Defining torture

I’ve watched  a few rounds of the debate over torture and was struck by how early and often the demand comes up to “define torture”. There seems to be some sort of silent agreement on both sides that this is an impossible thing to do. I’m missing something here since the action doesn’t seem that hard to define: the use of physical pain to break the will of another, where “breaking the will” (which can mean more than one thing) means “breaking ones self possession”. The definition manifests why such an action would be intrinsically evil, since to be in possession of ones own power to choose or of ones own will is necessary for human dignity. A man is a lord of his action, so much so that to attempt to break this lordship is, in a very real sense, worse than murder. It is the attempt to kill what is most of all human in a human being.

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67 Comments

  1. Gil S. said,

    November 23, 2011 at 9:21 pm

    I agree, it was puzzling to see them fail to even engage what torture was. However, I’d probably emphasize his lordship over his “intentions” than his “actions” as one can frustrate a man’s actions through varioius means. Though, I don’t see what “evil” there is in breaking a person’s will if that same will is directed toward willing an evil act. There’s no dignity in that. It also seems to me that murder is an act of completely removing the person’s will to live along with his human nature. That does not seem to be the case for torture, as the person still has general control of his intentions but is just forced to release information that he otherwise ought to. God seems to break men’s will as well, as seen when through the plagues in Egypt. In a way, it’s not the same as “physical” torture but it is an act of bending the Pharoh’s will such that he lets Israel go.

    • November 23, 2011 at 11:32 pm

      Though, I don’t see what “evil” there is in breaking a person’s will if that same will is directed toward willing an evil act. There’s no dignity in that.

      Pay careful attention to how the dignity claim was phrased in the post. I took into account that the will can intend an evil action and lose its dignity. But it doesn’t change the fact that to have possession over ones own actions is necessary for human dignity, and therefore to try to rob someone of this by infliction of pain is a very grave offense against a person. And to say that the will has no dignity by when willing evil goes too far, especially if we are speaking of those wills still capable of repentance.

      murder is an act of completely removing the person’s will to live along with his human nature. That does not seem to be the case for torture

      You must have meant to say something else – murderers do not remove either the will to live nor do they do away with human nature. At any rate, the original claim is clearly a relative comparison as opposed to an absolute one, and I stand by it as it was originally said.

      • Gil S. said,

        November 24, 2011 at 12:11 am

        I would not go to the point that the will “in general” loses all dignity but that in that specific willing, it is against that which it ought to will and by nature, is therefore subject to punishment of some sort. They shouldn’t seek to deprave him of self-possession in general but I think it is justified to force him to give up information with regard to a specific act. However, it would appear that I have misunderstood you so I apologize for any misrepresentation. And you’re correct, what I meant was that it eliminated their will to exercise their right to life through their human form. It does not “break” it though, but it would “appear” to remove it but I could be mistaken here. My ignorance and foolishness has probably shown here, but I hope I can learn from thinkers like you, whom I have a great respect for. Thank you for taking the time to respond to me.

      • Ed L said,

        November 25, 2011 at 1:14 pm

        It’s also important to distinguish torture from punishment: it is not torturing something to inflict pain as a punishment for an evil will or to prevent some evil action.

      • Derek S. Jeffreys said,

        November 25, 2011 at 3:07 pm

        Dear Mr. Chastek:

        Thank you for your post on defining torture. I agree that we can and should define it. I also appreciate your suggestion that torture is an intrinsically evil act. However, I think that defining torture is a little more difficult than you suggest. For example, modern torture targets our spirituality and psychology in ways that are irreducible to physical suffering. I have a written a book on torture that explores its definition and other issues (“Spirituality and the Ethics of Torture,” Palgrave Macmillan, 2009). Perhaps you might find it of interest.

        This is the first time I have read your blog, and it looks quite interesting.

        Sincerely,

        Derek S. Jeffreys
        Associate Professor of Humanistic Studies
        and Religion
        The University of Wisconsin, Green Bay

      • November 25, 2011 at 8:04 pm

        These concerns with the definition could be resolved by dropping the word “physical”. I originally added the term just to keep to the first and clearest sense of torture, and it was meant to be used in a broad sense of any frustration of a more or less constant natural physical desire, like for bodily integrity, breathing, sleep, nourishment, human contact, etc.

        I’m looking for your book now.

        And I very much liked your critique of non-reductive Physicalism. For those who haven’t read it it’s here.

  2. Boethius said,

    November 23, 2011 at 10:04 pm

    It seems the definition you provided above should be expanded beyond use of physical pain. Psychological torture could be even more damaging to a person at times than physical, breaking their “lordship” in a more intense and long lasting way than physical torture…

  3. thenyssan said,

    November 24, 2011 at 6:19 am

    Nice definition although I think I’m with Boethius in balking at “physical.” Unless you mean physical in the more proper sense and don’t just mean bodily or externally.

    I think you’d want to get into some more detail on mastery-removal and mastery-limiting. The first is the attempt to do violence to the will itself while the second includes all sorts of natural things (our own limitations) and legitimate things (incarceration, restraining an attacker, etc.); i.e., throwing someone in jail isn’t torture unless it’s designed to break their will in the relevant sense.

    I also wonder at ST I-II Q6 a4-5 (whether violence can be done to the will). Aquinas answers in the negative when it comes to the mastery-power itself (Voluntas). The acts proceeding from it can be violated, but it seems to him that mastery itself cannot. How would you call him on this? Voluntas remains but the Sensus overrides it? Torture is the violent attempt to get S to override V? I let my students write on this every year but I’ve never finished my opinion on the matter.

    • November 24, 2011 at 9:05 am

      “Physical” might be unnecessary; my thought in adding it was for concretion, and that I could define psychological pain by way of extension but it strikes me now that “pain” first means physical pain anyway.

      What our metaphysical account of breaking the will means might vary in different cases. IF all it amounts to is a “tell me and I’ll stop” or “tell me or else”, it seems to be simply amplifying incontinence. Incontinence can be seen as a sort of pain threshold, and we will stay on the right side of virtue so long as we do not pass the threshold. This threshold is, for most persons and for straightforward reasons, adjusted to the normal conditions one finds himself in; torture in this sense just wants to provide abnormal conditions. But there is another, scarier way that torture might be working – while the will can never suffer violence there are still conditions under which judgment is suspended. In STA, this discussion usually comes up when he is discussing moral culpability we have for actions in dreams, or when he speaks about prophesy in dreams. There are some actions of will done in the suspension of judgment, because the mind is somehow alienated from sense, which i a necessary principle of judgment. Torture seems in some instances to want to affect exactly this alienation from sense whereby judgment is suspended and all things hidden in the soul, or possessed by it, pour out.

      • thenyssan said,

        November 24, 2011 at 9:27 am

        Very nicely done on incontinence. There are times I’ve wondered if it always reduces to that, but your follow up on the “scarier way” and alienation is interesting. This is the part I’d like to understand better–I remember toying with a definition of torture that involved “laying siege to the soul” but I could never work it out to my satisfaction.

  4. November 24, 2011 at 9:03 am

    The people who ask for definitions to torture are trying to pull a scam.
    This is just an old debating technique. They are not sincere.
    One should not be required to define what “blue sky” means in order to qualify to speak about the obvious.. There are some “neo-conservatives who demand we define ‘torture’ in order to prove that our opinions qualify to be taken seriously. They are not sadists, just people who act deviously for selfish reasons. Their problem is that they are in bad faith; they really are insincere. They handle opponents by discounting them, rather than by replying with their own arguments. They do this to take advantage of our generosity, fairness, and they attempt to exploit our need for completeness,

    • November 24, 2011 at 9:54 am

      It is true that the “define torture” jab frequently seems like intentional obtuseness, but it wasn’t until I started trying to define it that I saw how it targets what is most of all human in a human being, that is, that each of us is a dominus sui actus.

  5. November 24, 2011 at 5:44 pm

    I’m not sure why we would think that the problem of defining such a thing isn’t a serious problem. Define Kill in Thou Shalt Not Kill. That’s the rub. That’s the entire problem.

    We intentionally break self-possession all the time when people cannot rule themselves, and we use pain to do it. Isn’t the problem in how self possession is being used? If wrongly, than the proper authority has the authority to break it in order to properly direct it.

    In other words, explain how this definition avoids condemning you for disciplining your children in any fashion. To be sure, one does this for the sake of promoting their self-possession ultimately (one could say the same about torture in a Christian state), but one certainly breaks the will when necessary, taking their rotten self-possession away from them so they don’t hurt themselves and others.

    If the principle is that you can act like an animal, or a demon, or a beast and never be treated like one in any way whatsoever in return on account of human dignity I think there is a problem with the principle.

    In your incontinence bit…isn’t that a defense of torture? What’s the problem with amping up nature when dealing with a person with amped up viciousness?

    “Torture seems in some instances to want to affect exactly this alienation from sense whereby judgment is suspended and all things hidden in the soul, or possessed by it, pour out.”

    Yes, because we are talking about the perverted judgment of a vicious person. So indeed we want to get the information that this person has a moral duty (on account of his dignity) to tell us, and we want to separate his perverted rational faculties that hold that information from us wrongly.

    • November 24, 2011 at 9:24 pm

      We intentionally break self-possession all the time when people cannot rule themselves

      I disagree. It’s not what punishment is – even corporal punishment – and it’s not what we are doing when we break up crowds or when a policeman maces someone disturbing the peace. None of these things aims to smash ones entire self-possession and power over themselves. If, for example, a warden described his job as “breaking the wills of his prisoners”, then everyone would see it as creepy. This is something far above and beyond merely restricting someones liberty, even by imprisoning him. A fortiori, it is something far beyond corporal punishment or breaking up a crowd with tear gas.

      Again, I never said that the will cannot be depraved – it certainly can. I never said that human dignity is in every sense inviolable. It is not. But to the extent that we violate a person’s self possession and self mastery, even if the person in question has abused it, we are destroying something necessary for their dignity, and, for that matter, something that is necessary for them to change themselves. This relates to why I don’t see the incontinence explanation as a defense of torture. There can be no “virtue gulags” where we would snatch up vicious men and then use sleep deprivation, beatings, and various physical contortions to brainwash them into goodness or even admit their own folly and error. You can’t build virtue up in this way because you are crushing the very principle within them that will allow them to make a virtuous choice, even if they happen not to be making it now.

      • Matt Peterson said,

        November 25, 2011 at 3:39 am

        On a cell right now, and my fingers are fat…likely due to failings of my gravy and turkey filled lack of self possession….but:

        “None of these things aims to smash ones entire self-possession and power over themselves.”

        Agreed, entirely. It is in respect to the aspect of their power over themselves that is deformed that their self possession is taken away. They are given the imposed reason of another and their power over themselves is taken away. So the prisoner is given a schedule, etc., and pain of some kind is used as a consequence of bad actions. Now the only defense of torture that makes any sense is to get the person to withhold information rightfully owed to the proper authorities that threatens the common good. The goal is not to take away self possession entire, but in respect to the information they are withholding. Isnt this similar to physically twisting an assailants arm until they drop their gun due to the pain one has inflicted on them by so twisting? A submission hold, as it were?

  6. November 24, 2011 at 6:06 pm

    You want to break self-possession in torture in one respect–in regard to the holding back of what is rightfully due. Similarly with one’s kids. Or with protestors who won’t back away. One justifiably uses mace for the sake of breaking the self-possession of the protestor or rioter in respect to the specific thing they are doing that is wrong. Subject to proper procedural rules I’m still not sure what the problem is.

  7. Bob LeBlanc said,

    November 25, 2011 at 4:04 am

    Torture is not always limited to the extraction of information. We would call it torture if it were used as punishment, or if the torturer received a sadistic pleasure from inflicting pain.

  8. November 25, 2011 at 3:19 pm

    “Torture is not always limited to the extraction of information. We would call it torture if it were used as punishment, or if the torturer received a sadistic pleasure from inflicting pain.”

    I”m limiting it for the sake of example, because in scenarios other than extraction of information there are other factors that come into play that make it more obvious that it is wrong.

  9. November 25, 2011 at 3:44 pm

    “If, for example, a warden described his job as ‘breaking the wills of his prisoners’, then everyone would see it as creepy.”

    True, but if he described his job as “breaking the will of his prisoners to smear feces all over themselves and others”, which is a frequent occurrence in the worser cell blocks amongst mentally ill or vicious prisoners, or “breaking the will of his prisoners to sleep in all day and react with physical violence to things they don’t like,” no one would see that as creepy. Isn’t solitary confinement something that fits under your definition if you include more than physical pain? Isn’t that a use of psychological pain for the sake of breaking their will in respect to some sort of deformation of it within them? One even sees this more positively in military training or sports, where one does indeed get physically and mentally “broken down” in order to train and form one’s will and ability positively to develop the right habits and standards. We do break down the will/self-possession of the protester, using pain to get them to do what they should lawfully do (not talking about the recent episode making headlines, which may or may not have been unjust/disproportionate) and disperse.

    For that matter, again, traditional use of spanking children would seem to be torture, as one part of this is not simply punishment but does indeed involve using physical pain to break their will in respect to the temper tantrum they are clinging to, or a continuous instance of defiance of authority. It is certainly in some way dehumanizing, and I’m not saying this would be right or wrong. But it would seem to fall within the definition. Even a series of “time outs” is used often not just as punishment for action but in order to use psychological pain in order to quell little insurrections. The goal here is to teach self-mastery, true.

    So more to the point, we are dealing with the ticking time bomb scenario (which I have never read the church outright condemning) in which the person is using their will and self-possession in order to withhold information that is vital to the saving of lives. I still fail to see how using pain (especially of the sort we use today, such as water boarding which doesn’t leave permanent mark and has not at all been proven to cause severe and lasting physical and mental harm) within strict conditions and procedural limits to obtain this information is wrong in principle. Again, as I said above, it is similar to twisting an assailant’s arm in order to get them to drop their gun.

    We aren’t trying to sever points of contact within them as persons permanently or entirely. We are trying to temporarily make them lose self-mastery in order to get them to give us what they owe us, which they are hiding within themselves.

    I go back and forth, but that’s the devil’s advocacy as it stands in my noggin right now.

    • thenyssan said,

      November 25, 2011 at 4:14 pm

      “…no one would see that as creepy.”

      I would. Your position on punishment strikes me as quite odd. I have to break my son’s will so that he’ll pick up his toys or stop screaming? I have to destroy that thing in him that makes him human so that he can become more human? The example of taking care of the mentally ill is even more disturbing. Stopping people from smearing feces on themselves is not coterminous with breaking their wills so they won’t smear feces on themselves. The latter is evil.

      As far as I can see in your above post, each time you say “break the will” you go on to describe thwarting an act of the will. Perhaps this just goes back to one of my earlier comments to James. There’s a big difference between thwarting the will (or trying to change it, quickly or over time) and destroying it.

    • Brandon said,

      November 25, 2011 at 5:11 pm

      I still fail to see how using pain…within strict conditions and procedural limits to obtain this information is wrong in principle.

      I find this an interesting statement, and closely connected to thenyssan’s point about the conflation between breaking someone’s will and resisting or thwarting it. Why would you think that James’s statement implies that this statement would be incorrect? Nothing he has said is inconsistent with it. The only way this is relevant to your argument is if you are claiming that in such cases the only wa to use pain “within strict conditions and procedural limits” is to use pain to break someone’s will. But this seems implausible. Why would we insist on the “strict conditions and procedural limits” clause in the first place? Well,one obvious answer would be to protect their rights and dignity as human beings. And this gets back to James’s original point, by way of the question, “How in the world could it be consistent with human rights and human dignity to break that which makes them capable of human action? So it seems very much that once you introduce the “strict conditions and procedural limits” clause you’ve conceded the entire argument, at least as far as basic definitions go. As far as particular practices go, of course, this is why prudence is essential to moral life, because there are endlessly many circumstances that could be taken into account; but once we’re at that level, we’ve gone past the question of how torture is to be defined.

    • balong2000 said,

      November 30, 2011 at 2:41 am

      Is breaking the will of another always evil? It seems to me that this is a central aspect of waging war. War is the violent contest of mutually opposed and irreconcilable wills. It is that shortcut to peace, or at least concord, which gets over obstacles by killing them.

      • MikeFlynn said,

        November 30, 2011 at 4:34 pm

        There is an important difference between breaking the will and bending it. Or frustrating it. Consult a tree sculpture who can explain the distinction between constraining the branches to grow a particular shape and chopping down the tree.

  10. Brandon said,

    November 25, 2011 at 5:28 pm

    Incidentally, James, it occurs to me that your approach here has the benefit of showing as well why we usually have a sense that extreme forms of totalitarian propaganda is evil and somehow connected with torture; at its extreme totalitarian propaganda is an attempt to prevent a person from being dominus sui actus, even though it is not a direct assault in the way torture is, being more focused on the enslavement of the intellect insofar as it is a precondition for choice. Hannah Arendt in her work on totalitarianism somewhere notes that intellectuals who have freely come to agree with the ideology of the totalitarian regime never fare well under it, and argues that this is because their very agreement is a threat to the regime — such intellectuals are treating participation in the regime and agreement with its ideology as something they have the ability and right to choose, and this is unacceptable to the totalitarian die-hard.

    • November 25, 2011 at 8:19 pm

      Reading this, I was reminded of Winston’s verdict on Syme in 1984. Syme is in the midst of explaining just how enjoyable it is for him to work on Newspeak, i.e. he takes a genuine intellectual thrill in trying to pare down vocabulary to its bare essence. Somewhere in the midst of Syme’s discourse, Winston suddenly realizes that Syme is a dead man. The very enjoyment he is taking in his job makes him too human to be allowed to exist in the a totalitarian world, which can only allow degrading or dehumanizing pseudo-pleasures: mechanically produced porn, rotgut alcohol, fetid brothels, violent movies, cheap cigarettes and spectacles, etc. but can never allow actual pleasures, that is, things that are pleasant human beings as human. And so what Arendt says about assent of the will also applies to the right operation of the will, sc. to those things that are pleasant in themselves.

  11. November 26, 2011 at 2:14 am

    “So it seems very much that once you introduce the ‘strict conditions and procedural limits’ clause you’ve conceded the entire argument, at least as far as basic definitions go.”

    No, I don’t see that I have. I did consider dropping this because it might lead to this exact confusion, but the qualification needs to be put there in order to stop the counter “so according to your argument all things are lawful” bit that inevitably comes next.

  12. November 26, 2011 at 2:45 am

    “There’s a big difference between thwarting the will (or trying to change it, quickly or over time) and destroying it.”

    That’s a difference I want to learn more about. I think KSM’s will is still intact, no? So what “broke”? Maybe this word is the problem here. I don’t see destruction involved. Didn’t we just temporarily sever the connection from deformed reason to will through pain in order to obtain what was justly ours? And how is this harmful for his soul, to reveal information that saves lives that would be a horrible and morally repugnant act for him not reveal? Again I bring up the example of using a submission hold to force an assailant to drop their weapon: is that torture? Why or why not? I have used physical pain to stop this person from being in control of themselves, right?

    “I have to break my son’s will so that he’ll pick up his toys or stop screaming? I have to destroy that thing in him that makes him human so that he can become more human? The example of taking care of the mentally ill is even more disturbing. Stopping people from smearing feces on themselves is not coterminous with breaking their wills so they won’t smear feces on themselves. The latter is evil.”

    When people have a deformed will, we substitute the reason of another in some way for them. In order to do that, some element of force or coercion is generally necessary, and this often involves pain to the person in question. If there is a breaking, it lies not in the destruction of their reason or will but in disrupting their “hold” on what is evil. Call it what you will…but that’s what I’m wondering about.

    “I have to destroy that thing in him that makes him human so that he can become more human?”

    No, you have to stop him from doing what he wants to do, because what he wants to do is wrong. Sure, he is human because he has this power over himself. And he is worse than a beast, as Aristotle would say, when he abuses that power. You cannot treat him as fully human or possessed of his dignity anymore. You have to become his reason at that point. You will have to stop him from abusing his lordship over himself. Do you think he will willfully relinquish that control? Obviously, if you try doing that without using force of some kind (which is going to be painful for him in some way) things won’t work out well for you.

    “The example of taking care of the mentally ill is even more disturbing. Stopping people from smearing feces on themselves is not coterminous with breaking their wills so they won’t smear feces on themselves. The latter is evil.”

    How do we stop them from doing this when they want to? We stop them from doing what they want to do, and we often do this in ways that inflict pain. We forcibly move people around. We prevent them from ruling themselves, because they cannot do so well, and we do this using force. Again, we don’t completely destroy their faculty or power over themselves. That would be evil. But in stopping them we sure as hell destroy their faculty or power over themselves in respect to the action in question, in some respect and temporarily, right?

    Clearly there are differences between these examples and the ticking time bomb. I bring them up because they reveal to me that this is a matter of degree when it comes to preventing someone to rule themselves. One does “smash” or “destroy” the malformed will, but not the will entire. We don’t even possess that power. But I think that what James means is that in torture we cut or sever entirely our lordship over ourselves on account of the personal and non-physical nature of the information that is being withheld in the person’s soul in a way that is far more extreme or complete than normal.

    Anyhow, in the TTB our aim is to obtain information that is rightfully ours. We use a submission hold on the person to get them to drop that information in order to save other souls possessed of the same dignity, at least in principle, as that of the vicious man in question. Given that we frequently deprive people of the very thing that makes them human (their self-rule) in order to get them to change their habits or even just to prevent them from harming themselves and others, I don’t see the point yet at which we can say “thus far and no further.”

  13. November 26, 2011 at 2:55 am

    “And this gets back to James’s original point, by way of the question, ‘How in the world could it be consistent with human rights and human dignity to break that which makes them capable of human action?'”

    Because (and this is what drives me nuts about these debates) you have ignored the fact that we aren’t talking about fully operational parts. We aren’t talking about a person acting consistent with their rights and dignity. So yes, we do temporarily substitute our reason for their own. We do take away their capability for human action in some respect and temporarily. Hell, we do this ALL THE TIME. And it would be consistent with human rights and dignity because we do so in order to save lives worthy of those rights and that same dignity (our end is just) and we do so in such a way as not to irreparably harm that which makes the guy being tortured capable of human action. In fact, by torturing them haven’t we in fact at least made them take a human action? Because they do the right thing by turning over the information, correct? Although this would only be credited to them to the extent that their ability to handle the pain was lessened by some moral qualms. At least, withholding the information is an action that makes one worse than a beast.

    I have no dog in this fight, really. But by convincing and explicating this to me maybe you can address objections that people are going to have.

    • Brandon said,

      November 26, 2011 at 11:46 am

      We aren’t talking about a person acting consistent with their rights and dignity.

      I ignored it because it is obviously irrelevant; that someone acts inconsistently with their rights doesn’t they mean they don’t have them — in fact, quite the reverse, since it implies that they have rights with which they act inconsistently. Likewise, it still seems that the only reason for ‘strict conditions and procedural limits’ on the use of pain in interrogation is human rights connected with human dignity; having conceded that there should be such strict conditions and procedural limits on such a basis any attempt to break that in virtue of which they have human rights and human dignity is itself inconsistent. Nothing whatsoever that you have said gets around this. Your reason for why it’s consistent is simply irrelevant as well: it doesn’t prove that we are acting consistently with the rights and dignity of the person being interrogated to say that we are acting consistently with the rights and dignity of other people. That I am smashing John’s face in would not be proven consistent with respect for John if it were shown that I were doing it out of respect for Joe.

      In fact, by torturing them haven’t we in fact at least made them take a human action? Because they do the right thing by turning over the information, correct?

      The answer is that this is an obviously bad inference, for the same reason that my slamming on your hand so that it presses a button that saves someone else means I have made you engage in the human action of saving that person. I engaged in that action; you just were the instrument of it. In such a case your will wasn’t really involved, and so wasn’t harmed. But here it is. The entire question of whether the act is a human action is whether it is a voluntary action proceeding from them as principle; thus the mere fact that they give the information tells us nothing about whether it was a human action. The ability to do it voluntary, and thus to engage in it as a human action, involves the ability to resist compliance. If, recognizing that superior force is arrayed against them, they opt voluntarily to comply in light of that information, there has been no breaking of their will. If I really have broken their ability to resist internally, nothing they are doing is genuinely voluntary — they just have no more ability to resist being made an instrument of the torturer’s ends. In a sense, when we’ve reached such a point, we have found the point at which human action comes closest to demon possession: a person is being made an nonvoluntary instrument of alien ends. The torturer possesses the tortured.

      The same point can be put in terms of responsibility, if we take the trouble to avoid the ambiguity of the term; for to whom do we actually impute primary responsibility for having delivered the information that saved the lives in question? Certainly not the tortured: the information was given despite them.

      And, of course, it may well be that we won’t actually end up breaking their will, and that they will in fact deliver it voluntarily; likewise there may be cases where, through no fault of our own, we break their will in the course of doing something we didn’t realize would do so; but morally what matters is whether we intended to break their will.

      I fully understand that it’s good to anticipate opposing arguments; but you seem not to grasp the fact that James’s point cuts through the standard sorts of arguments you are making by (1) being inconsistent with some assumptions that they make which allow for equivocation; and (2) providing a diagnosis for where they become inconsistent and incoherent. It is this that needs to be addressed; reiterating the same old arguments won’t work here.

  14. November 26, 2011 at 3:16 am

    “I think you’d want to get into some more detail on mastery-removal and mastery-limiting.”

    True. All I’m pointing out is that usually in these debates, people defend torture in a ticking time bomb type situation, and I fail to see how the definition rules that out. I think the definition has truth to it, but poking around like this can help clarify it. In responding to it a few things seemingly became clear to me, but again

    I just don’t see this definition necessarily deciding one thing or another about the recent debates, in case it is not clear from the above, because waterboarding KSM (assuming it is the ideal situation, etc., etc.) does not seem to me to break his will in any irreparable way nor is the intent to break his will but rather to retrieve information he is storing unjustly. One does not seek to break his will entire but to temporarily disjoin his will from his reason in respect to an evil action he is performing within himself. You stop the pain, and (if there is no irreparable harm) he ends up regaining his self-mastery having done what he should justly do and you get the information. Something like what Gil S was pointing towards above.

  15. November 26, 2011 at 3:26 am

    And I agree with the point of the post, which is that a refusal to try to define torture is ridiculous…that such a definition can be reached, and further, something like what James says here, for whatever it is worth, seems to be true to me as well as a definition. I just jumped to the conclusion here in the comments that for a lot of people reading this water boarding or the like in the Ticking Time Bomb scenario would be considered torture, and I’m not so sure this definition rules that out. The problem seems to rest on whatever we mean by breaking someone’s will or self-mastery completely or entirely.

  16. November 26, 2011 at 12:39 pm

    “I ignored it because it is obviously irrelevant.” Well, you have such a right to make that judgment, but the reason for which I claimed it was relevant has not been answered my anyone here. In fact, my central argument has not been directly addressed yet by anyone. All you do above is try to fit what I said into a pre-packaged cliche from these tiresome debate while sidestepping the core of my questioning.

    “that someone acts inconsistently with their rights doesn’t they mean they don’t have them”

    Yes. I don’t think anyone would disagree with that.

    “in fact, quite the reverse, since it implies that they have rights with which they act inconsistently”

    Have to be careful here. How do we possess rights and dignity? That’s a complicated matter in itself, because obviously we take away these rights in some respect and in some manner from people all the time, and obviously children and others don’t have the full capacity to use them, but surely your overarching point wouldn’t be in dispute.

    “Likewise, it still seems that the only reason for ‘strict conditions and procedural limits’ on the use of pain in interrogation is human rights connected with human dignity; having conceded that there should be such strict conditions and procedural limits on such a basis any attempt to break that in virtue of which they have human rights and human dignity is itself inconsistent. ”

    No. That does not follow at all. “The only reason for ‘strict conditions and procedural limits’ on the use of pain in interrogation is human rights connected with human dignity.” Yes, ultimately.

    “having conceded that there should be such strict conditions and procedural limits on such a basis any attempt to break that in virtue of which they have human rights and human dignity is itself inconsistent.”

    This is what is in dispute. What does it mean to “break” that in virtue of which they human rights and human dignity? That is what I am asking. Apparently it is all very clear to all of you, but it is not clear to me both 1) because I think “break” may be a strong word here in the KSM scenario for reasons stated above multiple times that have not been addressed and 2) because I don’t see the clear difference between this and other lesser forms of causing pain for reasons stated above multiple times that have not been addressed and 3) my main question: aren’t we “breaking” something that is wrong and/or is being used wrongly in order to get him to release his grip on what is owed to us? This is precisely why it is indeed very relevant that he is acting inconsistently with his rights and dignity, because IT IS PRECISELY IN THIS RESPECT that we are “breaking” his deformed will.

    “it doesn’t prove that we are acting consistently with the rights and dignity of the person being interrogated to say that we are acting consistently with the rights and dignity of other people.”

    I agree. That’s just an add-on to what I say above. A reminder in context but not something that proves anything one way or another.

    “That I am smashing John’s face in would not be proven consistent with respect for John if it were shown that I were doing it out of respect for Joe.”

    No, it wouldn’t necessarily But of course, going back thousands of years, we start our study of what is just towards others by realizing that what is just in one situation is not just in another depending on the state of the other person. The famed example that Plato, Aristotle and the rest all use goes right to the heart of this. Your claim is a tall order here. You need to show that an action is intrinsically wrong, and that’s usually a tough thing to prove.

    “The answer is that this is an obviously bad inference, for the same reason that my slamming on your hand so that it presses a button that saves someone else means I have made you engage in the human action of saving that person.”

    I hesitated to say this too for fear it would be misunderstood. My point here (as I tried to make clear given the qualifiers that come immediately afterward) is that you have not forced them to perform anything wrong. Technically speaking the action you force is just. Obviously it is not wholly theirs.

    “The torturer possesses the tortured.”

    This bit goes to what I am asking about. Isn’t what generally happens here is that the tortured decides that he can’t take any more pain and thus reveals all? This is not like some sort of hypnosis or something, which you all seem to be making it into in an odd way. The reason you inflict pain is so that the tortured decides he cannot take it anymore and needs it to stop and so reveals the information. At least, that is the scenario I’m talking about.

    “If I really have broken their ability to resist internally, nothing they are doing is genuinely voluntary”

    Is that even possible? Even in the case of demonic possession? I don’t think that is possible wholesale.

    “but morally what matters is whether we intended to break their will.”

    As I say, the definition seems fine but we need to investigate what breaking their will entails and means, especially in the scenario that everyone debates about. There seems to be a lot of gradation here that is getting ignored.

    If I’m making the same old arguments above, no one has yet responded to the heart of them.

    “Although this would only be credited to them to the extent that their ability to handle the pain was lessened by some moral qualms. At least, withholding the information is an action that makes one worse than a beast.”

    • Brandon said,

      November 27, 2011 at 5:11 pm

      Again, your central argument, unless it is something that is just not at all clear from the way you’ve argued it, doesn’t need to be addressed in this context because it is irrelevant. The topic of the post is the definition of torture, and in particular, James’s proposal of a definition in terms of the Thomistic account of human action (that’s the ‘lordship’ part of the original post). Part of the whole point of his proposal, I take it, is that this gives you a definition that is fairly precise without being at all ad hoc. Any discussion of the breaking-the-will part of the definition has to be understood in this light, or it is attacking a straw man; something very specific is being identified here. This gets into the whole issue, raised by thenyssan, of your treatment of any foiling of the will as synonymous with breaking the will of the person in question; what people have been trying to point out to you is that you need to show that your examples along these lines are breaking the will in James‘s sense of the phrase, not your own, and his, unlike yours, is connected to a fairly precise account of human action.

      The definition James is proposing is an intentional description in terms of the object or end of the action. Ticking time bomb scenarios, however, by their logical structure presuppose — they do not establish it — that either torture admits of no definition with well-defined boundaries, or that if it does so the boundaries are not determined by reference to the object or end of the action; this is the assumption with which James’s proposal is inconsistent. Thus they typically involve no consideration of anything beyond the consequences and the actual interrogation technique — indeed, they rarely make any distinction whatsoever among different kinds of interrogation techniques — and they do not leave room for any significant ethical differences arising from (e.g.) how far you are willing to go (whether you actually get there or not) or how you regard the person you are interrogating or whether you are being negligent in terms of allowing them room to make a morally right decision. They abstract from anything beyond generic features — what makes it a ticking time bomb scenario is precisely that the problem is formulated in terms of consequences (pain to the interrogated, death or life to the victims), not intentional objects. This guarantees that they are hopelessly muddled as ways of assessing James’s proposal; they do not characterize the situation in terms of the information that would need to be considered in order to assess the distinctive features of James’s proposal.

      These are the two main issues. There other incidental issues. For instance, I think your suggestion that we can torture people into voluntarily handing over information, besides being paradoxical to first sight, implies an account of our self-control in the face of pain that is implausible; human simply do not have that degree of control over ourselves in cases of extreme pain, and it would leave in perplexity cases James mentioned above, in which people seem to have been alienated from their ability to do something voluntarily. But these sorts of issues are secondary.

      • November 27, 2011 at 11:02 pm

        1)

        “Any discussion of the breaking-the-will part of the definition has to be understood in this light, or it is attacking a straw man; something very specific is being identified here. This gets into the whole issue, raised by thenyssan, of your treatment of any foiling of the will as synonymous with breaking the will of the person in question; what people have been trying to point out to you is that you need to show that your examples along these lines are breaking the will in James‘s sense of the phrase, not your own, and his, unlike yours, is connected to a fairly precise account of human action.”

        I was asking about the sense of the phrase by providing examples and asking specific questions. But since these are seemingly all considered irrelevant, and the phrase is seemingly close to self-evident in meaning, by all means please expound more on what this “fairly precise” account entails by saying more about what breaking down the will means in this context and provide some specific examples of what it is and is not torture given this definition. I was unclear as to whether James meant this to be a definition that all sides would and should accept or whether it was one that all sides should accept.

        2)

        “The definition James is proposing is an intentional description in terms of the object or end of the action.”

        Yes, and that’s nifty. Makes a lot of sense to do that.

        “Ticking time bomb scenarios, however, by their logical structure presuppose — they do not establish it — that either torture admits of no definition with well-defined boundaries, or that if it does so the boundaries are not determined by reference to the object or end of the action”

        I look at them as a kind of event within which a famous recent incident falls that actually happens every so often in real life. An example of a disputed question. So one can apply a definition to them and see what happens in order to seek understanding. Any definition of torture ought to be able to be applied to such a scenario to help clarify things.

        “They abstract from anything beyond generic features — what makes it a ticking time bomb scenario is precisely that the problem is formulated in terms of consequences (pain to the interrogated, death or life to the victims), not intentional objects. This guarantees that they are hopelessly muddled as ways of assessing James’s proposal; they do not characterize the situation in terms of the information that would need to be considered in order to assess the distinctive features of James’s proposal.”

        Er, why can’t we bring what we want into the scenario…the exact scenario that is actually in dispute in real life? But since I’m not getting through to anyone, maybe you could walk me through how you think the definition above would work in the KSM waterboarding scenario? What would be the significant factors and relevant issues in play? Would this definition tell us something or other about whether what happened was wrong, and what would we need to know in order to tell?

        3)

        “For instance, I think your suggestion that we can torture people into voluntarily handing over information”

        Is that what I’m suggesting? I was simply asking, and I think in good faith, what breaking someone down means.

  17. MikeFlynn said,

    November 26, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    I’m wondering if A Clockwork Orange might have something relevant to say regarding good intentions and the prudent choice of means.
    + + +

    I noted that one respondent questioned the attempt to define torture as a ploy used by those who want to justify it. This is often true: one senses the definer as trying to discover how close to the edge of the abyss he dares to sidle; in which case he is already on the wrong side of it. (How badly can we mistreat this man before we must call it “torture.”)

    OTOH, those who question the effort to define the terms of the debate often have a complementary motive: The desire to call some things “torture” which actually are not.
    + + +

    One may break another’s will through various acts of accommodation, pleasuring, pampering, and other “positive” means of operant conditioning. Might this, too, qualify as a kind of torture?

  18. Boethius said,

    November 26, 2011 at 2:57 pm

    It seems when considering actions permissible to do to others to break their will when they are an adversary you should not confuse torturous interrogation techniques with self defense techniques (twisting an arm to drop a weapon). Interrogation is by nature a search for info not already possessed, thus the torturer is working with the unknown and the person being tortured may turn out to know nothing, or in cases even be completely innocent. An immediate self defense situation is known and the action is direct to prevent self damage (twisting the arm of a gunman). If someone is tortured for something already known, then this would seem to be simply punishment or vengeance.

    • November 27, 2011 at 11:12 pm

      “It seems when considering actions permissible to do to others to break their will when they are an adversary you should not confuse torturous interrogation techniques with self defense techniques (twisting an arm to drop a weapon).”

      Thing is, the claim is that what is going on is not torture (defined as inherently wrong by definition). Your argument above is prudential, of course, and not principled. Do you know there are bullets in the gun of the assailant? Heck, do you know it is a real gun? Etc., etc., But point taken. It may be the case that you are never certain enough with torture. But if you are (I think the KSM waterboarding is a good example of this) and if the tortured do have information that is going to lead to more deaths because they are an attacker and actively working to attack you…well….

      “If someone is tortured for something already known, then this would seem to be simply punishment or vengeance.”

      Agreed! But we still speak about it as “torture.” However, I don’t think anyone defends that anymore.

  19. Jim S. said,

    November 27, 2011 at 7:35 am

    1. I agree with those above that torture does not need to consist of physical pain. Not only because there are non-physical forms of torture, but also because there are physical forms of torture that do not cause pain. Part of the issue with water-boarding (which may or may not be torture) is that it does not involve any physical pain; rather it induces the gag reflex which is extremely uncomfortable, and which in turn induces panic.

    2. I also think that “breaking the will,” “breaking one’s self-possession” is not necessarily an evil thing. Small children sometimes tie up their self-possession with rebellion and bad behavior. The parent’s job is to break that. It would be immoral for the parent to allow her children to continue with that rebellion and bad behavior. Moreover, some people are weak enough that their self-possession can be broken very easily and the person who breaks it wasn’t trying to do anything that severe. Someone who’s claustrophobic may be broken down by putting him in jail; it doesn’t follow that claustrophobic criminals shouldn’t be put in jail.

    • Brandon said,

      November 27, 2011 at 5:25 pm

      Someone who’s claustrophobic may be broken down by putting him in jail; it doesn’t follow that claustrophobic criminals shouldn’t be put in jail.

      It does matter, though, whether you put him in jail in order to break him down; and it matters, too, if you know about this problem, whether you take it into account at all in determining what to do with him.

      (The parenting case isn’t breaking the will in James’s sense. In fact, it’s precisely this difference that distinguishes good and bad parenting in the face of child rebellion: consider a parent who beats his child into submission so that the child not only is no longer rebellion but is no longer even capable of resistance. In justification he could say exactly the same thing you say on the subject, because the terms are being used very loosely in order to describe what good parents do in the face of their child. They don’t ‘break the child’s will’ in the sense used here; that would be breaking their child psychologically. No rational parent sets out to handle childhood rebellion by smashing his or her child’s capacity for voluntary action, even though that would, indeed, fix the problem of voluntary disobedience.)

      • November 27, 2011 at 11:25 pm

        “consider a parent who beats his child into submission so that the child not only is no longer rebellion but is no longer even capable of resistance”

        Could you say more about the difference? Clearly a desire to take away my child’s will entirely is disgustingly evil. But to take away a bad will one does have to stop their will from willing the bad thing and one has to use force in some way to do so. So there is a sense in which you do want to “break” a will willing evil. So, again, what does “break”.mean and entail?

        “They don’t ‘break the child’s will’ in the sense used here; that would be breaking their child psychologically.”

        What is the sense used here?

        “No rational parent sets out to handle childhood rebellion by smashing his or her child’s capacity for voluntary action”

        Indeed! But at the same time, we often take that capacity away for the sake of their protection and formation. I realize that this is not what you are talking about when you speak of “breaking the will” but I’m simply like to know more about what that means and how you conceive of it.

      • Brandon said,

        November 28, 2011 at 12:00 pm

        The sense of breaking the will used here, as I have repeatedly noted, is the sense of alienating one’s act from voluntariness, and is the sense in which James used it in the post, and is the sense in which breaking the will would be related to an attack on the human being as dominus sui actus and thus capable of human action, as understood in the passage from Aquinas both James and I already linked to. There is no mystery here; it has been stated more than once by James.

        I am not at all clear what you mean on the parenting point. The inability of a parent to distinguish between a breaking of the will that takes away the capacity for voluntary action and a correction of the will that still allows for voluntary action would be a sign of moral incompetence. The former is abuse; and it is baffling for someone to talk about good parenting in terms that describe it as an attack on such a fundamental feature of human personality as the will. No rational parent tries to eliminate the capacity of a child to will evil, because the capacity of a child to will evil is simply the capacity of a child to act of his or her own will. Parental correction is a teaching or training of a child so as to be able to act well of his or her own will; if it has this as an aim, it involves no breaking of the will, but, in fact, encouraging of it to tend toward its natural object more consistently. If it does not have this as an aim it is abuse and torture of the child, by the nature of its object.

      • MikeFlynn said,

        November 28, 2011 at 5:39 pm

        Perhaps some are confusion teaching or training with operant conditioning.

  20. November 28, 2011 at 1:51 pm

    Heh. Okay, I guess it is all very clear. Problems solved via definition. No need to apply the definition to specific examples to explicate things further, I guess.

    If all you want to talk about is intention, that’s fine. If someone wants to rid someone else of the entirety of their capacity to be lord over their own self simply speaking with physical pain, I guess you have a definition of torture. But the problem is that no one is going to claim that. They are going to claim that they perform certain actions that have that effect IN RESPECT TO SOME PARTICULAR fashion for another larger reason or purpose entirely. In other words, they aren’t going to claim that they wish to reach into the soul, metaphorically speaking, and completely disconnect the reason plug from the will socket and leave it broken. They are going to say that they are trying to get some specific information that ought to be theirs in defense of the lives of their countrymen, and in this process they apply pain to a defective will and reason precisely in respect to where it is defective until the guy gives up that specific information. What you would say in response is what I’m looking for. If all you say is, “Nope, you broke their will and therefore what you did was intrinsically evil and this is self-evident” then there isn’t much further we can go.

    You can say that your definition of torture is torture and since torture is wrong torture is wrong till the cows come home, but to defend the definition you would have to show the objector what breaking the will means in the context of physical pain and why it is always wrong and why this is what they intend and do. A good way to do that would be to distinguish more precisely the difference between breaking the will in the sense you mean it and other forms of confronting an evil will and training it, etc., by way of specific examples, and in some detail.

    Of course, we take away the capacity for voluntary action all the time externally via removing the occasion of sin and removing the kid from the occasion, never mind putting the kid in time out as punishment, which is experienced as a horrible pain for the child, never mind when we directly confront their will when it desires evil defiantly in the fact of proper authority. So you are missing something from the definition that both of you have alluded to but needs to be drawn out more, I think. But that’s just me. Your answer will be as it has been, that it is clear that a good parent doesn’t ultimately want to get rid of their capacity to choose good and evil entirely. Fair enough. But neither does a “good” torturer in the TTB/KSM scenario. But, you say, that is precisely what he does. Okay, well what does he do in that scenario? Intention is not enough here.

    Eh. Another time.

    • November 28, 2011 at 2:07 pm

      I’m an ornery dissertation writer in the midst of a slump, in desperate need of coffee. So maybe in a few days it will be clearer to me and whatever ghosts I’m wrestling with here will dissipate.

      Anyhow, a definition this is and it sure seems worthy of application and working out.

    • thenyssan said,

      November 28, 2011 at 3:13 pm

      James and Brandon are not trying to “define away a problem.” The blog is Just Thomism and most of what James says comes from a very comprehensive (often intimidatingly so) grasp of what Thomas has taught. In this case, the main material is ST I-II Q6; you’ll eventually have to bite the bullet and digest I-II Q8-10 and even I Q75-83. And that’s just the material in the ST (but more than enough to keep any reader busy for a while).

      The core issues you raise come down to “what is the will?” and “how does it work?”; James is presenting from a tradition that has a pretty worked-through examination of those questions and it doesn’t always match up with the way we often talk about those issues nowadays. That fact doesn’t settle anything but it does mean that if you want to grapple with the idea James is giving here, you’ll have to bone up on some Thomas. James can’t teach an Aquinas seminar in every combox (although I think he’d rock it pretty hard).

      After you give it a few days (always good advice when it comes to internet exchanges), I’d look at ST I-II Q6 in some detail or maybe I Q82-83.

    • Brandon said,

      November 29, 2011 at 4:34 pm

      This seems to be an absurd response. The problem addressed in the post was whether torture admitted of definition. This was very explicit. James proposed one, in terms of a Thomistic account of human action, in which the object of the action figures prominently. This was also explicit. Any response to or assessment of it cannot (1) assume without argument that torture is indefinable; or (2) assume without argument that the definition of torture must not be defined in terms of the object of the action; or (3) appeal to scenarios in which no information about the object of action is available; or (4) take the terms in any senses other than those fixed by the Thomistic account of human action. These restrictions are simply logical requirements of the problem and proposal as they were set up; anything violating them commits the fallacy of ignoratio elenchi.

      Likewise, and for exactly the same reasons, the kinds of responses that would potentially be suitable as candidates for refutations of James’s proposal admit of only a limited variety:

      (1) an actual argument on general principles that torture is impossible to define;

      (2) an actual argument on general principles that torture is not definable in terms of the object of the action;

      (3) a scenario in which all the information about the action that James’s proposal requires is available where there is a good argument, on general principles, to treat it as torture when James’s proposal wouldn’t, or to treat it as not being torture when James’s proposal would;

      (4) an actual argument on general principles that there are insurmountable problems with the Thomistic account of human action.

      Any of these are legitimate responses; and with (3) there were, for instance, suggestions in above comments about complications raised by psychological torture and the like, which might on closer analysis require at least some adjustment of the definition. BUt note that (3) is the only response on which details would have more than a supplementary role. This is, in fact, what will standardly be the result in any argument over whether a definition is a good one — details will only matter when accompanied by general arguments showing that those details in particular are the most important or most relevant details, because precisely what a definition does is abstract from incidental details.

      It really makes no sense whatsoever to complain about people solving the problem by definition when the problem was whether a thing could be defined.

  21. November 28, 2011 at 4:03 pm

    I don’t think James is trying to define away a problem in the blog post (quite the contrary). Nor do I think that Brandon is trying to do so, although I wonder if that’s not what he has effectively done at times in the comments. I was wondering about the definition applied and whether or not it would make a certain kind of torture torture or not, because it seemed that various commentators seem to think that this definition solves the entire debate in some way.

    “The core issues you raise come down to ‘what is the will?’ and ‘how does it work?'”

    I guess so, in part. I’m pretty ignorant of a lot of things. I was asking about and wrestling with examples of torture in light of this definition that lay out how these notions are being conceived of. Is a request for a more detailed explanation of the definition in a specific context out of line?

    I doubt, given my ignorance already on the matter, that reading St. Thomas on the will is going to make self-evident how this definition suggested above works in reality, especially in light of the fact that the Church hasn’t exactly been clear on this issue for centuries, and certainly not during the time of St. Thomas himself. But maybe latent in St. Thomas is something that makes the definition of torture clear (that much sounds reasonable!, and the definition above is certainly plausible!) and maybe given extended reading and study of St. Thomas the application of this definition in various situations will become self-evident and I’ll realize that it is obvious given the tenets of Thomism what torture is and is not in the circumstances I am wondering about, despite the complex historical reality of the history of the Church on the matter, which was just caused by fallen human nature as well as people who don’t read and understand St. Thomas, and my internal dispute will be at an end. That is entirely possible, and I don’t mean to suggest it just in jest or sarcasm. It is entirely possible.

  22. November 28, 2011 at 4:31 pm

    What “breaking the will” means in the context of torture, for instance, is to force the person through pain to reveal information that they are hiding within them. If your son refused to tell you where he’d taken the family car at 16, you might ground him until he revealed to you/broke down about where he had been. Obviously, this is very different than torture of the kind we are talking about. But the question is in what way the KSM scenario is different in kind or not from such a scenario, and the definition itself doesn’t reveal the answer to me immediately, and that’s part of what I’m asking about.

    There are several factors at play. One is what is causing the pain and how it affects the person. Someone who “broke easily” from holding within them what they owed to the proper authority under hardly any pain might easily be able to make a sort of voluntary decision after a fashion like your son. But it might be that it would still be wrong due to the fact that in some way waterboarding or whatever caused the pain was disproportionate or in itself did something internally to the person in some intrinsic, line crossing way. That seems to be the claim.

    Another is intent. It could be that the answer just depends on the intent of the torturer, and if they weren’t intending to break the entire will of the person tortured but were only trying to break their hold on the information specifically in question they wouldn’t be torturing, as how can one break what is broken? Or they are “breaking” something being ill-used for the sake of its proper use.

    I don’t get why any of these are stupid questions that require reading St. Thomas on the will to be easily answered.

  23. November 28, 2011 at 5:13 pm

    All I want is someone to apply this definition to an example of a disputed instance of torture and explicate how it informs or reshapes the debate, both for the sake of that debate and in order to better understand the definition.

  24. November 29, 2011 at 6:33 pm

    1) James offered a fascinating and seemingly useful definition of torture as “the use of physical pain to break the will of another, where ‘breaking the will’ (which can mean more than one thing) means “breaking ones self possession…”

    2) I made a rather obvious and general objection to clarify the meaning of the definition, knowing it was kneejerk, offering other examples where someone might think we were breaking the will of another but we all agree it is okay, because I wanted more distinction. James denied that these examples were breaking the will in the sense he meant it by replying that none of my examples were to “smash ones entire self-possession and power over themselves.” So he added the word “entire” to the definition and again (reasonably!) pointed to intention.

    3) I responded by agreeing that such an intention would surely be torture but that “the only defense of torture that makes any sense is to get the person to proffer information rightfully owed to the proper authorities that threatens the common good. The goal is not to take away self possession entire, but in respect to the specific information they are withholding.” This amounts to asking what “entire” means in his description of the definition, as it could mean a number of things, and to try to start putting the definition to to work.

    4) No one has responded to that, or explicated how the Thomistic notion of self-possession would work in a specific instance of torture.

    I’m not going to apologize for asking this question, or wanting to see further explication of the Thomistic account of definition such that it better reveals what is and is not torture, or wanting, God forbid, to play with this definition out loud in blog comments even if I’ve been unclear at times. Arguments and my own ignorance don’t bother me when I’m searching for answers, especially among friends. What disgusts me are the responses.assumption of ignorance, not a single good faith effort to respond to what I say, and the pretense that somehow it is self-evident that the Thomistic notion of lordship over one’s self makes what is and is torture clear in a given instance without a more detailed explanation that applies the thought of St. Thomas in ways he never explicitly did.

    From this definition one might go places, as it were, and make things clearer. But if it was the case that all I had to do was go read St. Thomas on the will and self-possession, which is a complicated topic, and then apply that easily to a complex situation such as TTB/KSM scenario, and all would become clear, then perhaps someone in the last 700 years might have already done that before. I throw questions like that out to crowds like this for a reason. And no, I’m not making light of the proffered definition. In fact, it seems entirely plausible. That’s why I had the audacity to start making comments about it.

  25. November 29, 2011 at 6:40 pm

    I agree with you Brandon, that the post gives a good standard or starting point by which to judge what is torture and what is not in the context of the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas. I would be interested in you or anyone else like you who thoughtfully blogs on such topics to apply and explicate this standard in more detail.

  26. balong2000 said,

    November 30, 2011 at 2:13 am

    I can see no substantive difference between “torture,” like waterboarding a terrorist who has information about a impending attack, and a parrent spanking their child. It seems to me that finally these acts are only accidentally distinct. In either case violence is used in order to get someone else to act right—that is, in accord with the authentic requirements of the common good. Now it may not be prudent or particularly friendly behavior to waterboard someone but I don’t see any intrinsic evil in the act.

  27. matthewjpeterson said,

    November 30, 2011 at 12:13 pm

    Well, balong2000, the answer being given is that something in the nature of torture as defined by James, if THAT sort of violence or force is being inflicted, is intrinsically wrong. Since, obviously, you’d agree that–I for one would give you the benefit of a doubt knowing that you are a rational person desiring to know–there must be limits to the violence done in both cases, certainly, but we’d both like to know more about them.

    There are at least two major issues that I’m curious about. “As stated above, acts are properly called human, inasmuch as they are voluntary. Now, the motive and object of the will is the end. Therefore that circumstance is the most important of all which touches the act on the part of the end, viz. the circumstance ‘why': and the second in importance, is that which touches the very substance of the act, viz. the circumstance ‘what he did.'”

    1) So there’s the why. In torture, we know that we are forcing someone to divulge information with physical pain and surely in some way we are thus making them lose self-mastery. Surely bearing down on WHY is important. After all, we haven’t quite proven why doing this is intrinsically wrong nor gone into detail into what we are saying torture does. This is important because it seems that the claim is there is something about the act that makes the reason why we do it and the circumstances irrelevant contrary to what those who support the disputed instances of torture claim.

    Oe has to consider what, exactly, makes the force or compulsion in question wrong. We might not intend in torture to fully break what is human in someone, and “It is possible, however, that an act which is one in respect of its natural species, be ordained to several ends of the will: thus this act ‘to kill a man,’ which is but one act in respect of its natural species, can be ordained, as to an end, to the safeguarding of justice, and to the satisfying of anger: the result being that there would be several acts in different species of morality: since in one way there will be an act of virtue, in another, an act of vice.”

    So many actions, such as smashing someone elses face in, are generally wrong but may even be meritorious in various circumstances (such as when fighting with someone who aims to killing myself and my family I end up breaking his cheekbone with my fist and this pain incapacitates him. When I give that example, or sundry others like it, the madding crowd doesn’t drown us out with snide cries of “consequentalism, consequentalism!”

    I’m not sure about the intentional side of the definition. One could say that it doesn’t matter whether one intends to entirely break self-possession, because the act itself in respect to getting the tortured to fork over the information desired must or might break self-possession fully in order to work, and in that case it would be wrong, and then we could move on to discuss why this is so in depth and the “what it is” question below. Or not.

    Even then, however, how do we know it is intrinsically wrong always and in all specific instances to separate one’s possession over oneself? The plausible claim is that this self-possession is what makes us human and hence this sort of torture is to break what intrinsically makes us human. Yet a couple of questions might arise as to how, specifically, this wrong. We perform some actions without vice in ways that don’t fully involve our mastery over ourselves, and we sleep and are sometimes in medically induced comas, etc., and often law and various authorities restrain us justifiably from acting as full masters of ourselves. So we might wonder about how this definition works in this respect, as we are forcing someone to perform an action that isn’t properly human in respect to the way they are performing it, but it is unclear whether this sort of compulsion is necessarily sinful simply because of how St. Thomas describes what makes us human. In torture we are intending to get something that ought to be ours for the sake of self-defense and (say with waterboarding) by separating this possession over self in some way seemingly temporarily and without permanent damage to the person involved (although we are inflicting great pain). Again, it might make a great difference if what we desire out of this is to get the person to do what they ought for the sake of saving lives rather than simply desiring to break their will entirely. There are a lot of different ways one could go with this, from invoking double effect to saying it changes the nature of the act and asking the question is in no way irrelevant.

    2) In torture, we know that we are forcing someone to divulge information with physical pain and surely in some way we are thus making them lose self-mastery. Surely bearing down on HOW we do this is, the “what it is”, is exceedinlgy important to make any sort of case either way. I’m not clear on what exactly happens when we torture. For starters, “As regards the commanded acts of the will, then, the will can suffer violence, in so far as violence can prevent the exterior members from executing the will’s command. But as to the will’s own proper act, violence cannot be done to the will.” So the will, even in torture, properly speaking has a certain inviolability about it. Even torture can’t completely possess someone and make the soul a puppet in this sense, although it might tend towards that or try to do that or effectively or practically speaking do that. What is actually happening in torture involves fear and the notion of voluntary and involuntary in the context of various kinds of pain inflicted would have to be considered carefully in order to make all this clear. But I’m guessing that Brandon and James would say we are talking about something like this: “Accordingly, as Gregory of Nyssa [Nemesius, De Nat. Hom. xxx.] says, in order to exclude things done through fear, a violent action is defined as not only one, ‘the principal whereof is from without,’ but with the addition, ‘in which he that suffers violence concurs not at all'; because the will of him that is in fear, does concur somewhat in that which he does through fear.” Anyhow, the extent to which this involves breaking up self-possession and the exact way in which various forms of torture do so is not inherently clear and no one has really even begun to lay it out in Thomistic terms.

    • balong2000 said,

      November 30, 2011 at 12:58 pm

      I really don’t know what is meant to say that ‘one causes another to lose self-mastery.’ I find the way it is being used to be completely unintelligible especially when one considers what St. Thomas says in ST Ia-IIae q.6 a.4 co. and Ia-IIae q.6 a.6 co.

      • November 30, 2011 at 3:24 pm

        Perhaps this makes no sense because the discussion has reached the point where the terms have been said so much that they have turned into mere sounds and have lost the connection to the reality they were intended to describe. I’ll give it one last shot by returning back to the basic reality I am trying to define.

        How does an act of torture happen? It seems to me that what you need is some guy A who wants to keep something within himself from guy B, and guy B chooses to inflict pain on A until A’s resolve is broken. Yes, I know people can pounce in this and say “but war is about breaking resolve!” or “but spanking children is about breaking resolve!”. Very well – but the torturer wants to break something more interior and more necessary for our self-composure and self-mastery. The point of war is not to induce a state of schizoid- intensity and delirium of madness in the other guy’s leader, and if anyone were to wage war in this manner, I would call it an evil that was formally the same as torture, though it would be different materially. Again, if your intention in spanking your children is to so drive them out of their wits by pain and terror that they lose all their self-possession and cave into you will, then you are torturing your children, full stop. The reason neither of these things need to be torture is because neither is the sort of thing that allow some sort of interior composure and mastery to remain – neither action requires, as such, that you try to overwhelm or break down this interior mastery and self-possession by pain (to my mind, it makes no difference whether the pain is of impeding some natural physical process, like bodily integrity, organ function, desire for sleep, need to breathe, etc; or the psychological pain of terror, the need for human companionship, etc.)

        Again, we are not pointing to a mere difference of degree. There might be a difference in degree between the pain of spanking and a torture pain, but what makes for torture is not the difference of degree, but that interior resolve or possession that the torturer is trying to break. It is this “clash of wills” and the desire of the torturer to break into some interior secret of the will (whether information, or ones own opinions, or ones personal judgment about something, etc.) that makes him want to torture in the first place. That “breaking the will” can mean more than one thing has never been denied, but I’m still convinced that the sense was clear enough in the original post, and in its various developments in this comment thread, to divide the sense of will breaking involved in torture from the sense we find in punishment or war. Further, there is no attempt to break the will at all in giving general anesthesia, imprisonment as imprisonment, etc.

  28. arpruss said,

    November 30, 2011 at 1:19 pm

    Suppose someone pulls out five of my fingernails and then tells me that unless I give her the information she is demanding from me, she will pull out the other five. For each minute of delay in giving her the information, she pulls out another one.

    Now, we can imagine two kinds of intentions that she could have:

    A. Break my self-possession and thereby get me to babble out the information.

    B. Make really vivid to me what sort of pain I am going to be in if I do not reveal the information, and thus induce me to choose to give the information rather than suffer more of the same pain.

    Granted, acting with intention A is worse–it is more of an attack on me qua person and all that. But it seems that doing the very same physical action with intention B instead is still clearly torture. (I am not saying, of course, that any intention combined with the same physical action would be torture. It wouldn’t be torture if the person were pulling out the fingernails as part of an urgent medical procedure where painkillers weren’t available. But intention B does seem sufficient for torture.)

    I am sorry, I don’t have a better definition of torture. I’m much better at generating counterexamples than at generating definitions.

    • Brandon said,

      November 30, 2011 at 4:31 pm

      I’m not at all clear what the difference between B and A is; it seems like B’s just a more specific way in which to do A. One might put an emphasis on the ‘choose’ and de-emphasize ‘induce’, but this would then be a very odd sort of intention for the action, since it would be the sort of thing (encouraging free choice by overwhelming someone with pain) one would only expect of a genuinely deranged person. And I’m not sure it really is the case that we would attribute ‘torture’ without qualification to deranged people; it seems plausible to me that they only are engaging in torture in the sense that they are doing either the sort of thing that is, in fact, what someone would do if they intended to torture.

      But we have to be careful with scenarios like this, anyway, because we need to avoid cross-contamination from two sources. Consider lying — some things that are externally indistinguishable from lying might well have been performed without a lying intent. These are things we would call lying, but we would call them lying as a matter of practical convenience — only God and, perhaps, the person in question would be able to distinguish what they did from lying in a proper sense. So (1) we need to distinguish cases that we would call torture solely on the basis of the actual elements of the action from those we would call torture because they are for practical purposes just like such actions. And the other source of cross-contamination is from issues of negligence, since we fairly regularly people of things not because they deliberately did something but because they neglected to do the sort of thing that would avoid that external kind of action. Thus, for instance, Bulver in Eliot’s Middlemarch can be said to murder Raffles not because he had murderous intent, but because he voluntarily neglected to avoid the sort of thing that could have been done with murderous intent. There was no murderous intention, but there was a willing neglect of the sorts of things that would necessary for avoiding going too far (or not going far enough); and the negligence had pretty much the same effect as any murderous intention. So (2) we need to distinguishes that are torture because of the character of the action from cases that we would call torture because people neglect to do what they should have done to prevent an action with nontorturous intention from including the sorts of things that go with actions of torturous intention. Both the apparent and the negligent cases are morally important, of course; but in matters of definition they need to be clearly set aside. Indeed, we need to know the definition before we can properly evaluate the appearance and negligence cases.

      This is part of the reason that it seems clear to me that counterexamples grounded only on intuitions won’t be adequate for making any sort of progress on this question. Intuitions don’t make well-defined distinctions between X and indistinguishable-from-X-for-most-practical-purposes, nor do they make clear distinctions between X and failure-to-avoid-the-sort-of-thing-that-would-prevent-having-effects-like-X; indeed, this is pretty notorious. What we would need to back up a counterexample in this sort of case (or indeed most ethical cases) is not intuitions but principles of moral psychology.

      • December 1, 2011 at 1:37 pm

        When people bring up counterexamples, it may be that they are not trying to attack anyone or vomit out their intuitions, nor is the burden on them to provide an entire theory of Thomistic moral psychology upon which to base their words: that’s what they are asking about, for God’s sake. What if they asked because human knowledge proceeds from more known to less known, and thus people bring up counterexamples, trying to triangulate, seeking to understand what is new to them, etc., etc., and get at the very principles in question. They might want more precision in an account, and thus ask a very precise question that should be easily understandable and answerable by anyone proffering a definition.

        That was a very clear question that has in various ways come up many times, and isn’t it very understandable that someone might ask that question given this discussion? Can you answer this last question? Can you see how someone in good faith might ask what arpruss just did, for very good, rational reasons in pursuit of the truth of reality? What did this question have to do with intuition?

      • Brandon said,

        December 1, 2011 at 2:26 pm

        The question is what is logically required by the problem set, not what they are trying to do. Establishing what is required for a counterexample to a definitional claim is necessarily more complicated than doing so for a counterexample to a nondefinitional claim, for precisely the reasons definitions differ from nondefinitional judgments generally, or classificatory claims differ from claims that already presuppose a classification. Likewise, the counterexamples proposed in this context are not to “Thomistic moral psychology” but to the proposal of a definition. This is, again, explicit in the context. People can feel perfectly free to reject such a moral psychology; my point is that there are no counterexamples on this subject whose interpretation will be independent of principles of moral psychology. If a counterexample to a definition based on Thomistic moral psychology is proposed as in some way obvious, or independent of issues involving disagreements over moral psychology, it can only be as a counterexample internal to Thomistic moral psychology, and then it must be examined on Thomistic principles; if it is not an internal but an external counterexample, one must look at how it would be interpreted differently on Thomistic principles and show why those are wrong or problematic, or else the principles of moral psychology on which the interpretation of the example is built must be identified and defended. Otherwise the example has not been established as a genuine counterexample. Again, this is a matter of relevance and logic; there’s no getting around it. The same would be true of any other definition on any other set of principles. Balong2000’s suggestions along these lines are internal, and so reasonable candidates, but must be examined on Thomistic principles; Alex’s could be taken as internal or external, and that needs to be determined and evaluation proceed accordingly.

        As for Alex, he is quite capable of taking care of himself on the subject, and being, as he is sometimes jokingly called, Mr. Counterexample, I have no doubt that he took no offense in the matter; it comes with the territory of counterexample-giving. Likewise, he would know exactly what I meant by intuition, because it’s a common methodological word in contemporary philosophy, one closely associated with philosophical use of counterexamples. In any case, as long as anyone insists on claiming that they have a counterexample, I’ll feel perfectly free to look to see if they’ve established what would be required for it to be one, and point out if I think there is any point at which they have not done so. If they think otherwise, they are free to disagree, and I’ll disagree back if I don’t think they’re right. Proposed counterexamples are a beginning of discussion in matters of definition; they are nowhere near the end.

  29. balong2000 said,

    November 30, 2011 at 3:57 pm

    Once again I think that the notion of “breaking self-possession” is metaphysically unintelligible. Indeed on the basis of what Thomas says in ST Ia-IIae q. 6 aa.4-6 I would have to say that the sort of thing your claiming is happening when someone is tortured is quite simply a metaphysical impossibility. Consider what Thomas says in ST Ia-IIae q.6 co.:

    “I respond: As the Philosopher says in Ethics 3—and Gregory of Nyssa says the same thing in De Homine—things that are done out of fear are a mixture of the voluntary and the involuntary. For what is done out of fear, considered just in itself, is not voluntary, but it becomes voluntary in the given case, viz., in order to avoid the evil that is feared. However, if one thinks about this matter correctly, actions of the sort in question are voluntary more than involuntary (magis voluntaria quam involuntaria), since they are voluntary absolutely speaking (voluntaria simpliciter), whereas they are involuntary in a certain respect (involuntaria secundum quid). For each thing is said to exist absolutely speaking insofar as it is actual, whereas insofar as it exists only in one’s apprehension, it exists in a certain respect and not absolutely speaking. Now what is done out of fear is actual insofar as it is done; for since acts are numbered among singular things and since a singular thing as such exists here and now, what is done actually exists insofar as it exists here and now and with other individual conditions. But what is done in this sense out of fear is voluntary insofar as it exists here and now, since in this case there is the obstacle of a greater evil that was feared; for instance, to throw the cargo into the sea during a storm becomes voluntary because of the fear of danger. Hence, it is clear that this action is voluntary absolutely speaking. The concept of the voluntary also applies to it because its principle is internal.

    On the other hand, that fact that what is done out of fear is taken to be repugnant to the will when it exists outside of this particular case has to do only with our thought. And so the action is involuntary in a certain respect, i.e., insofar as it is thought of as existing outside of this particular case.”

    • Brandon said,

      November 30, 2011 at 4:52 pm

      Once again I think that the notion of “breaking self-possession” is metaphysically unintelligible.

      Since we’re dealing with intentions this is not necessarily a problem; people can and sometimes do have intentions to do the metaphysically impossible. Indeed, this often seems to be the case with horrendous evils.

      But I’m not convinced the ST 2-1.6 passage is relevant to the case here at hand. It seems to be article 5, not article 6, that is relevant (cf. also the reply to objection 1 in article 6).

      In any given case, of course, someone might actually give in through fear rather than through collapse of the ability to resist, but this is incidental to the question of whether we are dealing with an act of torture or not (much as whether people are actually deceived is incidental to the question of whether someone intends to deceive them). Article 6 would be relevant if torture is characterized by nothing other than the object of scaring people in the hopes that they will give the information, as some sort of dangerously unrestrained bad cop routine or an interrogation bluff that has been taken very, very far. But it would still leave out cases where the intention is, in fact, to break people so that they can’t resist.

    • November 30, 2011 at 5:23 pm

      But the question of torture is not a question of whether fear makes an action voluntary or not, since the proper tool of torture is not fear. Torture as we are defining it divides on the use of physical pain or terror, which alienate us from sense, and sense is the principle of judgment. Physical pain and terror have different effects than fear, and these effects are relevant to an the evaluation of the voluntariness of the act. The voluntary character of the one under torture can therefore also be compared to the voluntary character of actions we have in dreams and not just to the voluntary character of actions done from fear, and St. Thomas has a pretty extensive account of the suppression of voluntary action in dreams because of alienation from sense. This body of texts needs to be looked at too.

      But even if the action is voluntary in an absolute sense, it is still wrong to create extreme conditions under which one someone voluntarily gives into incontinence. This is to directly intend to create those circumstances by which we make someone, by their own lights, sin against their own conscience and resolution, and in so doing we strike against the very possibility of the virtue that perfects voluntariness. This is another way we spoke of above as harming or wounding self mastery. To syllogize: incontinence is clearly contrary to self-mastery or being a dominus sui actus, and torture directly and per se intends to cause the act of incontinence, therefore, etc.

      • balong2000 said,

        November 30, 2011 at 6:16 pm

        “The voluntary character of the one under torture can therefore also be compared to the voluntary character of actions we have in dreams and not just to the voluntary character of actions done from fear…”

        I see no reason to think this is true — unless of course, hypnosis is taken to be a form of torture.

        “But even if the action is voluntary in an absolute sense…”

        Indeed it is voluntaria simpliciter.

        “…it is still wrong to create extreme conditions under which one someone voluntarily gives into incontinence. This is to directly intend to create those circumstances by which we make someone, by their own lights, sin against their own conscience and resolution, and in so doing we strike against the very possibility of the virtue that perfects voluntariness.”

        When you say, “…create those circumstances by which we make someone, by their own lights, etc.” I think you have effectively destroyed your analogy to the involuntariness of dreaming. For, if one is acting “by their own lights” they are not dreaming or in any like state of involuntariness. It seems to me, that in torturing the goal is precisely the generation of a movement of the will to some end that would otherwise have been unreachable without the application of violence.

        Now I may not be following what you’re saying, but would it be in keeping with your position to say that this application of violence to the will and thus on the conscience of the one to be tortured is wrong because it requires, on the part of one doing the torturing, the desire to deprive another of the free use of the faculty of reason, at least to some degree, which is finally contrary to the nature and, therefore, the very dignity of the one to be torture?

      • November 30, 2011 at 7:38 pm

        But hypnosis is not the infliction of physical pain to break the will of another! How can it possibly be torture by my definition?

        But to develop my point: there is a very good reason to compare torture with the alienation from the senses in sleep or extreme fatigue, namely that sleep deprivation is a surprisingly ideal form of torture, which we can see from reading the testimonials of persons actually tortured. One of the first things Solzhenitsyn says about torture is something to the effect of “how can I possibly express to you how effective something that seems as benign as sleep deprivation is!” He also mentions others testifying to the same effect: that though it seems like the last thing one would think of as torture, it proves itself to be torture par excellence – a tool that could overcome even the strongest moral resolve. This dovetails perfectly with what St. Thomas says about the alienation of the senses during sleep, which easily extends itself to states of extreme exhaustion. But why keep to just texts? Appeal to you own experience: do you find your actions are perfectly voluntary during extreme exhaustion? What if this exhaustion were stretched out, not for moments, but for days? Furthermore, doesn’t all torture contain an element of fatigue or exhaustion of the victim? Torture is not just the pain, but the sense that the pain will go on and on and on…

        Torture need not always proceed by the same principle: it might alienate from sense or it might create circumstances under which incontinence manifests itself when the victim is subjected to abnormal stresses on his power of resolve. Either seems like a possibility (this came up early on in the comment thread). Either way, one is seeking to strike against the interior act of determination and self-possession of the will.

        I think I would be in general agreement with your last paragraph.

      • balong2000 said,

        November 30, 2011 at 9:01 pm

        It seems to me if torture is to be carried out it would only be legitimate to be carried out by one who has charge of the common good. In fact, I would be inclined to view torture as an act annexed to the legitimate power of a sovereign to make war. In any case why couldn’t we say something like this: Nothing prevents that which is contrary to a particular nature from being in harmony with universal nature: thus while death and corruption, in the physical order, are contrary to the particular nature of the thing corrupted, they are in keeping with universal nature. It seems to me, in like manner to torture anyone, though contrary to the particular nature of the will of the person tortured (namely its claim on freedom), is nevertheless in keeping with natural reason in relation to the common good.

        In this view it seems to me that corporal punishment, such as a parent spanking a child or a master beating a slave, shares a common genus with torture. They are formally the same act though varying by degrees. Now it would not be licit for a parent to torture or mutilate their child as a form of punishment, just as the same parent could never lawfully kill their child. This is simply a matter of applying St. Thomas’ principle: “The greater power should exercise the greater coercion.” (ST IIa-IIae q.65 a.2 ad 2) St. Thomas explains further, “Now just as a city is a perfect community, so the governor of a city has perfect coercive power: wherefore he can inflict irreparable punishments such as death and mutilation. On the other hand the father and the master who preside over the family household, which is an imperfect community, have imperfect coercive power, which is exercised by inflicting lesser punishments, for instance by blows, which do not inflict irreparable harm.”

      • Brandon said,

        November 30, 2011 at 6:53 pm

        I see no reason to think this is true — unless of course, hypnosis is taken to be a form of torture.

        The ‘unless’ clause here certainly wouldn’t follow; torture under the definition considered is not any alienation from sense but the attempt to deliberately force a kind of alienation from sense for a particular purpose.

        Likewise, on the ‘by their own lights’ point, I take it that James’s point is precisely that they are not acting by their own lights, but being made to do something they themselves would regard as a failure of their will and resolution (i.e., is ‘by their own lights’ in the sense of ‘as they themselves would see it).

      • December 1, 2011 at 2:00 pm

        “This is to directly intend to create those circumstances by which we make someone, by their own lights, sin against their own conscience and resolution, and in so doing we strike against the very possibility of the virtue that perfects voluntariness.”

        Can you say more about “sin against their own conscience and resolution”? Forcing them to cease doing something horribly evil is causing them to “sin” against themselves and strikes “against the very possibility of the virtue that perfects voluntariness”? “Sin” is an odd word to use here. Surely you can see why, at least upon its face, someone might wonder about such a claim.

        Does incontinence properly speaking not refer to good and evil, but to how every man perceives good and evil in his own heart?

        I haven’t forced them to be virtuous, but they have now done the right thing, right? I’m breaking a perverted pose of the will, after all. Hard to see how, again, I have severed or broken anything internally except temporarily, in which case a broke a relation between things for a brief time and in a specific respect that puts things back they way they ought to be. The will is no longer in a perverse hold on what is damaging (surely it can’t be good for their soul, either, to be holding onto the info…although granted we aren’t attempting nor likely succeeding in making him virtuous). If someone is going to exercise the virtue that perfects voluntariness and self-mastery, they probably shouldn’t be holding onto the information in their heads about killing innocents as hard as they can. This is suffering for the sake of evil/the martyrdom of the devil. I suppose that one could make the case that if one did this frequently to someone over the course of a long time one might do habitual damage in some way to their soul, but everyone agrees those gulag type examples are torture and evil and no one is arguing for such a circumstance.

        The defense of torture, such as it is, can only exist in the realm of self-defense, I think, because of human dignity claims such as those you all make. But the question is whether or not it is intrinsically wrong in each and every case.

        “To syllogize: incontinence is clearly contrary to self-mastery or being a dominus sui actus, and torture directly and per se intends to cause the act of incontinence, therefore, etc.”

        Isn’t a perverted and evil resolve of the will to murder innocents and a refusal to save them contrary to self-mastery or being a dominus sui actus?


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