Feel the pain — within limits
February 17, 2010 § 8 Comments
A punishment, even a punishment of life imprisonment or death, is necessarily and in principle limited. The suffering inflicted through torture is deliberately not limited: as far as the victim knows it could go on forever, and he has no notion — even if there are formal rules in place limiting it — to what extent it is limited. Indeed, letting him know its limits devalues it tremendously, as those who objected to release of that information will be quick to tell you.
Torturing someone to death as distinct from licit execution might seem to pose a special problem here. But on reflection I don’t think so, since the behaviors chosen in torturing someone to death are objectively suffering-maximization behaviors, distinct from licit killing-the-guilty-as-representative-of-the-common-good behaviors. If the punishment is death, then torture is by definition a means disproportionate to that end, so it fails both on intrinsic immorality and as disproportionate means.