KALAMAZOO—It is widely agreed among many philosophers that torture is wrong under any circumstances, but a Western Michigan University philosophy professor questions that basic premise in his newly published book.
In "Terrorism, Ticking Time Bombs and Torture: A Philosophical Analysis," Dr. Fritz Allhoff, WMU associate professor of philosophy, demonstrates the weakness of the case against torture under any circumstances. While allowing that torture constitutes a moral wrong, Allhoff argues that, in exceptional cases, it represents the lesser of two evils.
Allhoff does not take this position lightly. He begins by examining the way terrorism challenges traditional norms, discussing the morality of various practices of torture, and critically exploring the infamous ticking time-bomb scenario. After carefully considering these issues, he addresses criticisms of torture, analyzing the impact its adoption could have on democracy, institutional structures and foreign policy.
"The book adopts an unpopular position, but I think it's important to cast the torture debate within the terrorism context and to realize that, when fighting terrorism, we need to keep our options open," Allhoff says. "I hope the readers are able to focus on the arguments—and the careful tone—despite it being such a sensationalized topic."
Praise from academics
"Terrorism, Ticking Time Bombs and Torture," which was published earlier this year by The University of Chicago Press and is available at press.uchicago.edu, has generated praise from other academics.
"Professor Allhoff has written a challenging work that is sure to generate controversy among both the supporters and critics of the United States' war on terror," writes Dr. John Yoo, professor of law at the University of California, Berkeley. "He applies philosophical, legal and political approaches to deepen our understanding of modern terrorism, the ticking-time-bomb hypothetical and national security. His methodical arguments and brave conclusions will not please everyone, but it will press them all to become more rigorous in their thinking and more careful in their judgments."
Dr. Michael L. Gross, professor of political science at the University of Haifa, says the book adds much to the current debate surrounding terrorism and the use of torture.
"Allhoff broadens the torture and terrorism debate," Gross writes, "deftly analyzes exceptionalism and absolutism, probes the ticking-time-bomb scenario to surprising and controversial effect, and offers novel empirical data and a trenchant interpretation of complex legal issues."
In addition to his duties as an associate professor of philosophy, Allhoff is a senior research fellow at the Center for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at the Australian National University. He is coauthor of "What Is Nanotechnology and Why Does It Matter?"