The Greater Good


The circumstances to whether one should be tortured or not for the sake of the greater good is something that could weigh heavily on anyone’s mind. Under the utilitarian view, the best decision would be to torture the terrorist. This is justifiable under this view because torturing the terrorist would inevitably yield crucial information benefiting the larger community. In Kantian duty based ethics, the focus would be to uphold moral laws, which would result in not torturing the terrorist for the sake of the moral virtuosity. In virtue ethics, the path to the result is discerned, but whether one takes a position on it being right or wrong is irrelevant, as long as the achieved outcome is beneficiary and good. Like utilitarianism, torture would be permissible under this view because the outcome is good, but the means in achieving it, may be questionable to certain individuals or societies. 

As for Christian-principle based ethics, the means are always what is right, even if the end result isn’t good. However, what is different from this view and all others, is that there comes a time when one must consider several aspects that are intrinsic to the Christian belief system. These are justice and love, and they are defining facets within the system that will help the individual or group make the best decision for the greater good. For this particular ethic, since torturing someone is wrong, and the outcome of not torturing the terrorist may result in an attack that could kill a large number of people, the best decision would be to torture the individual in order to save many lives from certain death.

I believe Christian principle-based ethics would be the best alternative in a situation like this because once one weighs out the motives, actions and circumstances for the individuals and greater good, they will choose the lesser evil in order to thwart the greater evil from taking place. I personally don’t believe torture is good or morally right. Torturing, more often than not, yields results which are useless to the interrogators because the one who is being tortured arrives at a certain mental state, especially after long periods of the process, will almost always say anything to get people to stop, even if it is untrue. This would have little impact on the desired results for the individual or group and end up minimizing any greater good while accentuating the lesser evil.

Holmes, A., Ethics: approaching moral decisions, (Downers Grove, Intervarsity Press, 2007).