Monday, May 09, 2011

Additional notes on the definition of torture

Begun on March 19.

Some thoughts on the use of "compel" or "coerce" in the definition of torture.

Compel, coerce, force may be synonyms, but their usage may indicate slight (or not-so-sleight) differences in their meanings?

"Compel" may be somewhat ambiguous, as ambiguous as the definition of "torture" can be. After all, torture can be defined as the use of pain or bodily harm to compel obedience, the yielding of information, etc. -- to make someone do what they do not want to do. If a police officer uses pain to make someone resisting arrest comply with his legitimate commands, is he torturing that person? (Or if a child is spanked because he is not obeying his parents' instructions, is that torture?) Pain is used to bring someone to do something the one applying the pain wants. The same is true of force. On the surface, this does not seem like punishment for disobedience, but the use of pain or force is usually a response (and hence justified in the eyes of the law) to prior non-compliance/disobedience of an instruction or order.

"Coerce" may be less ambiguous than the other two words because in the literature the word coercion is often associated with law and government. Law coerces as well as commands. It doesn't necessarily imply a voluntaristic understanding of law; it is how the effects of law are perceived by its subjects, who may have only an imperfect understanding of the purpose of law.Does coercion involve an understanding that the consequences of not following are punishments? Punishments for disobeying a (legitimate) command? In so far as it is tied to law, I think it does. One is given the opportunity to comply, and if one refuses to do so, he is punished.

(The wiki entry on coercion. SEP. IEP on Free Will.)

How do we distinguish morally licit forms of coercion  (if there are any), getting obedience, cooperation, compliance through the application of pain and so on, from illicit forms? One could make an argument from human dignity that no one should be made a tool of another's will, but taken to an extreme, this argument (proper to liberalism) would lead to the sanctioning of disobedience and the outlawing of all consequences for that act. So is compulsion (as in the example of the police officer) to be identified with (legal) coercion and hence punishment?

In coercing the will of another, one is doing so with respect to an external act, and in particular acts of the body, whether it be to say something or to submit to an arrest.One cannot coerce the will to truly choose some opinion or belief, to assent or deny something, because we cannot confirm that this is actually the case. We can only obtain the physical representation of that belief through a verbal or written profession. Nor can we coerce the will's internal acts (desiring or loving some end). "Mental states" are hidden from us. That sort of mind control is impossible for us, and hence a non-believer cannot be effectively compelled from without to embrace the Christian faith. It also goes against the nature of the act of faith because the "grounds for belief" is not relief of pain or one's physical safety or health, but God's revealing of Himself and the acceptance of this. To say that the act of faith is or must be a free act does not go far enough, in my opinion, in explaining why it cannot be coerced. How is it free, that epistemic encounter with God?

Again, even if torture could be morally justified,  it is ineffective (according to various "experts) at procuring truth (confessions of guilt) or information.

*Compulsion presupposes that the original command was lawful - the one giving the command hand the authority to do so, the one being commanded is under his authority, and so on.

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