Effective! And still wrong -- The case against pragmatic ethics 

All around the Internet these days, folks are using bin Laden's capture to bolster their own views on torture. Blogger Kenan Malik collects some examples of pro-torture types saying torture helped us, while anti-torture types say it didn't help us catch him. Malik makes an important point: maybe torturing terrorists helped us catch bin Laden, but we still shouldn't torture people.

This could be an entirely pragmatic argument, by the way. Even if torture can yield some good fruits (such as catching bin Laden) the costs of torture -- radicalizing more terrorists, getting more bad leads, lowering morale and morals among our guys, and more -- outweigh the benefits.

But an action can be evil while still producing good effects.

You might rob an old lady at gunpoint and use the money to save your sick kid, but that doesn't mean the robbery was good. Deliberately slaughtering thousands of innocent people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended an awful war, saved American lives, and may have even saved lives on net, but that doesn't make it okay, in my book.

I see pro-lifers make the consequentialist argument all the time on stem-cells: embryonic stem cell research has produced no cures, while adult stem cells have been very useful. Fine. That's another argument against destroying embryos and subsidising this destruction. But does that mean that once an embryonic stem cell cures a single person, we have to accept them?

So, back to torture. Torture opponents shouldn't put all their eggs in the consequentialist basket. There's nothing inherent in torture to make it a totally unreliable way to get intelligence. There is, however, something inherent in torture at odds with human dignity.

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Timothy P. Carney

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