Coming Into One's Own
Andreas Teuber

Drawing on the reading and your own considered opinion and good judgment, answer one of the following questions, think of the arguments that someone might make as well as the objections that he or she might raise to your opinion, and respond to them. In offering your opinion, offer what you believe is the most principled argument you can make, and support that argument and/or position as best you can by reference to the texts.

In thinking of objections to your opinion, argument, or position, think of the best possible objections that someone on the other side might be able to come up with, i. e., give yourself a hard time. If you can respond to the other side at its strongest point rather than at its weakest, that can only help to strengthen your own opinion and make it that much more persuasive.

You may find that you are not sure whether you agree or disagree with some or all of the opinions expressed in a particular quaestion that you are attempting to answer or that you agree with the conclusions but not with the reasoning or you think some of reasons are better than others or whether you think some of the opinions expressed on the following pages are just plain wrong, completely wrong-headed, from beginning to end.

This is what you both love and hate about USEM. To paraphrase what one very good contemporary thinker, J. R. Lucas, has said: "Thought has to be self-thought, if it is to be thought at all. It is an activity rather than a set of positions. You always need to think out the problems and solutions for yourself, and although another person's thinking may help you in your own, you cannot accept their conclusions, or even understand their arguments, until you have already argued a lot with yourself."

The paper should be about five (5) pages in length, preferably typewritten. It is due on Tuesday, February the 16th, in class.

1. Deep in the Amazon Jungle

Consider the following adapted from Bernard Williams, Utilitarianism For & Against:

John, on a botany expedition in the remotest regions of the Brazilian jungle, stumbles into a clearing where he finds two men with their guns trained on a group of ten South American villagers. The Captain, or the man who appears to be in charge, turns to John and announces that "Pedro here" is about to shoot "all the villagers," but as the result of John's unexpected arrival on the "scene," he, the Captain, has had a sudden fit of compassion and if John would be willing to take Pedro's gun and kill one of the villagers, he, the Captain, would allow the other nine villagers to go free. If, however, John refuses to accept the Captain's offer, "Pedro here will shoot them all." John, his mind racing, entertains several "Indiana Jones" fantasies (with himself as Indiana Jones), among them, the idea that he might appear to agree to the Captain's offer, take the gun from Pedro, and then turn it on Pedro and the Captain, back away into the jungle with all ten villagers at his side, and escape to a clearing down river where a small twin-engine Cesna is waiting and fly all the villagers and himself to Rio de Janeiro and freedom. But it is quite evident from the situation that if John were to try anything of the sort, his "heroics" will result not only in the deaths of all ten villagers but his own as well. What should John do?

Imagine that John had been reading Machiavelli's The Prince. What advice would Machiavelli give to John in this situation?

Imagine that John were a leader of these "villagers," a lieutenant of a small guerilla band, or that he was their head of state and the villagers were his citizens whom he had sworn (when he took office) to support and protect; that he was their comander-in-chief. Imagine that he was a Prince and these were his people? What should he do then? Does his role make a difference in how he ought to conduct himself? What advice would Machiavelli give?

And once he has followed that advice, should he feel guilt or remorse? Should he feel "good" about what he has done, should he believe that he has "done the right thing"? What would Machiavelli say?

If you were in John's shoes, what would you do? What do you believe is the "right thing" to do? Do you agree or disagree with Machiavelli? What's "right" or "wrong" to your mind about the advice Machiavelli would give?

2. A Problem for the Mayor of New York

Consider the following from Michael Levin, "The Case for Torture":

It is generally assumed that torture is impermissible, a throwback to a more brutal age. Enlightened societies reject it outright, and regimes suspected of using it risk the wrath of the United States. I believe this attitude is unwise. There are situations in which torture is not merely permissible but morally mandatory. Moreover, these situations are moving from the realm of imagination to fact.

Death: Suppose a terrorist has hidden an atomic bomb on Manhattan Island which will detonate at noon on July 4 unless ... here follow the usual demands for money and release of his friends from jail. Suppose, further, that he is caught at 10 a.m on the fateful day, but preferring death to failure, won't disclose where the bomb is. What do we do? If we follow due process, wait for his lawyer, arraign him, millions of people will die. If the only way to save those lives is to subject the terrorist to the most excruciating possible pain, what grounds can there be for not doing so? I suggest there are none. In any case, I ask you to face the question with an open mind.

Torturing the terrorist is unconstitutional? Probably. But millions of lives surely outweigh constitutionality. Torture is barbaric? Mass murder is far more barbaric. Indeed, letting millions of innocents die in deference to one who flaunts his guilt is moral cowardice, an unwillingness to dirty one's hands. If you caught the terrorist, could you sleep nights knowing that millions died because you couldn't bring yourself to apply the electrodes?

Once you concede that torture is justified in extreme cases, you have admitted that the decision to use torture is a matter of balancing innocent lives against the means needed to save them. You must now face more realistic cases involving more modest numbers. Someone plants a bomb on a jumbo jet. I He alone can disarm it, and his demands cannot be met (or they can, we refuse to set a precedent by yielding to his threats). Surely we can, we must, do anything to the extortionist to save the passengers. How can we tell 300, or 100, or 10 people who never asked to be put in danger, "I'm sorry you'll have to die in agony, we just couldn't bring ourselves to . . . " Here are the results of an informal poll about a third, hypothetical, case. Suppose a terrorist group kidnapped a newborn baby from a hospital. I asked four mothers if they would approve of torturing kidnappers if that were necessary to get their own newborns back. All said yes, the most "liberal" adding that she would like to administer it herself. I am not advocating torture as punishment. Punishment is addressed to deeds irrevocably past. Rather, I am advocating torture as an acceptable measure for preventing future evils. So understood, it is far less objectionable than many extant punishments. Opponents of the death penalty, for example, are forever insisting that executing a murderer will not bring back his victim (as if the purpose of capital punishment were supposed to be resurrection, not deterrence or retribution). But torture, in the cases described, is intended not to bring anyone back but to keep innocents from being dispatched. The most powerful argument against using torture as a punishment or to secure confessions is that such practices disregard the rights of the individual. Well, if the individual is all that important, and he is, it is correspondingly important to protect the rights of individuals threatened by terrorists. If life is so valuable that it must never be taken, the lives of the innocents must be saved even at the price of hurting the one who endangers them.

Better precedents for torture are assassination and pre-emptive attack. No Allied leader would have flinched at assassinating Hitler, had that been possible. (The Allies did assassinate Heydrich.) Americans would be angered to learn that Roosevelt could have had Hitler killed in 1943, thereby shortening the war and saving millions of lives, but refused on moral grounds. Similarly, if nation A learns that nation B is about to launch an unprovoked attack, A has a right to save itself by destroying B's military capability first. In the same way, if the police can by torture save those who would otherwise die at the hands of kidnappers or terrorists, they must.

Idealism:There is an important difference between terrorists and their victims that should mute talk of the terrorists' "rights." The terrorist's victims are at risk unintentionally, not having asked to be endangered. But the terrorist knowingly initiated his actions. Unlike his victims, he volunteered for the risks of his deed. By threatening to kill for profit or idealism, he renounces civilized standards, and he can have no complaint if civilization tries to thwart him by whatever means necessary.

Just as torture is justified only to save lives (not extort confessions or incantations), it is justifiably administered only to those known to hold innocent lives in their hands. Ah, but how call the authorities ever be sure they have the right malefactor? Isn't there a danger of error and abuse? won't "WE" turn into "THEM?" Questions like these are disingenuous in a world in which terrorists proclaim themselves and perform for television. The name of their game is public recognition. After all, you can't very well intimidate a government into releasing your freedom fighters unless you announce that it is your group that has seized its embassy. "Clear guilt" is difficult to define, but when 40 million people see a group of masked gunmen seize an airplane on the evening news, there is not much question about who the perpetrators are. There will be hard cases where the situation is murkier. Nonetheless, a line demarcating the legitimate use of torture can be drawn. Torture only the obviously guilty, and only for the sake of saving innocents, and the line between "US" and "THEM" will remain clear.

Imagine that you have been reading Machiavelli's The Prince. What advice would Machiavelli give to the person who must decide whether or not to torture the terrorist who has hidden the bomb? Imagine that this person is the Mayor of New York City, the "Prince" of the City, and that he has sworn (when he took office) to support and protect the people of New York. What should the Mayor do? What advice would Machiavelli give?

Change the example, ever so slightly. Imagine that the terrorist is holed up in a high rise building from which it is impossible to flush him out before Noon. The police, however, have captured the terrorist's five year old daughter. Suppose that if she is tortured in the street below where the terrorist is hiding, he will give himself up and reveal where the bomb is hidden. What should the Mayor do? The police await his order? Does this change in the example make a difference to how this case ought to be decided? What advice would Machiavelli give? And once the Mayor has followed that advice, should he feel guilt or remorse? Should he feel "good" about what he has done, should he believe that he has "done the right thing"? What would Machiavelli say?

If you were in the Mayor'shoes, what would you do? What do you believe is the "right thing" to do? Do you agree or disagree with Machiavelli? What's "right" or "wrong" to your mind about the advice Machiavelli would give?