Torture In Kant's Categorical Imperative

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A signatory to the UN Convention Against Torture, the United States “does not torture.” Yet abundant evidence indicates that it does, directly or by proxy—and in fact always has. An old American tradition of state-sponsored torture even has its own lexicon: SOA, Kubark, Phoenix, MK-Ultra, rendition, CIA’s “no-touch” paradigm, etc. It is quite popular, too. Torture enjoys more than twice the public support in the US that it does in France, Spain, and the UK. One of the most watched TV dramas, 24, is but an extended ode to the glories of torture. The former director of a prominent human rights center at Harvard writes of the judicious use of sleep deprivation, hooding, and targeted assassinations; he concedes the government’s need to “traffic…show more content…
Do we recoil from torture because it treats a person only as a means to an end? It is a principled view that might account for our rational rejection of torture, but Kant’s Categorical Imperative is too much at variance with Anglo-American norms to explain the instinctive revulsion the practice commonly elicits. (As the death penalty illustrates, note that popularity does not contradict abhorrence.) In his paeans to torture, Dershowitz is merely echoing Bentham and, beyond it, the reigning utilitarianism of our time, which, from conditional welfare to advertising, routinely flouts Kantian ethics. And yet, is there a doubt that the wrongness of torture finds its source, not in a holy book or in the final link of a chain of observations, but deep in humanity’s moral intuition? On this we all…show more content…
The answer is an unequivocal no. The ban must be unconditional. Why? Because grotesquely evil behavior must be criminalized? Pleasing though it may be, this simple answer won’t do. We must first examine whether there might not be a utilitarian reason to make legal exceptions. (Even the most committed deontologist will recognize the need to test laws against their consequences.) I will show that there is no room for exceptions by revisiting the three arguments central to the issue: TBS, self-defense, and torture creep. I’ll also discuss the criminal prosecution of
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