CILS – Ticking Timebomb
review of the Ticking Timebomb to use as an exam review
TICKING BOMBS AND TORTURE WARRANTS;JOHN KLEINIG”
[The ‘ticking bomb’ argument is frequently advanced to justify the use of
torture. But its terms can be taken either as setting the bar too high to jus-
tify any actual torture or alternatively as opening the door to torture in
other cases as well. The paper explores both uses of the argument but sug-
gests that any official sanctioning of torture is likely to erode moral con-
straints on its use. There are reasons why torture is special and, even if it
will continue to occur, it should not be officially countenanced. This in-
cludes the use of torture warrants, supposedly intended to limit the fre-
quency and severity of torture.]
There is a familiar argument that goes somewhat as follows:
An evil scientist, Dr Doom, has planted a nuclear device capable of devas-
tating the whole of the Melbourne metropolitan area. However, he and his
devilish plot are discovered only after the device has been activated, and it
will explode within an hour. There is no way to evacuate the area in time.
In such circumstances, would we not be justified in using whatever means
necessary – including torture – to get Dr Doom to reveal the whereabouts
of the device so that it can be deactivated?1
This paper began its life as a public lecture and still retains much of that format. I am, however,
grateful for the efforts of a colloquium at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics in Can-
berra to improve its rigour.
W Director of the Institute for Criminal Justice Ethics and Professor of Philosophy in the Department of
Law & Police Science, John Jay College of Criminal Justice and in the PhD Programs in Philosophy and
Criminal Justice, Graduate School and University Center, City University of New York. Professorial
Fellow in Criminal Justice Ethics, Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics (CSU).
1 There are many versions of the argument. The earliest version of which I am aware is found in Jeremy
Bentham’s essay on Torture (written during the period 1777-79, but unpublished during his lifetime).
An edited version is published in W.L. & P.E. Twining, Bentham on Torture, 24 NORTHERN IRELAND