Defusing the ticking bomb

Jim Henley tackles the ticking bomb justification for torture, arguing in effect, that the result of the thought experiment is morally irrelevant because it's based on wildly unrealistic assumptions about knowledge and causality:
The features of the dorm bull session ethics symposium are perfect knowledge of the present and the default future and perfect certainty of the results of your actions. If you know A, and B will cause C, then musn’t you B?
So the ticking bomb experiment goes: What would you do you knew for sure that Mr. Terror Suspect had planted a bomb, that you knew for sure would destroy Manhattan, which will surely destroy Manhattan unless he confesses in ten minutes flat, and you're sure he'll tell you if and only if you torture him? You sure?

Even more interestingly, Henley makes the connection between ticking bomb logic and the arguments used to justify the invasion of Iraq.

Proponents of the war presented hypotheses as if they were certainties. They asked what we should do if we were sure that Saddam Hussein's regime was one big ticking bomb. Or, how we would proceed if we knew we could democratize Iraq. And so on.

Spot the assumed certainties in the trains of logic and you can see the bad institutional furniture and soiled carpets on which they were conceived.
Hat tip to Scott Lemieux.

[Unqualified Offerings, Lawyers, Guns, and Money]

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