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« Mencius on the web | Main | Nanjing, Spring 1989 »

April 29, 2009

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I understand that the current state of that controversy is that Cheney, at least, is calling for the rest of the memos to be released, which would show that good intelligence was indeed gained by those harsh techniques - possibly saving many lives. If that turned out to be the case, would you then accept the utilitarian argument for torture? My guess is that you wouldn't.

The interesting question though is whether there are the resources in pre-modern Chinese philosophy to support your moral preference. Are there, in fact, any arguments against torture in Chinese philosophy that aren't basically utilitarian? If there aren't, then could there have been? In Western philosophy our arguments are usually from appeal to various notions of 'human rights', but that wouldn't be possible for the Chinese sages. Other arguments are from the harm done to the character of the torturers: i.e. you don't want to be the sort of person who does that, so it's morally impermissible for you to do so. Is it posssible to run such an argument in the Chinese context? Has it ever been done?

As an aside, the mention of 'soldiers' in the Chang Yu quote made me think of the 'Rectification of Names' controversy concerning whether the detainees in Guantanamo, say, are 'Prisoners of War' or just prisoners taken during a war. If they are 'Prisoners of War' then one kind of treatment was said to be mandated by International li. If they are just unlawful combatants detained on the battlefield then another was appropriate. The same would be true with 'soldiers'. I have heard it said that "If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success."

"If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success."

That's George Orwell, right?

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