Re: MD md death penalty

From: Platt Holden (
Date: Fri May 25 2001 - 21:21:59 BST

Hi Simon:
> Namely torture in this instance, although I'm also wondering what the MOQ
> says about warfare.

Pirsig justifies warfare in Chap. 13 of Lila. He wrote:

"An evolutionary morality would at first seem to say yes, a society has a
right to murder people to prevent its own destruction. A primitive
isolated village threatened by brigands has a moral right and
obligation to kill them in self-defense since a village is a higher form of
evolution. When the United States drafted troops for the Civil War
everyone knew that innocent people would be murdered. The North
could have permitted the slave states to become independent and
saved hundreds of thousands of lives. But an evolutionary morality
argues that the North was right in pursuing that war because a nation
is a higher form of evolution than a human body, and the principle of
human equality is an even higher form than a nation."
> As for torture:
> The European Convention on Human Rights states in Article 3 (an absolute
> right which cannot be departed from in any situation, including war or
> national emergency):
> "No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment
> or punishment"
> In 1971, the UK was found in breach of this by reason of having subjected
> about 12 men with suspected IRA knowledge or links to the 'five techniques'
> (these being - deprivation of sleep, deprivation of food, constant loud
> hissing noise, wearing a black hood covering the head, and being forced to
> maintain an uncomfortable position for hours on end. With intermittent
> interrogation). Not surprisingly this was considered "inhuman treatment".
> But, the techniques worked, and a lot of information was garnered about
> terrorist activities, most probably saving the lives of many innocent
> people.
> On a utilitarian view of ethics, the policeman involved were doing GOOD. On
> an individual rights-based view, they were doing BAD. So, how does the MOQ
> work its way through this ethical quagmire?

Also in Chap. 13 Pirsig makes a statement relevant to your question:

"When a society is not itself threatened, as in the execution of individual
criminals, the issue becomes more complex. In the case of treason or
insurrection or war a criminal’s threat to a society can be very real. But
if an established social structure is not seriously threatened by a
criminal, then an evolutionary morality would argue that there is no
moral justification for killing him."

Since the suspected IRA terrorists are dedicated to insurrection, to
torture them for information to help defeat their aims would appear to
moral under the MOQ though not absolute.

But, I really liked your considering the following arguments:

> Y: It had social quality, maintained solely at the biological expense of
> those interrogated. No intellects were terminated, so it was a good thing,
> no?
> Z: No, it was a bad thing, intellects may not have been terminated, but they
> were scarred to save quality.
> Y: But scarring those intellects undoubtedly saved many innocent intellects
> from being terminated. And besides, those scarred weren't exactly innocent.
> Z: They may not have been wholly innocent, but no social goal justifies
> damaging intellect so inhumanely.
> X: And think of the destabilising effect on the social level when such
> treatment became public knowledge.
> Y: You're both wrong, lives were saved, that's got to be a higher
> intellectual good than stopping 12 people from being hurt a bit.
> X: But did it actually save lives?

Unlike the human rights declarations of the UN which have no other
rationale than the musings of a bunch of politicians and diplomats and
thus carrying little moral weight and regularly ignored by UN members,
your arguments have a rational basis thanks to the MOQ. That doesn't
mean that social morality is suddenly cut and dried as your arguments
and counter arguments cleverly demonstrate. But it does mean that
morality need not depend on emanations from God or fulminations of
the mob as is presently the case. Thanks for making that abundantly


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