PHIL 6000:  War, Terrorism, and Torture

Course Description: There has been a long, intellectual tradition in thinking about the moral justification of war, ranging at least from Thomas Aquinas’s writings in the 13th century to Michael Walzer’s contemporary classic, Just and Unjust Wars. The contemporary advent of terrorism arguably challenges central tenets of the just war tradition, replacing the doctrine of preemption with that of prevention, blurring the distinction between civilians and combatants, accelerating both the speed and potential damage of attacks, and so on.  How, if at all, should these features of terrorism lead to a revision of just war principles?

In the war on terror, much controversy has emerged over the use of torture.  The Third Geneva Convention protects prisoners of war against torture, but there are at least two ways around this convention:  either by denying that it applies or else conceiving of torture in such a way  that hostile measures nevertheless fall short of it.  Should it apply?  And what is torture?  Independently of the historical and legal status of torture, we can ask whether it could be morally justified.  In particular, imagine that the torture of a terrorist will reveal actionable intelligence that is necessary for the protection of innocents.  If so, is torture permissible?  Regardless, are such scenarios anything other than philosophical fiction?

Course Syllabus (Spring 2009)