you consider the continued freedom/existence of an active terrorist a ticking time bomb.

  • csb

    We're not taking about imprisonment or assassination here (though those throw up issues of their own), we're talking about torture.

  • katyv

    This is the best analysis of moral ambiguity that I have ever seen. Thanks for sharing.

  • jcoa2

    Torture is great drama. Look at The Marathon Man. No one obsesses over Olivier's fantastic perfromance in The Entertainer, or others, but everyone can recall and parrot his line "Is it safe?"

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