Aristotelian Verses Utilitarian Views on Torture
Professor Hugh Miller
February 24th, 2014
In examining the act of torture as either a means or an end we must delve into the idea of justice, “[t[he questions we must examine about justice and injustice are these: What sorts of actions are they concerned with? What sort of mean is justice? What are the extremes between which justice is intermediate?” (Nicomachean Ethics, Book V, p. 67). The idea of torture can be found rooted in the concept of justice by both the Aristotelian view and the Utilitarian view. Torture shall be assessed by exploring each philosophers’ definitions of justice, what constitutes a “just” act, what is considered “unjust”, and then determined if it would be accepted by or be condemned by either of the two philosophers.
As he came earlier in the time line of history, rightfully Aristotle shall be explored first. In Book II of Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle explains that virtues of character can be described as means to the ultimate end; the ultimate end being “happiness”. As he asserts, life does not have purpose without the goal of the ultimate end or “the supreme happiness” while functioning in a polis*, and therefore every action in one’s life must be made to achieve this goal, in accord with true virtue of character. Being that acting justly is considered by Aristotle to be a virtue of character, this concept must be discussed. Virtue of character comes about as a consequence of following the right/true habits. Aristotle asserts that the potential for virtue of character is not by nature, but by nature humans are capable of acquiring it (Book II, p. 18). How people behave in their lives, and interactions with other people, determines their nature and in turn determines if they are capable of true virtue of character. “This is why [people] must perform the...