Since Aristotle argues that some feelings such as “malice, shamelessness and envy” or actions such as “adultery, theft and murder” are evil by their very nature (1107a9-18), we can also assume that torture in his view is evil in itself as well. The philosopher provides two important considerations leading to a conclusion that he considers torture as an absolute moral wrong. First and foremost, Aristotle argues that the evil character of those things does not depend on how strong evil feelings or how harmful evil actions may be (1107a9-18).
He believes that certain people should not be regarded morally less wrong or evil only because they are less malicious and envious than other evil people or because they steal less precious things or do not murder so many people as others do. What the philosopher tries to convey to us is that evil things or behavior should not be considered morally less wrong or more wrong compared to other evil things because they are evil and morally wrong in themselves regardless of their extent or consequences.
Therefore, any people feeling or doing anything wrong or evil are always wrong and can never be right. So torture, Aristotle would think, is an evil act and a torturer is wrong regardless of the cruelty with which he inflicts physical pain or moral suffering on his victims. Another important point in Aristotle’s argument is that there exist no circumstances in which any of the evil things or actions people commit can ever be considered right (1107a9-18). In other words, the philosopher admits no mitigating factors that could excuse an evil behavior, a crime, or any other bad thing.
In his view, the whole matter is quite simple: it is basically wrong to do anything evil and anyone doing it is wrong regardless of their motivation or circumstances. Taking this all into consideration, we can make a quite obvious conclusion: for Aristotle, acts of torture are an evil just like any other evil actions, and he admits no circumstances that could make it morally justifiable. Torture is, therefore, an absolute moral wrong and it is always wrong to inflict any physical or moral pain on someone else. Just like Aristotle, I believe torture is basically evil, and it is not morally permissible to torture other human beings.
In my view, torture in a civilized society must be considered as a shame and as a painful reminder to humanity of those ancient times when wild and barbaric inclinations in humans predominated over the better sides of their nature, such as compassion and respect for human life. Torture must be also demeaning for those who torture and, in case of modern societies accepting it, torture attests to their low cultural and ethical standards. In my opinion, human life and basic human rights are the values that can’t be violated. Therefore, inflicting physical suffering on others is utterly wrong.
However, unlike Aristotle, I believe torture is not an absolute moral wrong and there are circumstances that morally justify both the acts of torture and those who torture. There are dozens of situations when torture may be morally permissible. But in those cases, torture as a wrong act is justifiable only when it averts a much more wrong outcome, for example, a loss of human lives. Torture may be morally justifiable in case of criminals who refuse to communicate important information to the police which can save the lives of other innocent people.
It may be a criminal who had kidnapped a child, an elderly person, or a pregnant woman before he was arrested by the police and who does not wish to tell the police where his victim is locked. If no assistance is provided to the victims within a couple of hours or days, they will die. So I would not consider it to be an immoral act if one of the policemen decides to beat the criminal and wring a confession from him. It may also be a terrorist or a group of terrorists who know when and where a particular bomb attack or a series of bomb attacks will take place in a major American or European city.
In this case, if the terrorists do not confess the information, thousands of innocent people will be killed in a short period of time. Torturing those terrorists may be considered a morally permissible act since it will save many human lives. I would even go so far as to conclude that if there is no other method of knowing when and where bombs will soon explode, torturing the criminals can be considered a moral obligation. However abject torturing is to normal people, they cannot wait calmly until thousands of people will be killed knowing that they can avert this disaster.
I would like to emphasize that torture can be morally justifiable only when there is no other way to avert a much greater evil than torture is and when any delay will result in a great disaster. It does not mean, however, that the police or other law enforcement agencies should torture suspects just to wring from them the information about something which is not a threat to the lives of many in the near future. In my view, whether torture or any other evil actions are considered morally wrong depends on the values of society.
Our modern civilization has proclaimed that human life is the most precious gift in this world and has to be protected as well as basic human rights and freedoms. From this point of view, torture as something that violates these freedoms is morally wrong. But sometimes, regardless of how uncivilized and disgusting it appears to us, we have to commit one immoral action in order to avert consequences which will definitely be more morally wrong. From this perspective, torture or other evil actions are morally justifiable. The values that Aristotle proposes differ a lot from those that our modern society promotes.
He is apparently more loyal to his ideals of what is wrong and what is right rather than human life and freedoms. His attitude to evil things and torture as an absolute moral wrong can be thus understandable. If one day our civilization shares Aristotle’s values and ideals, than torture will be for us an absolute moral evil as it was for the great thinker. But for the moment, our society’s values are different and, although torture is basically a great evil that must not be practiced, I also believe that it is not an absolute moral wrong which can be justified in certain circumstances.