Torture, Justice and Two Utilitarians

Stream: Panel 66 - Political Theory: Problems of Liberal Egalitarianism 
Date: Wednesday, 28 September 2016
Time: 9.00 am – 10.30 am


According to German Philosopher Immanuel Kant people should never be treated merely as instruments, never just as means to our own goals, any human is an autonomous being with their own goals. To get information from a person, our inquiry must connect with their goals, not isolate their needs in favour of our own ends, for Kant we must convince them to willingly tell us what we want to know. However, for the utilitarian an act is right if it brings about the greatest good for the greatest number. If for example someone has kidnapped a child leaving him or her to die, and torture is the only way to find out where… Might that be the right thing to do? Being better for the child, their family, and the kidnapper potentially avoiding a charge of murder. This invokes the “ticking-bomb scenario” (TBS). While these hypotheses apply to Act utilitarians, Rule utilitarians argue that maintaining the absolute prohibition on torture brings about the greatest good for the greatest number. Without an absolute ban on torture, it may expand to cases about more than kidnapping and terrorism, arguments would blur, impacting the whole of humanity for the worse. Through this lens even with a utilitarian point of view, the non-derogable rule on torture can be defended. By revisiting elements of the TBS this paper will discuss the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1984), to engage with the question; Torture, Whose Justice is Best Served?


David Sadler (Presenter), UNSW
I am a researcher, lecturer and PhD candidate in International Relations, International Law and Political Theory.

I specialise in issues of international security, strategic studies, human rights and justice; particularly where international law and human rights intersect with US and allied policies on counterterrorism.