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International Journal of Applied Philosophy

Volume 19, Issue 2, Fall 2005

Michael Davis
Pages 161-178

The Moral Justifiability of Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment

Since Henry Shue’s classic 1978 paper on torture, the “ticking-bomb case” has seemed to demonstrate that torture is morally justified in some moral emergencies (even if not as an institution). After presenting an analysis of torture as such and an explanation of why it, and anything much like it, is morally wrong, I argue that the ticking-bomb case demonstrates nothing at all—for at least three reasons. First, it is an appeal to intuition. The intuition is not as widely shared as necessary to constitute the required demonstration. Second, the intuition is not as reliable as necessary for such a demonstration. We lack the experience that would vouch for it. And, third, Shue’s own discussion suggests that what we are intuiting (if we share Shue’s intuition) is an excuse rather than a justification.

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