The proposed narrative is described as follows: A prisoner with potential knowledge of a nuclear bomb that is located in North America will not disclose this information to authorities. Therefore, this scenario requires an examination of key perspectives regarding ethics that will determine whether or not torture is the appropriate alternative in this case. Since torture is highly controversial, it is not surprising that key ethical principles may be compromised under some conditions and which reflect the importance of examining the context of the torture argument in comparison to the acts that have been performed. Exploring these concepts involves the examination of ethical relativism, Kantian ethics, and virtue ethics in order to determine which option is most appropriate in this case.
From the perspective of ethical relativism, the argument is presented in the context of personal ethics and norms that are morally appropriate within a given culture. Based upon this argument, an individual with a strong Catholic background may oppose torture for this prisoner, based upon the belief that torture is morally and ethically inappropriate. This argument supports a set of cultural norms and values that dictate one’s beliefs and the lack of support for actions such as torture. An ethical relativist may consider these actions to not only be deplorable, but they should not take place within a community which practices similar beliefs. It is likely that there will be consideration of a different type of approach for ethical relativists that do not involve torture in that their cultural backgrounds will consider other feasible alternatives in lieu of this option. Under this type of culture, these actions are morally inexcusable and inappropriate and are not condoned under any circumstances. At the same time, other types of actions must be considered that will obtain the desired result, while also considering that a different culture and belief system may fully support torture in order to obtain the information that is necessary to identify the location of the nuclear bomb.

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From the perspective of Kantian ethics, it is important to establish an understanding of this dynamic and the deontological beliefs of Immanuel Kant. To be specific, the moral law is absolute and is above all individual beliefs and perspectives, serving as the law of the land, regardless of personal objectives. The concepts behind Kant’s arguments are significant because the rule of moral law is universally applicable, regardless of one’s core values and beliefs. In this context, it is important to convey that Kantian ethics do not permit diversity in opinions and perspectives, thereby shaping the manner in which decisions are made on behalf of large groups of people. Therefore, under these circumstances, torture would likely be acceptable under universal moral law, regardless of the consequences of these behaviors.

In some ways, these actions reflect the importance of an environment where moral beliefs on an individual basis are virtually meaningless and which there may be individual differences of moral opinion, but that these are inconsequential relative to the broader moral law. This argument is difficult to make in some respects because it requires all persons to be accepting of these actions and the decisions that are made, without regard for individual beliefs and preferences. Therefore, Kantian ethics are authoritarian to some degree because they aim to govern without objections. This perspective relative to torture would convey that the moral law would override any other opinions or beliefs on the matter, even if this law does not necessarily reflect the widespread beliefs for or against these actions. It is a complicated dilemma for many reasons and the Kantian perspective further challenges the moral code and the belief systems of many people. This ultimately creates a dilemma that is difficult to ignore and which requires an examination of inner principles in order to determine if they coincide with Kantian ethics. This approach also engages individuals in the Kantian belief system and how it impacts their way of thinking in different ways.

Under the umbrella of virtue ethics, it is important to recognize a person’s character above all else, rather than the actions that have taken place. By allowing the individual to take responsibility for his actions, then virtue ethics have succeeded from a broader perspective. This also recognizes the importance of shaping individual cultural values and beliefs that may have a lasting impact on decision-making. In this case, the act of torture is treated as an individual decision without true regard for consequences or the actions that have taken place. In this regard, there must be an emphasis on the individual rather than the outcome.

Virtue ethics is complicated when discussing the prisoner because his virtue is to remain silent, in spite of the damage and other consequences that it is causing for other people, including the entire continent of North America. By withholding information in this case, it poses a serious danger to millions of people; however, from the prisoner’s perspective, this reflects a careless approach that is nonetheless grounded in virtue. For this situation, there must be a precedent in place that will have an impact on the outcomes that are observed.

The prisoner, under virtue ethics, does not believe that he has any obligation to share the nuclear bomb information with any other parties. This is reflective of a challenging set of circumstances that are difficult to overcome and which pose a threat to many people. Furthermore, the use of torture is also a product of thought and analysis; as a result, it may be accepted by those who have made the decision to act in this manner but may be the exact opposite for others. This is a serious dilemma when addressing torture because it may not be accepted by the masses, but is accepted by those who are making the decisions. This disconnect may ultimately harm the greater good of the larger population, but within the context of this issue, it could prove to be useful and effective in obtaining the necessary answers to address this problem.

  • MacKinnon, B. Ethics: Theory and Contemporary Issues, Concise, 2nd Edition. Wadsworth, 2012.