Thursday, October 19, 2006


One of the standard questions posed to undergraduates beginning to think about consequentialism is whether they think it would be right to torture someone in order to bring about some desired consequence. (Would it be right to torture someone to extract the information necessary to prevent a devastating terrorist attack? Would it be right to torture that person's child if it would be the most effective method of getting the information? Would it be right to torture the innocent to prevent future criminal acts? And so on.) Mostly this just generates a set of conflicting intuitions and starts the discussion.

But now we have some useful statistics to show what people generally think. The BBC report is here under the headline:
One-third support 'some torture'
Nearly a third of people worldwide back the use of torture in prisons in some circumstances, a BBC survey suggests.
That's already a bit of spin, of course, since more than half do not support the use of torture in any circumstances. But perhaps the most interesting thing about the survey is that allows you to compare attitudes between countries. A greater percentage of Italians are against any form of torture than any other nationality surveyed, while Indians are the most likely not to know whether they think all tortue is unacceptable. Of course, not much can be concluded from this -- although, no doubt we will see various camps claim support from these figures. I would like to know whether these figures would have been noticeably different if the survey had been carried out six years ago.

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