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Interrogation and TortureIntegrating Efficacy with Law and Morality$
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Steven J. Barela, Mark Fallon, Gloria Gaggioli, and Jens David Ohlin

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780190097523

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190097523.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 18 January 2022

Reclaiming Bentham on Torture

Reclaiming Bentham on Torture

(p.435) 16 Reclaiming Bentham on Torture
Interrogation and Torture

Steven J. Barela

Oxford University Press

Nearly two and a half centuries ago, Jeremy Bentham presented a moral challenge to the absolutist view on eliminating torture in all circumstances—written in the privacy of his study and never published during his lifetime. Although three sentences of his utilitarian argument for torture in limited situations have become quite well-known (often equated with the ticking bomb scenario), Bentham’s view on torture would be greatly served by a more nuanced understanding of his sometimes-contradictory opinions, the development of his thought, and the context of his writing. This chapter aims to provide a fuller view. We will find four main points well worth highlighting: (1) Bentham was strikingly indecisive about the effectiveness of interrogational torture; (2) he keenly touched on the same questions that drive scientific research today; (3) he worried that torture could open the door to tyranny; and (4) he struggled to find the proper standard of “certainty” that could trigger the government’s use of severe pain and suffering. In the long run, the trigger softened as Bentham identified the insurmountable hurdle that we can only suspect what resides inside a prisoner’s mind. As a result, I will suggest that a moral epistemic duty was implied in his work and would require that when choosing subjects for questioning, we must begin with a presumption of innocence as the innocent and ill-informed will inevitably wind up under questioning.

Keywords:   Bentham, torture, ticking bomb, context, effectiveness, scientific research, tyranny, certainty

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