Volume 22, Issue 1, Spring 2008
J. Jeremy Wisnewski
It’s About Time
Defusing the Ticking Bomb Argument
The most common argument in favor of torture in the current literature is the ticking bomb argument. It asks us to imagine a case where only torture can prevent the detonation of a bomb that will kill millions. In this paper, I argue that the seeming effectiveness of this argument rests on two things: 1) the underdetermined semantic content of the term ‘torture,’ and 2) a philosophical attitude that regards the empirical facts about torture as irrelevant. Once we pay attention to the facts about torture, and particularly about the role time plays in actual torture, the ticking bomb argument becomes incoherent, and hence cannot provide a basis for accepting torture.