Dirty hands, cosmopolitan value and state evil

Reflections on torture

Richard S Matthews

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

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Abstract

[Extract] The debate about state use of torture has surged in the last 5 years. Oren Gross,
Alan Dershowitz, Michael Gross, and Fritz Alhoff are a sample of those arguing either
for the legitimation of, or excusing, the use of torture by state officials in prosecuting
struggles against other states or non-state actors. Although the arguments for torture vary,
I intend to explore, evaluate, and reject one specific argument first made by Michael
Walzer in his 1970’s paper “Political Action: The Problem of Dirty Hands”.
I will first locate this within the general ethical division we remark in the history
of western philosophy. Of the deontological, utilitarian, and virtue-ethical traditions only
the first seems to be unequivocally opposed to the state use of torture. Not one of the
defences of torture that I have encountered relies on the deontological principle, and I
think not surprisingly, for deontology offers the strongest foundation for unconditional
prohibition of torture. It takes its cue from the Kantian categorical imperative, in
particular the end in itself formulation. This specifies that one may never use an
individual merely as a means to prudential purposes, no matter how pressing. The
categorical imperative stresses the absolute worth and dignity of the individual will.
Since state torture essentially requires the state agent to break the will of individuals and
groups through the infliction of intense physical and psychological suffering, it is a direct
attack on the most fundamental value of deontological theory.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)66-79
Number of pages14
JournalAnimus: a philosophical journal for our time
Volume11
Publication statusPublished - 2006
Externally publishedYes

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Torture
Evil
Dirty Hands
Political Action
Psychological
1970s
Immanuel Kant
Physical
Deontology
Non-state Actors
Western philosophy
Dignity
Fundamental
Legitimation
Categorical Imperative

Cite this

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title = "Dirty hands, cosmopolitan value and state evil: Reflections on torture",
abstract = "[Extract] The debate about state use of torture has surged in the last 5 years. Oren Gross,Alan Dershowitz, Michael Gross, and Fritz Alhoff are a sample of those arguing eitherfor the legitimation of, or excusing, the use of torture by state officials in prosecutingstruggles against other states or non-state actors. Although the arguments for torture vary,I intend to explore, evaluate, and reject one specific argument first made by MichaelWalzer in his 1970’s paper “Political Action: The Problem of Dirty Hands”.I will first locate this within the general ethical division we remark in the historyof western philosophy. Of the deontological, utilitarian, and virtue-ethical traditions onlythe first seems to be unequivocally opposed to the state use of torture. Not one of thedefences of torture that I have encountered relies on the deontological principle, and Ithink not surprisingly, for deontology offers the strongest foundation for unconditionalprohibition of torture. It takes its cue from the Kantian categorical imperative, inparticular the end in itself formulation. This specifies that one may never use anindividual merely as a means to prudential purposes, no matter how pressing. Thecategorical imperative stresses the absolute worth and dignity of the individual will.Since state torture essentially requires the state agent to break the will of individuals andgroups through the infliction of intense physical and psychological suffering, it is a directattack on the most fundamental value of deontological theory.",
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year = "2006",
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Dirty hands, cosmopolitan value and state evil : Reflections on torture. / Matthews, Richard S.

In: Animus: a philosophical journal for our time, Vol. 11, 2006, p. 66-79.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

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AB - [Extract] The debate about state use of torture has surged in the last 5 years. Oren Gross,Alan Dershowitz, Michael Gross, and Fritz Alhoff are a sample of those arguing eitherfor the legitimation of, or excusing, the use of torture by state officials in prosecutingstruggles against other states or non-state actors. Although the arguments for torture vary,I intend to explore, evaluate, and reject one specific argument first made by MichaelWalzer in his 1970’s paper “Political Action: The Problem of Dirty Hands”.I will first locate this within the general ethical division we remark in the historyof western philosophy. Of the deontological, utilitarian, and virtue-ethical traditions onlythe first seems to be unequivocally opposed to the state use of torture. Not one of thedefences of torture that I have encountered relies on the deontological principle, and Ithink not surprisingly, for deontology offers the strongest foundation for unconditionalprohibition of torture. It takes its cue from the Kantian categorical imperative, inparticular the end in itself formulation. This specifies that one may never use anindividual merely as a means to prudential purposes, no matter how pressing. Thecategorical imperative stresses the absolute worth and dignity of the individual will.Since state torture essentially requires the state agent to break the will of individuals andgroups through the infliction of intense physical and psychological suffering, it is a directattack on the most fundamental value of deontological theory.

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