Defining Torture: Proposing A Definition

by Jimmy Akin

in Moral Theology

Thus far we have seen that torture involves the infliction of pain but that not all infliction of pain counts as torture. There can be legitimate reasons for inflicting even extreme pain (as in the case of an emergency operation when anesthetic is not available) and there can be legitimate reasons to inflict pain in order to achieve legitimate behavioral goals (like getting people to obey the law).

I don’t think that a definition of torture that focuses exclusively on the level of pain or on the purpose of the pain will be successful in capturing much of our commonsense understanding of torture (Parameter 1) and in picking out something that is intrinsically evil (Parameter 2).

Instead, I think that a more satisfying definition of torture can be developed by relating the quantity and purpose of the pain.

You’ll note that one of the things that the Catechism said regarding punishment was "Legitimate public authority has the right and duty to inflict penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime" (CCC 2266). This statement contains an insight that I think will allow us to develop a more robust and intellectually satisfying definition of torture.

You’ll note that the Catechism also referred to torture as potentially involving the punishment of the guilty, and historically some people have been sentenced to torture in order to punish them for their crimes. But we might say, per 2266, that a punishment would not be torture if the punishment is commensurate with the gravity of the crime.

Clearly different crimes have different gravities. Those that are only light offenses should receive light penalties, while those that are more grave offenses should–in keeping with justice (i.e., giving someone what they deserve)–receive heavier penalties.

But what if the state starts handing out punishments that are disproportionate to the offense? If the government really is inflicting excessive amounts of pain that outstrip the gravity of the offense then it seems that in this case you could say that punishing the guilty has become an act of torture. At least it seems to me that you could use language in this way.

What if we apply the same insight to the other common torture motives?

We mentioned earlier that it doesn’t always seem to be torture if someone uses fear to get someone to confess to a crime (e.g., a lawyer who advises his client what the consequences of not confessing will be if it is later proven that he’s guilty of the crime). But what if a disproportionate amount of fear is inflicted on the suspect? It seems to me that you could at that point say that the person is being tortured. Or at least you could use language that way.

And how about frightening opponents? We noticed that the criminal justice system is based on using punishments to keep potential lawbreakers in line, and that’s legitimate as long as the punishments "correspond to the gravity of the crime" that they are attached to. But what if they’re excessive–what if the state starts handing out electroshock for things as trivial as parking violations? In that case the rule of law becomes a reign of terror, and the punishments could be seen as torture.

And, of course, any use of pain to satisfy hatred (properly understanding what counts as hatred, as opposed to justified anger) could count as torture–even if the parvity of the pain would make it a really light torture.

Going this route seems to allow us to propose a definition that would capture a great deal of the things that our commonsense understanding would count as torture.

So let’s try this definition and see how it works: The sin of torture consists in the disproportionate infliction of pain.

You’ll note that I’ve specified torture in its moral aspect (the sin of torture) rather than its legal aspect (the crime of torture). Because of the way the civil law works, torture will have to be cashed out in more concrete terms in a civil law definition, but it’s the moral aspect we’re interested in, and moral definitions tend to be more general. Morally speaking, theft is the taking of another’s property against the reasonable will of its owner, but the crime of theft is going to be cashed out differently in the civil law. It’s the same thing on the subject of torture.

So how does the definition work in practice?

Well, as we noted, it would allow us to distinguish between the legitimate use of pain to achieve legitimate goals and the illegitimate use of pain to achieve the same goals. That’s a good thing.

It allows us to recognize that extreme pain can be legitimate in extreme circumstances but illegitimate in non-extreme ones. That’s a good thing, too.

It also allows us to focus on the pragmatics of particular situations. For example, it is often pointed out that torture should not be used in the criminal justice system because if you torture people to extract confessions then they will confess falsely, simply to end the pain. Torture, in other words, doesn’t work when being applied to the goal of getting at the truth in a criminal prosecution.

Our proposed definition allows us to recognize the fact that some pain (e.g., fear from being warned of what will happen if you don’t confess and are later proved to be guilty) can lead to true confessions while excessive pain will lead to false ones. The line into torture (and this is by nature a blurry but nonetheless real line) would be crossed when enough pain/fear is applied that you cease motivating true confessions and start motivating false ones. So the definition seems to work in this context.

It also would allow us to distinguish between legitimate punishment to deter crime and torture that creates a reign of terror. And that applies whether we’re talking about parents punishing vs. torturing their children or the state punishing vs. torturing its citizens.

It further allows us to recognize that it would not be wrong to twist a terrorist’s arm behind his back if he knows the location of a time bomb that is about to go off and there is no other way to effectively motivate him to tell us where it is.

Yet it would be torture to twist his arm behind his back if the threat is less imminent and traditional interrogation means will be as or more effective than arm twisting to get the needed information from him.

I’m not sure that our proposed definition captures all of our commonsense understanding of torture, but it seems rather promising so far and technical definitions invariably don’t capture everything that a pre-reflective understanding does.

Try out this proposition and see how it strikes you: Morally speaking, the evil in an act of torture consists in the infliction of a disproportionate amount of pain.

That strikes me as quite plausible. If what you are doing doesn’t involve the infliction of a disproportionate amount of pain then it doesn’t strike me as being torture. What’s wrong about torture is that you’re inflicting more pain than you should.

(From one perspective an act of torture could also inflict other forms of harm besides pain–such as mutilating a person’s body so that they no longer have legs and can’t walk any more–but then it would seem to involve something besides the torture itself, such as being an act of torture and mutilation or torture by mutilation. The mutilation would be sinful in itself, even if it were made totally painless and thus not a torture from the perspective of immediate pain.)

I think I’m pretty satisfied (at the moment) that the thing that makes torture wrong is that it involves inflicting more pain than is warranted in a situation. So I think we’ve found a necessary condition for something to be torture. Torture has to involve inflicting more pain than is warranted.

But is this a sufficient condition?

Here someone might propose additional conditions that are needed for torture that have nothing to do with pain. For example, someone might propose that the torture has to be inflicted on another person. In other words, you can’t torture yourself. You might masochistically hurt yourself, but it wouldn’t be torture. Others might say no, you can torture yourself, and when you do so to get some kind of thrill out of it, it’s a specific kind of torture known as masochism.

I think that this is a matter that we can leave open as it isn’t really involved in the question that is motivating the present torture debate (i.e., the War on Terror).

Others might say that another condition that needs to be present is that you aren’t inflicting pain for the purposes of helping the person. In the tracheotomy example and the battlefield amputation example, the pain is inflicted as part of helping somebody, and you might say that this disqualifies it as being torture.

I would be skeptical of making this addition to the definition, because it seems to me that a lot of what we have historically called torture has been viewed as helping the person being tortured–e.g., making a heretic confess so that he can break with his heresy and be reconciled with God or "re-educating" a person with "politically incorrect" views so that he can be a "productive member of society" (the Commies were big on that one–still are in China and North Korea).

Someone might propose that the law of double-effect might be brought in here, such that something counts as torture if the pain is inflicted as an end or a means but not if it is a side-effect. I’d buy that something is torture if it is inflicting pain as an end–that kind of pain would always be disproportionate since pain is not a legitimate moral end (i.e., something to be pursued for its own sake), but it strikes me that pain can be a legitimate means, as when fear of punishment is used to keep people from breaking the law.

Some might want us to say that torture has to be carried out by the government, and we often think of it this way, but don’t we also say that a murderer can torture his victim before killing him?

At present I find myself unable to think of plausible additional criteria that seem necessary for us to have torture, and so I am inclined to say that, morally speaking, torture consists in the infliction of disproportionate amounts of pain.

This leads to some unusual conclusions in a few cases. For example, suppose that a doctor is performing an emergency tracheotomy on a choking victim and, in the process of doing so, he deliberately inflicts more pain than is necessary on the patient out of some sadistic desire. In this case our definition would say that he tortured the patient to the extent the pain was excessive, and that’s a little odd, but not outside the realm of what many people might find an acceptable use of language.

What we have been doing so far is exploring torture largely within Parameter 1, or trying to develop a definition of torture that allows us to identify the moral evil that is found in the acts that our commonsense understanding classifies as torture. But what about Parameter 2–that our definition needs to pick out something intrinsically evil? Does the proposal on the table do that?

Well, to deliberately inflict a disproportionate amount of pain on someone is by definition unjust, and it is intrinsically immoral to act unjustly, so it would seem that there is a sense in which we can say that inflicting disproportionate pain is intrinsically evil. It’s not exactly a standard way of talking in moral theology, but I suspect that it would satisfy the Magisterium since it allows us to say that you can never torture people.

One might express the intrinsic evil of torture this way: In evaluating the morality of an act, Catholic moral theology looks at its object, the intention of the person performing it, and the circumstances in which it is performed (including the consequences of the act). For more on this, see CCC 1750ff.

The object is "the matter of a human act" (CCC 1751; e.g., in the case of an abortion, the object or matter of the act is the killing of an unborn baby). The intent is what the person performing the act was hoping to achieve by doing it (see CCC 1753; e.g., in the case of an abortion the abortionist may have performed it in order to help the young mother lead a good life). The circumstances reflect everything else about the situation, including the consequences of the act (CCC 1754; e.g., in the case of the abortion, perhaps the abortionist knew and was friends with the young woman, giving him a special reason to want to help her lead a good life).

In order for an act to be morally good, it must have a good object, a good intention, and be done with respect to good circumstances. If it is lacking in one of these–that is, if it has an evil object, is done with an evil intent, or is done in evil circumstances then it is an evil act (CCC 1755).

A distinction can be drawn between those acts that are intrinsically immoral and those that are extrinsically immoral. If the object of an act is evil then the act itself is immoral, regardless of the intent of the person performing it or the circumstances in which it is performed (CCC 1755-1756). It is called "intrinsically" evil because the core of the act itself–its object or matter–is evil. On the other hand, if the object of the act itself is good, it can nevertheless be rendered evil if the intent of the person performing it is evil or if the circumstances in which it is performed are evil. In these cases the act is said to be "extrinsically" evil since it is not the act itself (the object or matter of the act) that is evil but things connected with the act (the intent or circumstances) that are evil.

Torture is intrinsically evil because it is the infliction of disproportionate pain on a subject. It is not intrinsically evil to inflict pain on a subject. If it were then we could not do emergency surgeries without anesthetic or punish children or punish criminals. But pain is not an intrinsic goal in its own right. Pain is a physical evil and, as an evil, it is something that is in itself to be avoided per the basic moral axiom of "Do good and avoid evil." It is thus out of keeping with human dignity to inflict a physical evil on another person if there is not a justifying reason for it. To inflict disproportionate pain on someone is thus to inflict a physical evil on them when there is not a justifying (or adequately justifying) reason. In such a circumstance, the person’s dignity as a human being is not respected, and the person is being treated as an object (something on which pain can be inflicted without a fully justifying reason) rather than as a subject (someone on which pain can be inflicted only with a fully justifying reason).

The infliction of a disproportionate amount of pain is thus always wrong. It does not matter if you had a good intention (e.g., "I was trying to save human lives"). The infliction of too much pain (more pain than was necessary) is out of keeping with the dignity of the person and treats him as an object rather than a subject. It similarly does not matter what the circumstances were (e.g., "There was a ticking time bomb and we only had a few minutes before it went off"). If you used too much pain then you strayed into treating the person as an object rather than a subject and did not respect his human dignity, which requires that physical evils like pain not be inflicted on him except when there is a fully justifying cause.

In concrete situations, we must of course take full account of the intent and circumstances in assessing a person’s subjective culpability for an act (e.g., the person may have misestimated the amount of pain that was proportional), but this does not change the fact that the act of inflicting disproportionate pain is objectively wrong and thus intrinsically and objectively sinful.

Torture thus emerges as something that is intrinsically and objectively wrong the same way that taking too much of a person’s food if you are starving and can’t pay and he has plenty is wrong (the sin of theft). The object of an act of torture or theft is wrong, and so these acts are objectively wrong, making them intrinsically evil per the discussion above.

Having said this, I should point out that I am not wedded to this definition. In my mind, it’s a tentative one, and I would be perfectly happy to entertain proposals for different sets of necessary and sufficient conditions if someone thinks they have a more satisfying definition.

Some might be disappointed that the definition I have proposed does not automatically classify certain physical acts as torture but allows them to be or not be torture based on the situation.

Take waterboarding as an example. I would say that waterboarding is torture if it is being used to get a person to confess to a crime (it is not proportionate to that end since it will promote false confessions). I would also say that it is torture if it is being used to get information out of a terrorist that could be gotten through traditional, less painful interrogation means (it is not proportionate to the end since there are better means available). 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). And I would not say that it is torture if it is being used to train our own people how to resist waterboarding if it is used on them (this is apparently something we do, and it is proportionate on the understanding that there is no better way to help people learn to resist waterboarding).

I find it hard to think of particular physical acts that automatically count as torture irregardless of the circumstances. Even cutting off parts of a person’s body is not torture if you’re doing it to prevent them from dying of gangrene and there is no anesthetic available. But if the pain involved in that physical act is not automatically torture then I don’t know what would be. Indeed, I don’t know how to establish a maximum amount of pain that can be inflicted, even if it is for purposes of saving someone’s life.

The only amount I can think of is one that would permanently damage the person in some way, and then we’re talking about some kind of physical or mental mutilation rather than torture itself–and even that might not always be immoral since the Catechism acknowledges that mutilations can be legitimate for therapeutic reasons. "Okay, maybe removing your leg on the battlefield left you mentally ‘scarred,’ but at least you’re alive, and you can live with the scars," I could see someone arguing.

It also strikes me that adopting the kind of general moral definition that I have proposed may be a good thing in that it lets us get past a semantic chokepoint in the discussion: Instead of worrying about whether or not something counts as torture, we can start figuring out whether particular acts are or are not moral. If the pain involved in them is disproportionate then they are immoral and therefore torture. If the pain involved in them is not disproportionate then they’re not immoral and not torture.

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{ 191 comments }

Randy November 27, 2006 at 9:02 am

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 November 27, 2006 at 9:04 am

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

Realist November 27, 2006 at 9:20 am

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 November 27, 2006 at 9:34 am

Apparently it wasn’t very effective.

Joy Schoenberger November 27, 2006 at 9:56 am

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 November 27, 2006 at 10:05 am

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 November 27, 2006 at 10:09 am

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 November 27, 2006 at 10:20 am

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 November 27, 2006 at 10:27 am

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. November 27, 2006 at 10:45 am

“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 November 27, 2006 at 11:23 am

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 November 27, 2006 at 11:47 am

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 November 27, 2006 at 11:50 am

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. November 27, 2006 at 12:06 pm

“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 November 27, 2006 at 12:47 pm

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. November 27, 2006 at 1:02 pm

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 November 27, 2006 at 1:06 pm

“Tell me about the oranges, Lilly.”.

SDG November 27, 2006 at 1:12 pm

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 November 27, 2006 at 1:12 pm

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 November 27, 2006 at 1:19 pm

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. November 27, 2006 at 1:32 pm

“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 November 27, 2006 at 1:34 pm

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 November 27, 2006 at 1:38 pm

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 November 27, 2006 at 1:41 pm

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 November 27, 2006 at 2:02 pm

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 November 27, 2006 at 2:07 pm

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 November 27, 2006 at 2:08 pm

…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. November 27, 2006 at 2:11 pm

“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. November 27, 2006 at 2:13 pm

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. November 27, 2006 at 2:42 pm

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 November 27, 2006 at 2:56 pm

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 November 27, 2006 at 3:08 pm

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 November 27, 2006 at 3:11 pm

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 November 27, 2006 at 3:32 pm

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 November 27, 2006 at 3:32 pm

Dave,
If the action is “too heinous”, isn’t it also disproportionate?

francis 03 November 27, 2006 at 4:51 pm

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 November 27, 2006 at 5:01 pm

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 November 27, 2006 at 5:08 pm

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 November 27, 2006 at 5:40 pm

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. November 27, 2006 at 5:49 pm

“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 November 27, 2006 at 5:58 pm

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 November 27, 2006 at 6:03 pm

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 November 27, 2006 at 6:28 pm

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. November 27, 2006 at 7:21 pm

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 November 27, 2006 at 7:27 pm

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 November 27, 2006 at 7:41 pm

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 November 27, 2006 at 8:10 pm

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 November 27, 2006 at 8:47 pm

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 November 27, 2006 at 9:43 pm

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 November 28, 2006 at 5:13 am

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 November 28, 2006 at 5:36 am

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 November 28, 2006 at 5:42 am

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 November 28, 2006 at 6:01 am

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 November 28, 2006 at 6:04 am

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 November 28, 2006 at 6:04 am

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 November 28, 2006 at 6:07 am

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 November 28, 2006 at 6:08 am

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 November 28, 2006 at 6:09 am

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 November 28, 2006 at 6:10 am

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 November 28, 2006 at 6:14 am

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 November 28, 2006 at 6:18 am

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. November 28, 2006 at 6:26 am

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. November 28, 2006 at 6:29 am

“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 November 28, 2006 at 6:34 am

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 November 28, 2006 at 6:37 am

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. November 28, 2006 at 6:38 am

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 November 28, 2006 at 6:39 am

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 November 28, 2006 at 6:41 am

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

Zippy November 28, 2006 at 6:44 am

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 November 28, 2006 at 6:49 am

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 November 28, 2006 at 6:53 am

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 November 28, 2006 at 6:59 am

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. November 28, 2006 at 6:59 am

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 November 28, 2006 at 7:01 am

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 November 28, 2006 at 7:06 am

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. November 28, 2006 at 7:07 am

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

Zippy November 28, 2006 at 7:09 am

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 November 28, 2006 at 7:12 am

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 November 28, 2006 at 7:18 am

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. November 28, 2006 at 7:23 am

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 November 28, 2006 at 7:26 am

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 November 28, 2006 at 7:41 am

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 November 28, 2006 at 7:46 am

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. November 28, 2006 at 8:17 am

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 November 28, 2006 at 8:35 am

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. November 28, 2006 at 8:37 am

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

John Henry November 28, 2006 at 8:44 am

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 November 28, 2006 at 8:45 am

Sorry, I didn’t mean to quote all of Tim’s post…

Tim J. November 28, 2006 at 9:27 am

“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 November 28, 2006 at 9:57 am

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 November 28, 2006 at 10:13 am

“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 November 28, 2006 at 10:19 am

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 November 28, 2006 at 10:32 am

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 November 28, 2006 at 10:38 am

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 November 28, 2006 at 11:06 am

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 November 28, 2006 at 11:11 am

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 November 28, 2006 at 11:20 am

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 November 28, 2006 at 11:25 am

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 November 28, 2006 at 11:28 am

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 November 28, 2006 at 11:28 am

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.

Josiah November 28, 2006 at 11:30 am

Esau,
I think you misunderstand me. I’m not saying that if the state says it is legal to have sex with a six year old that this would make it moral to do so. Far from it. Having sex with a six year old is intrinsically evil. My only point is that as that six year old grows up, there will come a point at which it is no longer intrinsically evil for someone to have sex with him. At what point this happens may be vague, it may differ from person to person, and the state might say that the point has been reached when in fact it hasn’t. My point is simply that there is such a point, and that this fact doesn’t mean that sex with children can’t be intrinsically evil.

Esau November 28, 2006 at 12:12 pm

Sorry, Josiah.
It’s just that from your statements:
“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. ”
“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.”
“…it’s just than in the case of the law we need some general rule…”

I thought that what you would endorse would be where the state has given approval and, thereby, would give your consent due to that clear defining line that the state has set.

Tim J. November 28, 2006 at 12:35 pm

“I would say that the action itself is a composite of the exterior component and the “interior disposition”.”
Exactly my view. The sin, the instrinsic evil of torture, occurs at the confluence of the interior disposition to torture and the exterior act itself, which may be defined using proportional or situational terms.
The instrinsic evil of torture cannot be defined without talking about the infliction of pain.
Proportional infliction of pain, carried out with due regard for the human dignity of the subject – even for purposes of interrogation – need not equal the sin of torture.

Rick Lugari November 28, 2006 at 12:40 pm

As I parse through the arguments I am focusing on Zippy’s argument (if I understand it right) that the problem is with treating a human being as nothing but a means to some end. Certainly I agree that we should respect human dignity, and I’m quite convinced that objectifying people is part of – or a necessary element of – the immorality of torture, but I’m not so sure it is the sole substance. i.e. Would it be immoral to offer the individual money in exchange for the information he is withholding? How about his freedom? It seems to me that those two examples would be morally permissible even though they are still treating a human being as nothing but a means to some end.
I haven’t quite figured much out in my mind and it may go nowhere, but it seems to me that as reasoning creatures with a free will that we can and do influence one another to reach an end all the time and it doesn’t necessarily mean we are treating each other as “nothing but”. After all, in this debate aren’t people trying to get others to understand something the way they do? Aren’t ecclesial sanctions something intended to persuade someone to change their will, to achieve an end? If we consider these things and then look at the ever so bandied about scenario of the TTB and ask some questions it seems to me that the issue has to be looked at holistically.
TTB perp. is in custody:
Is it permissible to ask him where the bomb is? I say yes – no doubt about it.
Is it permissible to appeal to right and wrong? I say yes – but note, at that point one could argue that I am “using” this person as a means to an end by doing violence to his conscience.
Is it permissible to offer him his freedom in exchange for the info? I say yes – but again, am I not manipulating this person’s will as a means to get what I want? Am I treating this person as “nothing but a means to an end”? I think that would depend on my interior disposition. I might feel utter contempt for the person and be like the Pharisees toward Judas as they handed over their blood money or I might simply view the good of saving a few thousand innocent lives worth the risk and injustice of letting this person go free.
Is it permissible to threaten physical or mental pain (a mental pain in itself)? I say yes – but here we go again, I’m either treating this person as nothing but a means to an end or I’m trying to influence him to do the right thing. I still don’t think I’ve reached the point of torture.
Is it permissible to grab the suspect by the shoulders and shake him rapidly, yelling at him and telling him that if he doesn’t cooperate he is facing a lifetime in prison or the death penalty? I say yes – and the same moral issues apply to this scenario and I still wouldn’t consider this torture. But here’s the thing, at some point in this progression torture will be constituted and it will be because of the disproportional use of force, or the inherent indignity of the specific act, or the disposition of the interrogator or any combination thereof. Also it would seem intent seems to have to have something to do with it because if you’re in agreement (which I imagine most are) that this last scenario (shaking the person rapidly) is not torture it seems to me that it would be torture if it were for no other reason than because you could or some perverse thrill.
So as I see it right now there has to be a number of factors in play for something to be considered torture and it has to go beyond merely influencing someone’s will or treating someone as a means to an end (though that in my mind is a necessary requisite). I could be way off in my thinking, but I thought I’d throw it out there and let more thoughtful people evaluate the merits if indeed there are any.

Tim J. November 28, 2006 at 1:11 pm

“Would it be immoral to offer the individual money in exchange for the information he is withholding?… they are still treating a human being as nothing but a means to some end.”
EXACTLY! This puts as fine a point on my objection as anything. I think that’s pretty thoughtful thinkin’, there, Rick.

c matt November 28, 2006 at 1:22 pm

The difference between a licit spanking and an evil act of child abuse may be precisely the degree (proportion) of inflicted pain.
True, but that is irrelevant to an act that is intrinsically evil to begin with, which punishment described above is not. I think we are confalting two different categories of act here (same with the flogging punishment above). One concept is the intrinsic evil of using another as a means to an end (eg a repository of information). The other is licit punishment – eg spanking, which is not intrinsically evil, but can become evil if disproportionate. Thus, disproportionate pain only comes into play when considering a non-intrinsically evil act (eg, punishing) and disporportion can render an otherwise licit act illicit, but disproportion is irrelevant to an act that is intrinsically evil by its object to begin with (eg, inflicting the pain in order to use you as a source of info).

Zippy November 28, 2006 at 1:24 pm

I think Zippy’s definition would make any sort of coercion out of bounds, but you would have to ask him.
That is definitely incorrect. I’ve commented rather extensively not only on the licit use of coercion as I understand it, but on specific issues like what sort of plea bargaining could in principle be licit. (In my understanding any interrogation which involves the intentional infliction of pain and suffering on a helpless prisoner would necessarily involve a sort of plea bargain, where we stop punishing him if and when he personally complies independent of what happens in the world outside of and independent of his captivity). And I’ve provided heuristic tests for how we can tell what sort of thing we are doing; that is which can help distinguish between a licit act of punishment/discipline and an illicit act of the sort of which torture is a proper subset.
Whether I’ve done so in a way that is easy to understand or that people immediately grasp is another matter, of course. But someone who thinks that in my view no sort of coercion is ever morally licit clearly does not understand my view.

Zippy November 28, 2006 at 1:29 pm

So the differences between these sins can only be defined by their exterior components…
I think it is a mistake to worry overmuch about distinguishing one kind of intrinsically evil act from another. At the end of the day, once it has been determined that an act is intrinsically evil it is off limits. Deciding whether what we did was torture or rape or whatever (and this did indeed become conflated in e.g. the Abu Ghraib incidents) is really quite beside the point.

Zippy November 28, 2006 at 1:35 pm

Because VS doesn’t have the qualifier “arbitrary” attached to its listing of “deportations,” does it?
Yes it does. People better versed in Latin than I have assured me that the most reasonable interpretation is that “arbitrary” modifies “deportations”. (And in fact the latin word used has more the sense of “banishment” than of what we think of as deportation).
JPII made a point of preaching regularly against genocide and its companion sin, the arbitrary uprooting and forced moving of populations for political reasons. That he used it as an example in VS is no surprise, especially given his personal history.

Tim J. November 28, 2006 at 1:36 pm

Zippy -
Would coercion – solely for the sake of interrogation – be permissible? Or is coercion only to be used in cases of punishment or discipline?
I think this is what I meant, that coercive interrogation would be out on your view. If it is not, then I really have misunderstood you.

Zippy November 28, 2006 at 1:42 pm

“Would it be immoral to offer the individual money in exchange for the information he is withholding?… they are still treating a human being as nothing but a means to some end.”
I posted on an even more benign question not long ago.

Josiah November 28, 2006 at 1:43 pm

The problem with talking about “treating people as an end and not merely a means” is that it doesn’t tell you very much. Even Kant recognized that, standing alone, the principle was pretty vacuous. Kant tried to come up with some more specific criteria for how to apply the principle, but they are generally regarded as failures.
So it is also, mutatis mutandi, for “treating someone as an object” and “acting against human dignity.” It’s not that these principles are wrong so much as that they are capable of being applied in such wildly divergent ways that they aren’t much practical use by themselves. Some people think that human dignity implies pacifism, others that it requires support for euthanasia, other support for capital punishment. Some say that it rules out “wage slavery,” others that it permits actual slavery. Etc. & etc.
If I put a gun to a guy’s head and tell him to tell me where the bomb is, this is supposed to be wrong because it is treating the person as an object and not an end in itself. Yet if the guy is holding the detonator and I put a gun to his head and tell him to drop it I somehow haven’t objectified him. I’m not saying that there isn’t a distinction to be drawn between the two cases. All I’m saying is that the distinction isn’t obvious, and that it won’t do just to state the abstract principle, and then compare anyone who doesn’t agree with you to pro-aborts or accuse them of wanting to wrap pliers around people’s testicles.

Zippy November 28, 2006 at 1:45 pm

Would coercion – solely for the sake of interrogation – be permissible?
The infliction of suffering on a helpless prisoner solely for the purpose of producing a fungible commodity – information, money, etc – is not ever licit in my view, no. It is licit to punish and to discipline (in general: this in no way reflects an endorsement of any specific act of punishment or discipline). Discipline and punishment are human acts directed toward human beings. They don’t treat human beings as nothing but objects which produce something we value for our own purposes (however laudible those purpose may be).

Zippy November 28, 2006 at 1:51 pm

The problem with talking about “treating people as an end and not merely a means” is that it doesn’t tell you very much.
Au contraire. One of the reasons there is so much resistance to it seems to me to be its immediate practical implication that how we generally interrogate prisoners, and how we generally think about interrogation of prisoners, is morally evil.
I will be very impressed when Catholic Answers unequivocally adds torture to the non-negotiables in its Voter’s Guide before the next presidential election. I don’t see any significant fretting over the salpingotomy/salpingectomy distinction in the Voter’s Guide, despite the fact that abstract theological discussion of abortion is every bit as valid (or not) as the discussion we are having right now.

Esau November 28, 2006 at 1:54 pm

They don’t treat human beings as nothing but objects which produce something we value for our own purposes (however laudible those purpose may be).
Not even if the purpose is to save countless lives?

Zippy November 28, 2006 at 1:56 pm

All I’m saying is that the distinction isn’t obvious…
I don’t agree. The distinction is obvious. If I shoot the guy holding the detonator, the bomb will not go off. If I shoot the guy who is refusing to talk, the bomb will still go off. The difference between the two acts is not some terrific subtlety that only a deeply schooled moral philosopher can see. The difference between the two is something that a child just past the age of reason can see.

Zippy November 28, 2006 at 1:59 pm

Not even if the purpose is to save countless lives?
No. Not even to save the whole world from total annihilation (though such hypotheticals really reflect a lack of trust in God: the trust that if we do the right thing, in the long run God will make everything right).
We must not do evil in order that good may come of it. Not ever. No excuses, no reasons, no good intentions, no circumstances, no discussion. Not ever. Period.

Esau November 28, 2006 at 2:04 pm

No. Not even to save the whole world from total annihilation (though such hypotheticals really reflect a lack of trust in God: the trust that if we do the right thing, in the long run God will make everything right).
We must not do evil in order that good may come of it. Not ever. No excuses, no reasons, no good intentions, no circumstances, no discussion. Not ever. Period.

So, in other words, we should have simply let the Jews just “trust in God” back then and not save them by killing the Nazis who had placed them in death camps and would have continued doing so?
Our freeing these folks by killing their oppressors really reflect a lack of trust in God.

Zippy November 28, 2006 at 2:13 pm

So, in other words, we should have simply let the Jews just “trust in God” back then and not save them by killing the Nazis who had placed them in death camps and would have continued doing so?
Obviously you haven’t understood a single word I’ve said.

Esau November 28, 2006 at 2:17 pm

We must not do evil in order that good may come of it. Not ever. No excuses, no reasons, no good intentions, no circumstances, no discussion. Not ever. Period.
“Thou Shalt Not Kill”
Murdering for whatever reason is evil and, therefore, not permissible regardless of the circumstances. No Excuses, no reasons, no good intentions, no circumstances, no discussion. Not ever.

Tim J. November 28, 2006 at 2:18 pm

“Would it be immoral to offer the individual money in exchange for the information he is withholding?… they are still treating a human being as nothing but a means to some end.”
I posted on an even more benign question not long ago.”
So, Zippy, what you appear to be saying is, no, we can’t offer a terror suspect money in exchange for information because that would be treating him as an information vending machine (a meat robot), rather than a human being.
Wow. Could it not be argued that the object of that action is not to buy information, but to ransom the lives of human beings? The information is incidental, it is not something sought for its own sake. Are the lives of human beings a fungible commodity?
I do see that jailing someone solely for the sake of information would be tricky. If they are an otherwise innocent friend or relative of a terrorist, there is no real justification for holding them. If we KNOW that they know something really sensitive, we will probably have either a) better ways to attain that information (like following them around, tapping their phone, etc…), or b) solid evidence that would show them to be complicit, which would mean they could be jailed.
Without proof of complicity, though, imprisonment SOLELY for interrogation would be wrong.

Josiah November 28, 2006 at 2:19 pm

“The distinction is obvious. If I shoot the guy holding the detonator, the bomb will not go off. If I shoot the guy who is refusing to talk, the bomb will still go off.”
Ah yes, the famous bomb goes off/bomb doesn’t go off distinction. How could I have missed it?
But wait, suppose I shoot him in the knee, and he tells me where the bomb is. Then the bomb won’t go off. And suppose I shoot the guy with the detonator in the knee, and he sets off the bomb. Hmmm. Maybe the bomb goes off/bomb doesn’t go off distinction isn’t all its cracked up to be.

Esau November 28, 2006 at 2:23 pm

But wait, suppose I shoot him in the knee, and he tells me where the bomb is. Then the bomb won’t go off. And suppose I shoot the guy with the detonator in the knee, and he sets off the bomb. Hmmm. Maybe the bomb goes off/bomb doesn’t go off distinction isn’t all its cracked up to be.
Josiah,
This almost reminds me of a scene from a Diehard movie or something! ;^)

Zippy November 28, 2006 at 2:27 pm

Esau: again, by invoking the straw man you do, you demonstrate that you don’t have the faintest idea what I’ve been saying.

Esau November 28, 2006 at 2:28 pm

Corigendum:
We must not do evil in order that good may come of it. Not ever.
No excuses, no reasons, no good intentions, no circumstances, no discussion. Not ever. Period.

“Thou Shalt Not Kill”
Murdering for whatever reason is evil and, therefore, not permissible regardless of the circumstances.
No Excuses, no reasons, no good intentions, no circumstances, no discussion. Not ever. PERIOD.

Zippy November 28, 2006 at 2:29 pm

Ah yes, the famous bomb goes off/bomb doesn’t go off distinction. How could I have missed it?
The difference between (1) attempting to stop a person from actually detonating a bomb, and (2) killing a person who won’t talk, is indeed extremely, extraodrinarily, blindingly, mind-numbingly obvious, Josiah.

Zippy November 28, 2006 at 2:30 pm

Esau: if you were under the impression that repetition would improve your argument, I think you need to reconsider.

Esau November 28, 2006 at 2:32 pm

The difference between (1) attempting to stop a person from actually detonating a bomb, and (2) killing a person who won’t talk, is indeed extremely, extraodrinarily, blindingly, mind-numbingly obvious, Josiah.
Zippy:
Again, by invoking the straw man you do, you demonstrate that you don’t have the faintest idea what Josiah has been saying:
“If I put a gun to a guy’s head…”
He didn’t say he’d kill the person!

Esau November 28, 2006 at 2:34 pm

Esau: if you were under the impression that repetition would improve your argument, I think you need to reconsider.
No, I was just stating what you said verbatim that under no circumstances should evil be done! Not ever!
By the way, answer Tim J.’s question, yet?

Zippy November 28, 2006 at 2:36 pm

Again, by invoking the straw man you do, you demonstrate that you don’t have the faintest idea what Josiah has been saying:
I expect that if I asked a child of eleven if he can tell the difference between the two acts Josiah describes – threatening to shoot or actually shooting a free actor holding a weapon versus threatening to shoot or actually shooting a helpless prisoner because he won’t talk – that the child of eleven would have no trouble at all understanding the distinction.

c matt November 28, 2006 at 2:38 pm

“Thou Shalt Not Kill”
Murdering for whatever reason is evil and, therefore, not permissible regardless of the circumstances. No Excuses, no reasons, no good intentions, no circumstances, no discussion. Not ever

This may be a subtle distinction, but I think you made it yourself above by using the word “murdering”. Murder is the taking of innocent human life. When the Nazis were fought, it was not generally the taking of innocent human life, although that may in fact have occurred on specific occassions (eg, Dresden).

Zippy November 28, 2006 at 2:39 pm

I was just stating what you said verbatim that under no circumstances should evil be done! Not ever!
Don’t quote me, quote Pope John Paul II:
“Intrinsic evil”: it is not licit to do evil that good may come of it (cf. Rom 3:8)

Esau November 28, 2006 at 2:40 pm

Okay, let me ask you, in the following reply post of yours:
“If I shoot the guy holding the detonator, the bomb will not go off.”
Does that mean you actually agree with the shooting of the guy or not?
Please respond with a definitive answer rather than rely on your Clinton-like transgiversations!

Zippy November 28, 2006 at 2:40 pm

By the way, answer Tim J.’s question, yet?
Which one was that? I’ve been asked lots of questions, and I am sure there are some unanswered danglers out there.

Zippy November 28, 2006 at 2:46 pm

Does that mean you actually agree with the shooting of the guy or not?
Do I agree that the competent authority may shoot soldiers or criminals who are actively engaged in threatening activity (e.g. the guy holding a detonator to a bomb)? Yes.
Please respond with a definitive answer rather than rely on your Clinton-like transgiversations!
[irony]Yes, compare me to the first public Sodomite of the Oval Office. That adds to the credibility of what you are saying, and isn’t even slightly ad hominem.[/irony]

Sean S. November 28, 2006 at 2:49 pm

I think Jimmy’s basic proposal is equally simpled, Zippy: That, in Church documents, the English word “torture” is used in the same way as the English word “murder”. “Murder” is used in English to name the sin of homicide, never to describe a just killing in rightful defense or warfare. Thus, as Jimmy indicates, the Church would prefer that the word “torture” be used only to refer to one specific thing: “The sin of torture consists in the disproportionate infliction of pain.” (or, as Tim J. says, the unjust infliction of pain).
So, Jimmy is saying that “torture” (quotation marks used to indicate that I’m discussing the word, not the concept) refers, at least in Church documents, only to a sinful act which is intrinsically evil. However, there are cases in which the infliction of pain is just, and just infliction of pain should never be described by the word “torture”. This may be a weakness in the English language. It would be better if it distinguished between the sin and the just action, like the word “murder” does.

Sean S. November 28, 2006 at 2:51 pm

Your last post brings up another question to my mind: Do you believe what the Church teaches about self-defense? Competant authorities aren’t the only people who sometimes have a right to inflict lethal force. If a man starts to pull a gun on me, I’m justified in defending myself, with lethal force if need be.

Esau November 28, 2006 at 2:56 pm

Sean S.,
Thanks for your posts above!
We’re now arriving at the crux of the issue!

Zippy November 28, 2006 at 3:02 pm

Sean: I don’t disagree with the general notion that colloquial language is imprecise, and indeed is not univocal. What I disagree with is that Jimmy’s proposed technical definition is compatible with his second criteria: that as technically defined, torture is an intrinsic evil. (As I’ve mentioned a few times in this thread, my own first attempt at a technical definition many months ago suffered from the same defect).
Competant authorities aren’t the only people who sometimes have a right to inflict lethal force. If a man starts to pull a gun on me, I’m justified in defending myself, with lethal force if need be.
You have to be careful here. (And yes, as far as I know my position is exactly the position of the Church on self-defense).
It is never, ever licit for an individual, acting on his own behalf, to intend to kill an attacker. If you fend off an attack using potentially lethal force and he accidentally dies, that may be licit under double-effect (assuming it meets all the criteria of double-effect). But only the competent authority can licitly intend to kill, as in a just execution or a just war.

Esau November 28, 2006 at 3:10 pm

It is never, ever licit for an individual, acting on his own behalf, to intend to kill an attacker. If you fend off an attack using potentially lethal force and he accidentally dies, that may be licit under double-effect (assuming it meets all the criteria of double-effect).
Zippy:
Just what are you spewing here?
You mean to say in a sudden struggle against an attacker, I’ll have to engage first in thoughtful reflection on the criteria of double-effect prior to protecting myself and my loved ones?
I assure you, that should an attacker endanger the well-being of my family, primal instincts will prevail and killing the assailant in order to protect my family will be the first thing on my mind and not the last.
Does that make the act evil then?
I mean, think about it. We’re talking about a situation where you’d need to act and respond at a moment’s notice; where the assailant thrusts himself towards you.
Should a person fail to do so, his very life and the lives of his loved ones could be at stake for failing to act accordingly.

Zippy November 28, 2006 at 3:15 pm

Just what are you spewing here?
What I am “spewing” is what the Church teaches about acts of self-defense. The fact that some things happen fast means that in order to act morally, it isn’t good enough to just know the rules. We must cultivate virtue so that in a pinch, virtue rather than vice is what we fall back upon.
Self-defense, as I said, can be licit under the principle of double-effect, as long as you don’t intend the death of the attacker and the other criteria are also met.

Esau November 28, 2006 at 3:24 pm

We must cultivate virtue so that in a pinch, virtue rather than vice is what we fall back upon.
Okay, this one, I agree with, Zippy.
Especially in the world we so live in today and the horrible habits that have become a natural and acceptable characteristic of folks and what the next generation has been fed on.
However…
By the way, could you answer Tim J’s question below — I’m just curious of what your answer to it might be:
I posted on an even more benign question not long ago.
So, Zippy, what you appear to be saying is, no, we can’t offer a terror suspect money in exchange for information because that would be treating him as an information vending machine (a meat robot), rather than a human being.
Wow. Could it not be argued that the object of that action is not to buy information, but to ransom the lives of human beings? The information is incidental, it is not something sought for its own sake. Are the lives of human beings a fungible commodity?

francis 03 November 28, 2006 at 4:17 pm

So intending to kill someone as the only feasible means of self-defense is immoral?

Esau November 28, 2006 at 4:25 pm

So intending to kill someone as the only feasible means of self-defense is immoral?
I’ve tried asking that myself.
Good luck trying to find an answer.

Tim J. November 28, 2006 at 4:37 pm

“Self-defense, as I said, can be licit under the principle of double-effect, as long as you don’t intend the death of the attacker and the other criteria are also met.”
That’s right, as far as I know. Your intent must be to stop the attacker, not kill him/her.

Esau November 28, 2006 at 4:40 pm

Your intent must be to stop the attacker, not kill him/her.
But, Tim, what if the only way to stop the attacker is to kill him?

Rick Lugari November 28, 2006 at 4:53 pm

But, Tim, what if the only way to stop the attacker is to kill him?
That’s fine. The intent is to stop him even if you know he might or will definitely die. However, if non-lethal means will accomplish the same objective you are obligated to do that. It may seem like hair-splitting and I suppose it is in a way, but our will always factors into morality.

Zippy November 28, 2006 at 5:18 pm

So, Zippy, what you appear to be saying is, no, we can’t offer a terror suspect money in exchange for information because that would be treating him as an information vending machine (a meat robot), rather than a human being.
No, I am not saying that, any more than I am saying that you can’t offer the paperboy money for a newspaper.

Zippy November 28, 2006 at 5:22 pm

In fact, if you follow my argument closely, you will see that I am not even saying that you can’t intentionally inflict pain on a helpless prisoner in order to get information, presuming that he has a legitimate duty to disclose the information in question. Even that is possibly licit in my view, if the “get information” objective is incidental to carrying out a licit punishment for failing to do his duty. Have you had the opportunity to read what I wrote about plea-bargaining in the summary post I linked to?

Rick Lugari November 28, 2006 at 5:56 pm

Thanks Zippy, that last comment and your summary post was a big A-HA moment for me. I finally understand your position and most importantly the reasoning behind it. I’m still unsure whether it is correct and I am trying to sort through some other thoughts, but at least I finally get you. You are to be commended on your patience with those of us who either disagree or fail to see the matter as you do.
Concerning your position (in your summary post) you are careful to check the morality of our actions (the corporal punishment) by evaluating whether or not we cease the punishment after we get the equivalently useful information. On the surface that seems like a good test, but in reality if we continued the corporal punishment indefinitely, wouldn’t that be immoral? It seems more in keeping with human dignity to alter the punishment (incarceration for a period of time). In fact couldn’t we consider the punishment to be X for Y time or until Z is satisfied?

Tim J. November 28, 2006 at 6:21 pm

Sorry, Zippy, I couldn’t get that link to work (the plea bargain thing).
I also think that I am getting close to understanding your position, but as I said in Mark’s combox, it is dicing things pretty fine to say that we might possibly cane a prisoner licitly to punish him for withholding information that he has a moral obligation to provide, but that we may not cane a prisoner in order to get information.
I truly see the difference, but many would not, and might even accuse YOU of playing word games.
I also think it might be possible to inflict pain in order to get information without treating the prisoner SOLELY as an object, and while maintaining his/her human dignity. I also believe this can involve taking degrees of inflicted pain into account (proportionality).
To inflict a level of pain that is irresistable, or to bring a person to the point of panic or despair would be contrary to human dignity, and would therefore be torture. Waterboarding, for instance.

Martin November 28, 2006 at 7:21 pm

“disproportionate”…”waterboarding”…The difference between waterboarding and applying the cane is that the pain in the former is the treat of death re-applied again and again. The latter, while it could be misapplied to cause death, is clearly meant to be limited.
What about the word, “Unjust” here. Punishing a prisoner implies a judicial athority. Waterboarding from the getgo implies on the spot guessing on whether the “application” has gone far enough

Martin November 28, 2006 at 7:33 pm

So intending to kill someone as the only feasible means of self-defense is immoral?
Makes a ton of sense to me. The key word is “intending”. You can point the gun at his chest and fire away knowing theres not a chance of himsurviving if this is the only way you can see to stop him (no this doesn’t imply stopping to call the local pastor or posting a question to Jimmy.) On the other hand you can’t decide, “I want him dead” and use a leathal means simply because you want him dead.

Zippy November 28, 2006 at 7:58 pm

I finally understand your position and most importantly the reasoning behind it. I’m still unsure whether it is correct and I am trying to sort through some other thoughts, but at least I finally get you.
Now you are in the same boat as me: you understand my position, but aren’t entirely sure it is correct. :-)
I came by my approach in Sherlock fashion. I think I have a pretty good idea of what kinds of answers can’t be right, so I tried to come up with one that doesn’t fall to any of the (IMO fatal) criticisms directed at other approaches. It should be emphasized that there is a difference between knowing what things cannot be the case and knowing what is the case. I don’t know that my understanding precisely is the case, but I do know that Jimmy’s attempt at a definition (which he himself put forth only as tentative, and again is pretty much exactly what I came up with myself several months ago having spent a -lot- of metacarpal cycles discussing this over the past year or so) cannot be right.
Concerning your position (in your summary post) you are careful to check the morality of our actions (the corporal punishment) by evaluating whether or not we cease the punishment after we get the equivalently useful information. On the surface that seems like a good test, but in reality if we continued the corporal punishment indefinitely, wouldn’t that be immoral? It seems more in keeping with human dignity to alter the punishment (incarceration for a period of time). In fact couldn’t we consider the punishment to be X for Y time or until Z is satisfied?
Sorry for quoting this whole section of your post, but I’ve got to break up my answer to address some distinct issues.
First, I’ve tried to be careful to consistently qualify that the test itself is a heuristic test, not a principle. It isn’t that if we fail to keep on punishing the perp it follows that we have definitely done wrong. We might stop punishing the perp for the sake of mercy, for example. But if we would be disposed to stop “punishing” him for no other reason than that we got the information we wanted from elsewhere (say we found and defused the ticking bomb via some other means), and we want to free up our “punishing” resources to get some other useful commodity elsewhere or from some other person, then we weren’t really punishing him. Punishment is first and foremost directed at the correction of the person, not the extraction of some useful commodity, even if the person does in fact have a duty to produce that commodity. Discipline likewise is directed at the person: nobody else can stop throwing feces at the guards; the recalcitrant prisoner has to stop (or be stopped from) doing it himself.
Second, punishment isn’t intrinsically evil but it can still be evil by being disproportionate, etc. Just because a category of act isn’t intrinsically evil it doesn’t follow that every actual instance of an act in that category is necessarily licit.
Third, I think you are right that regular repeated corporal punishment in perpetuity for refusing to fulfill a positive duty probably always fails on proportionate grounds in any actual circumstances anyone will ever encounter. His punishment might end prematurely if he recants and fulfills his duty, because he is being punished precisely for failing to fulfill his duty. But perpetual corporal punishment doesn’t seem like the sort of thing that would ever pass a prudential test.
Fourth, information and money are not the only fungible commodities out there, though they are commonly sought ones. The thrill a sadistic torturer feels is also a fungible commodity: it has nothing really to do with the victim as the unique person he is Imago Dei. In a sadistic punishment – importantly, even when the person punished actually does deserve what is done to him – it literally isn’t possible for us to do that sort of thing to him while maintaining within ourselves a purity of motive about his teleological good, let alone to be choosing a good or at least morally neutral act. The image of a Medieval torturer engaging in his craft as a sad necessity, wherein he genuinely loves each victim as he does to each victim what is necessary, is simply a false image of human nature. It may be that the kid really does deserve to be caned, but we are incapable of caning him without, in the object of our act, choosing to treat him as nothing but a means to satisfy our conscupiscient desires (hatred, desire for vengeance, etc).
Finally, I think it is important not to lose sight of Mark Shea’s key point in all this: the sort of discussion we are having is very, very far removed from the practical realities of the wickedness being perpetrated in our names. There is a time and a place for discussing salpingectomy, salpingotomy, and the fact that properly understood there is no “life of the mother” exception to the absolute prohibition of abortion. But that isn’t really our mainstream problem when addressing the fact that the CIA has tortured and rendered to torture many captives in the War on Terror, nor when addressing the abomination of Planned Parenthood.

Zippy November 28, 2006 at 8:03 pm

Waterboarding from the getgo implies on the spot guessing on whether the “application” has gone far enough.
Interesting thought. Perhaps another thing about licit punishment is that we can envision in our minds ahead of time just what we will do, in its entiriety, to punish the guilty party. If what we are doing is open ended, it isn’t punishment. I’ll have to think on that one some more.

Kevin O'Brien November 28, 2006 at 8:51 pm

The essence of torture seems to be this: the use of pain, fear, or humiliation to achieve a psychological domination over your victim. This psycological domination is of a sadistic sort and robs the victim of his freedom and dignity.
Thus, using a tazer on a violent criminal to protect the innocent is not torture. Using a tazer over and over again on a prisoner to get him to confess or to get your own sick pleasure from it is torture, as this act would seek to achieve a psychological dominaton over him and reduce him to a whimpering wretch.
Spanking a child to teach him not to hit his sister is not torture. Spanking a child because he looked at you funny or showed a spark of independence might be a kind of torture, as it seeks to establish a parental reign of terror and to achieve a psychological domination.
This definition would avoid the problems Zippy pointed out of proportionality. It would focus on the sadistic control of another, which is clearly wrong for whatever reason or in whatever circumstances.

J.R. Stoodley November 28, 2006 at 8:58 pm

Kevin,
The problem with that definition is that it excludes massive infliction of pain for the sake of punishing someone or out of some sick pleasure in causeing pain in others (e.g. the murderer who tortures his victim first). In such cases the pain is inflicted but not for the sake of psycological domination.
I’ll agree that what you describe may well be intrinsically evil, as well as what has been proposed earlier; sexual humiliation and causing pain to the point of complete despair. All three seem to disregard the respect due to all human beings because of their inherent human dignity.

Kevin O'Brien November 28, 2006 at 9:14 pm

J.R.,
“Massive infliction of pain for the sake of punishing someone” may be evil, but it would not fit my definiton of torture. I am trying to find (as we all are) the heart of what the sin of torture is, and I would suggest that torture in its essence is not merely the infliction of disproportionate pain. The element of dominating another person via pain (or fear or humiliation) is key to what we recognize as torture.
As to your other point, that sadists may delight in torturing victims, I would suggest that this delight stems from the domination that the torture produces. Whether that domination is used for political gain, saving lives, or getting your sadistic jollies is not central to what makes the act “torture”.

Kevin O'Brien November 28, 2006 at 9:17 pm

< > … but psychological domination is.

Josiah November 29, 2006 at 6:29 am

Zippy,
If “[t]he difference between (1) attempting to stop a person from actually detonating a bomb, and (2) killing a person who won’t talk, is indeed extremely, extraodrinarily, blindingly, mind-numbingly obvious,” so obvious that “a child just past the age of reason” could see it, why did you give a wrong answer? And why, after spending so much time arguing against consequentialism, did you make your answer turn on the *consequences* of the two courses of action?
There’s a difference between the blindingly obvious and the first thing that pops into your head.

Zippy November 29, 2006 at 6:43 am

…why did you give a wrong answer?
I didn’t give the wrong answer, as far as I can tell. They are obviously different acts. And they aren’t different only in their consequences: stopping someone from actively killing others is clearly a different act from threatening someone to get him to cough up information. I am sure people exist who have such badly disordered perceptions that they are incapable of immediately seeing that there is a difference; but I doubt that reasoned argument is what such people need as a corrective.

Josiah November 29, 2006 at 6:45 am

Zippy,
In the past you’ve defended your comparisons of certain people to pro-aborts by saying that you were only talking about their actions and not about any interior disposition. You further suggested that if people were upset at the comparison, it might be because *they* were improperly judging pro-aborts.
From your reaction to having your words called “Clinton-like” I hope you can see the shortcomings of this view.

Zippy November 29, 2006 at 6:53 am

In the past you’ve defended your comparisons of certain people to pro-aborts…
Stop right there, son. I have compared, and continue to compare, the actions and arguments of torture apologists to the actions and arguments of pro-aborts. I know you argue that I really should be putting myself in God’s place and judging the state of their souls, but no, Josiah, I won’t play.
And yeah, denying that torture is intrinsically evil is every bit as invalid as denying that abortion is intrinsically evil.
From your reaction to having your words called “Clinton-like” I hope you can see the shortcomings of this view.
Why is that? Do you think I’ve misjudged the objective morality of the actions of the former Sodomite-In-Chief?
Also, if you were under the impression that I was emotionally engaged by Esau’s ad hominem, you are quite mistaken.

c matt November 29, 2006 at 7:03 am

it is dicing things pretty fine to say that we might possibly cane a prisoner licitly to punish him for withholding information that he has a moral obligation to provide, but that we may not cane a prisoner in order to get information.
In a sense it is a fine distinction, but a critical one. It is the difference between punishment and torture.

c matt November 29, 2006 at 7:13 am

The basic problem with Jimmy’s definition is that it describes a sin different from torture – the disproportionate infliction of pain is what causes licit punishment to become illicit punishment. What he is describing is the sin of illicit punishment because punishment itself can be licit (i.e., not an intrinsic or categorical evil) but can become illicit when disproportionate. Torture, on the other hand, if Jimmy agrees it is an intrinsic evil, cannot be made licit by proportionality because intrinsic or categorical evils cannot be made licit by proportionality (i.e., adultery is not “disproportionately” engaging in sexual relations with someone not your spouse). Either the definition of torture must not allow for “proportionate” engagement in the act, or Jimmy must admit that torture is not an intrinsic evil. Intrinsic evil and proportionate (or disproportionate) are mutually exclusive concepts.

c matt November 29, 2006 at 7:36 am

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.

Right – but the difference between homicide and self-defense is not a proportional difference in the act – its not that homicide is killing a human being by more painful means and self-defense is killing them by less painful means. Likewise, the difference between torture and not-torture cannot be proportional – eg, disporportionate infliction of pain.

c matt November 29, 2006 at 8:03 am

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

Very close, Tim J. But I think you stray with the last paragraph. If you have the interior disposition to use the person as a means to an end, then no amount of use of “proportionate pain” will change that disposition. That is the part that many people are missing. Just like if I have the interior disposition to use another as an object for my sexual gratification (lust) I can’t rely on some lesser proportionate physical act (eg, just look but don’t touch) to make it ok.

c matt November 29, 2006 at 8:06 am

You mean to say in a sudden struggle against an attacker, I’ll have to engage first in thoughtful reflection on the criteria of double-effect prior to protecting myself and my loved ones?
Yes. Better learn to think fast (or think ahead).

Josiah November 29, 2006 at 8:31 am

Zippy,
If I say “what you’re doing is the same as what Hitler did” I’ve compared you to Hitler.
I do happen to think we sometimes know when a person has done something wrong, and not just in an “objective” sense. I don’t think this means putting ourselves in God’s place and judging the state of peoples’ souls. But that’s a topic for another day. For now my point is simply that if you say someone is as bad as Hitler, it’s not much of a defense to say that you only meant it “objectively speaking.”

Zippy November 29, 2006 at 9:05 am

And your point is…?

Esau November 29, 2006 at 9:13 am

You mean to say in a sudden struggle against an attacker, I’ll have to engage first in thoughtful reflection on the criteria of double-effect prior to protecting myself and my loved ones?
Yes. Better learn to think fast (or think ahead).

What world do you live in?
Are you some rich kid living in an over-protected mommy’s world where you actually have the luxury to give such thought in what you may perceive as a similar situation?
People who are not as fortunate who live in places where muggings and rape are a frequent event do not have the luxury of time to think through whether they can save the life of their attacker while saving themselves; and, mind you, they do think fast — they know that through all their years living in such neighborhoods, in order to survive such attacks, one of the unavoidable, necessary acts is to kill their assailant.
Of course, in your eyes, they may appear to be immoral slugs, but in God’s, certainly, given the situation they live in and the apparent need for this kind of self-defense in the face of such evil in their lives, I believe even God Himself would extend his mercy on these folks.

Esau November 29, 2006 at 9:18 am

Also, if you were under the impression that I was emotionally engaged by Esau’s ad hominem, you are quite mistaken.
Zippy,
Need I mind you that I simply described your manuevering through the various arguments as “Clinton-like” transgiversation. It wasn’t even attacking you personally, merely your approach to the arguments at hand. The very fact that you responded the way you did speaks for itself.

Tim J. November 29, 2006 at 9:25 am

C matt -
The problem is that any definition of torture will necessarily involve describing what torture “looks like” as well as the interior disposition that makes it torture.
I am not arguing that a little torture is okay. I am arguing that it is possible to inflict pain in the pursuit of information without treating the person as SOLELY an object or a means to an end, and without taking away their human dignity or free will.
In other words, I think that the “infliction of suffering in the pursuit of fungible goods” is an inadequate definition of torture, because this action can be done without the interior disposition to torture.
I would add to Zippy’s (and my own) definition that the interior disposition to torture has as it’s object the breaking of the will of the subject – to remove or negate his/her free will by the infliction of suffering.
Certain kinds of suffering (imprisonment) do not approach the threshold of removing the subject’s free will. Others (such as waterboarding) are designed to cause panic or complete despair (removing free will) in the pursuit of some fungible commodity.
What characterizes torture (IMO)is the determination by the torturer to retrieve this “fungible commodity” even at the cost of breaking the subject’s will. Torture is open-ended, without theoretical limits of either time or the level of pain inflicted. Coercive interrogation in the pursuit of information can be done without the interior disposition to torture, and by the proportional (just) application of pain.
In my view, it is this intention to break the subject’s will which demonstrates that the captor is treating the subject SOLELY as an object – as ONLY a means to an end.
This does make torture harder to spot (because it is dependent on interior disposition), but lust can be hard to tell from a mere appreciation for beauty, too. It’s all in the heart.

Esau November 29, 2006 at 9:26 am

Zippy,
Further to my comment above, please take notice of my dialogue with Josiah.
Even Josiah did not respond to my posts to him in the emotional manner as you did, though he very well could have.

Zippy November 29, 2006 at 9:27 am

Yes Esau. Your comparison of my “maneuvering” to Clinton was a hoot, and definitely added to the credibiity of your own arguments.

Zippy November 29, 2006 at 9:31 am

I would add to Zippy’s (and my own) definition that the interior disposition to torture has as it’s object the breaking of the will of the subject – to remove or negate his/her free will by the infliction of suffering.
This is obviously a good thought, because lots of smart people keep coming up with it. The monkey wrench in it is that with (e.g.) purely sadistic torture the perp may not even care what goes on with the will of the victim. I would think that torture taken to the point where the perp doesn’t even care if the victim has a will would be even worse than torture with the intention of coercing the will.

Esau November 29, 2006 at 9:31 am

Yes Esau. Your comparison of my “maneuvering” to Clinton was a hoot, and definitely added to the credibiity of your own arguments.
There you go again. Did it even dawn on you that all I wanted from you was a straight answer, which is the very reason why I requested that you dispense with all the clinton-like transgiversation or was that too much to ask of the all-mighty?
(Now, that is ad hominem, if you like!)

Zippy November 29, 2006 at 9:36 am

I requested that you dispense with all the clinton-like transgiversation …
Yes Esau, and I humbly request that you stop beating your wife.

Esau November 29, 2006 at 9:39 am

Yes Esau, and I humbly request that you stop beating your wife.
But I love it though since it befits the very topic of torture!

Tim J. November 29, 2006 at 9:44 am

“The monkey wrench in it is that with (e.g.) purely sadistic torture the perp may not even care what goes on with the will of the victim.”
Well, that would certainly be an intrinsic evil, but maybe we wouldn’t give it the name of “torture”, but plain sadism.
There certainly needs to be two different terms to differentiate these two distinct acts. It actually confuses things to referr to both by the same word, and since “sadism” works, I would add sadism to the list of intrinsic evils.

Tim J. November 29, 2006 at 10:06 am

Actually, the intent to “break the will” of the subject works very well to define torture, because if the captor had in his mind “I will break this subject’s will to get what I’m after, no matter what it takes” he will be guilty of the sin of torture the moment he goes beyond inflicting what might otherwise be a just level of pain (like might be applied by a questioner who did not have the intent to torture).
If he did not inflict any serious level of pain (like if the subject just gave up the moment he was grabbed by the collar and pushed against the wall), he would still be guilty of a lesser sin, but not the intrinsic evil of torture. Just as the sin of theft requires grave matter… leaving the bank with one of their ballpoints would not be a mortal sin. Leaving the bank with a bag of cash WOULD be.
Inflicting mild suffering on a subject – even if one had the original intention to torture – would not equal torture, but would still be a sin.

Tim J. November 29, 2006 at 10:18 am

“The intentional infliction of unjust suffering on another, with the object of overpowering the free will of the subject in the pursuit of fungible goods.”

Josiah November 29, 2006 at 12:55 pm

Tim,
I would eliminate “unjust” and “in the pursuit of fungible goods” from your definition. The fungible business is, so far as I can gather, a means of telling what a person’s intention actually is in a given case, rather than a part of the intention itself. And including “unjust” turns the definition into a tautology.

Tim J. November 29, 2006 at 3:43 pm

Yeah, you may be right. I threw in the “fungible goods” part just to show Zippy I have been listening, and because I like to say “fungible”.
Also, “intentional” isn’t really necessary, either… that’s a given.
That leaves something like;
“The infliction of suffering on another, with the object of overpowering his/her free will.”

Esau November 29, 2006 at 3:49 pm

“The infliction of suffering on another, with the object of overpowering his/her free will.”
Tim J.,
Wouldn’t “punishment” fall under this definition as well?

Tim J. November 29, 2006 at 3:56 pm

In fact, it is in the removal of free will – the taking away of the ability to make a free choice – that we destroy the image of God in that person… truly treating them as an object.
The more I think about it, the more I believe that fungible goods have little to do with it.
So, discipline or punishment could turn into torture, as well, with compliance being the good sought.
This would apply just as well to brainwashing and inquisition-type actions (“we’re doing this for your own good”).
You cannot break someone’s will for their own good.

Esau November 29, 2006 at 4:02 pm

punishment
1 : the act of punishing
2 a : suffering, pain, or loss that serves as retribution b : a penalty inflicted on an offender through judicial procedure
3 : severe, rough, or disastrous treatment
Also, it goes without saying that it serves to overpower someone’s free will like in the case of the incarceration of criminals, etc., in that they may learn not to misuse it and enforce ‘correction’ on the individual’s behaviour.
That’s not to say that it’s successful.
To say this is actually torture would classify what we do to criminals in the legal system as being such as well.

Tim J. November 29, 2006 at 4:22 pm

Esau -
I would argue that the aim of both licit punishment and discipline would be to affect the will, or form the will, but not to break the will.

Esau November 29, 2006 at 4:30 pm

Thanks, Tim J.
I agree with much of the things you’ve said.
It’s just that there would be those individuals out there who would say that the very fact that this involves the conditioning of the will that this is actually a breaking of the will since it’s forcing people to do what they would otherwise not do.

Tim J. November 29, 2006 at 4:32 pm

Well, again, “forcing” would be the wrong word, IMO.

Esau December 1, 2006 at 10:11 am

JIMMY AKIN IS A TERRIBLE PERSON!
I had a terribly interesting evening last night when I happened to learn just how awful a person Jimmy Akin really was.
I encountered the following comments concerning Jimmy Akin in Mark Shea’s blog:

At this juncture, it is customary to complain about my unfairness and mischaracterization of the position of people like Jeff and the Coalition for Fog. “We’re *not* defending torture!” goes the protest. We are defending, er, aggressive interrogation. Totally different! Maybe, however, in this case what is being defended are acts which *would* be called torture if the circumstances were not desperate. For that is precisely what Jimmy argues for when he says, “I would not say that it [waterboarding] 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).”
The logic of the argument is entirely understandable and even emotionally appealing. Some weirdo has kidnapped your kid and buried him alive in a box. He won’t talk. Why not use torture to make him talk? You can hardly fault the parent who would beat the living daylights out of the guy. As a parent myself, I am not immune to the persuasiveness of such arguments.
Nonetheless, I agree with Zippy that Jimmy’s argument is a bad one, both for Zippy’s reasons and reasons of my own. If an act is intrinsically evil, then it does not become proportional and just when circumstances change.

Okay, from this, had I not read Jimmy’s entire post on his website, by the way he’s painted here, that Jimmy is actually for the torture of terrorists, but the other following comments happen to paint an even darker picture of him:

Another problem with Jimmy’s argument is that it seems to me to be extremely subjective. How, precisely, is proportionalism to be determined? If it’s proportional to torture at all, then how do you measure the proportion? Waterboarding if 100 lives are at stake? Pliers to the testicles for 200? Blowtorch to the eyes for 1000? If a city is endangered, then in what sense can we be “proportional”? How can the suffering of one man *ever* match the suffering of a million? And since those millions have families, why not threaten the family of the suspect? Indeed, why stop with waterboarding when you can gouge eyes, castrate and pull fingernails and not even come close to the suffering your (assumed) terrorist will inflict (assuming he knows something, which you are torturing him to discover). Of course, if it turns out your suspect knows nothing, then what? It turns out you have committed an intrinsically immoral act against an innocent man and you could well go to hell for it.

And yet, here in cyberspace, no small effort, ranging from the Coalition for Fog, to Against the Grain, to (now) Jimmy’s blog has been put into figuring out some way to redefine it so that it’s not torture, or shout down those who oppose it as “Pharisees” or otherwise figure out a way to overlook the bleedin’ obvious in favor of the highly abstract and hypothetical. Virtually *no* effort has gone in to pursuing the question, “How do we treat prisoners humanely while still getting the intelligence we need?”.

So, here, it seems that Jimmy Akin is nothing more than a heartless hypocrite who lives to Catholic morals when it suits him, but, under certain desperate circumstances, Jimmy’s the kind of horrible person who would actually abandon his morals, his very Catholic identity – no wait, he’s more sinister than that! – Jimmy would redefine Catholicism itself in order to weave arguments that would actually suit his vengeful purpose in such circumstances!
What’s interesting to note is that my post happen to come up as well:

Of course, Zippy couldn’t care less that even if the hundreds of innocent victims of the 9/11 attacks could have been saved by the simple capture and rigid interrogation of terrorist(s) prior to the time of the attacks, the life of that terrorist is far more precious than those innocent people and shouldn’t even undergo a smidgen of psychological interrogation tactics since even these are considered “torture”.
See, it’s so easy when folks can simply reflect such issues in an ivory tower, with an “holier-than-thou” attitude, looking down from an almighty throne on those who should even dare cross what they’ve declared to be the moral threshold, without even being in the actual trenches.
Yet, there are those of us who suffered greatly from the tragic events of 9/11 and have, in fact, lost people close to us.
To actually witness folks giving such “preferred” treatment to terrorists, of all things (even ordinary criminals aren’t treated with such esteem and have to undergo a barrage of even the most rigid psychological tests), even at the cost of innocent lives, is just too repulsive.
Not to wish any harm on such folks, but it seems that the only way they could ever feel the pain of the tragic events of 9/11, is to suffer personal lost themselves. It’s sometimes about walking in someone else’s shoes until they come to terms with the other perspective.
In point of cool, rational fact much of this outburst has nothing to do with anything Zippy has ever said, or anything any opponent of torture has said. It has nothing to do with the reality of torture opponents. It has to do with pain and fear–pain and fear I readily acknowledge. But the fact remains, torture would not have stopped 9/11, except on “24″. Zippy is not the heartless bastard this commenter declares and he certainly does not think a terrorist’s life is *more* precious than an innocent man’s. He simply does not think a terrorist’s life is worthless. And he emphatically does not think Caesar will keep us safe by being granted the power to commit intrinsically immoral acts against those Caesar deems to be enemies. In this, at the end of the day, he has Veritatis Splendor to back him up

From what’s said here, I am made to appear as if I, myself, actually endorse torture – after all, I did know people who died on 9/11, and, therefore, I, myself, must be harboring some vengeful feelings toward such people! Yet, in fact, in much of the things I’ve said in other posts, I have made it clear that I do not endorse the actual torture of these terrorists, but that it *seemed* to me that there are those who would not even have these people go through even the same rigid interrogation tactics common criminals undergo since even this is considered “TORTURE” in their eyes – a point that would’ve been reached by readers actually interested in the truth had it not just been the *isolated* quote above.
Although, what had been said?
…*torture* would not have stopped 9/11, except on “24″.
If there was any misunderstanding on my part, wouldn’t Christian charity have been for them to simply clarify my misunderstanding? Further, perhaps to even clarify Jimmy’s misunderstanding, if there was actually any on his part as well? Or perhaps even actually dialogue with Jimmy should there even be (God forbid!) a misunderstanding on *their* part, too!
Instead, what was done was folks (fellow Catholics-those who actually profess such high Catholic ideals!) actually engaged in vicious back-stabbing rather than confront their assumed opponents and deal with this misunderstanding.
I would’ve expected such devoted Catholics to have done what Christian charity would have called for in this case!
Was there perhaps some trace of intellectual pride and the “high and mighty ways” on their end that may have played a part?
It is said in the Prayer of St. Francis:
“O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as *to understand*…”
But, I guess that’s all thrown out the window should such a noble cause arise!
Interestingly enough, isn’t that what’s being implied here about Jimmy? That he would actually throw out his Catholic morals for the *noble cause* of saving the lives of innocents from terrorists?
Though, those who actually know the full story, this is not the case at all!
SUMMARY:
Love Thy Enemies except if they are fellow Catholics and appear to oppose you.
Treat terrorists with human dignity because they’re in the image of God, but I guess this doesn’t apply to fellow Catholics.
Condemning innocent men? Well, suspected terrorists may end up being innocent people certainly, but those suspected to be against you, no way! In fact, when duty calls for it, engage in character assassinations by all means!
So, thank you Mark Shea et al, for confirming what some may have suspected all along, that this “Love Thy Enemies” routine might end up being all an act to flaunt that “Holier-than-Thou” attitude that some feel the need to pull over their fellow Catholics in such an underhanded way!
Could there be an ulterior political motive in this as well?
FOLLOW-UP:
I would not have gone ahead and posted the preceding message, but, obviously, Jimmy being the stand-up person that he is, I don’t think he would have retaliated the least on his blog since he actually *lives out* his Catholic beliefs rather than merely *leave it to words*.
I wished that in some cases, I could be the same kind of person, but I am still a “work-in-progress” (so-to-speak), entirely fallible and but human and can only rely on God’s mercy and goodness. In the end, I can only pray he guides me to do the right thing in life and that I can ultimately live out the Catholic Faith in all aspects of life.

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