Consider a case where you believe that torturing the entirely innocent family of a suspected terrorist (there is no reason to believe that they have any knowledge of the terrorist’s unjust activities) may convince him to betray information that could be used to save tens or hundreds of lives.

Philosophical reflection on the nature of morality is often spurred by difficult and troubling decisions that we are called on to make or react to. Sometimes these decisions are fictional, but often they are very real. For example, there has been debate in recent times about whether torture should be permitted in certain circumstances. In the public debate, recent arguments have mostly focused on the question of whether torture can be effective, and there seems to be a weight of opinion saying that it is not. However, that leaves aside the question of whether torture, even if effective, could be morally acceptable. The purpose of this assignment is to reflect deeply on this question, while at the same time appreciating better the nature of one of the moral theories that we are studying in class.
Consider a case where you believe that torturing the entirely innocent family of a suspected terrorist (there is no reason to believe that they have any knowledge of the terrorist’s unjust activities) may convince him to betray information that could be used to save tens or hundreds of lives. This step is a last resort: all other avenues for questioning the terrorist have been exhausted.
Write an essay in which you explain and critically evaluate the Utilitarian response to this situation. By “explain,” I mean that you should explain the views of Jeremy Bentham and J.S. Mill by describing how they would most likely apply the principle of utility in this case (would they reach the same conclusion? If so, would their reasoning be the same?). By “critically evaluate,” I mean that you should take a position about the case and defend it in relation to the position taken by Bentham and Mill (you can say that Bentham is right and Mill is wrong, vice versa, that they are both right, or that they are both wrong and something else entirely is right: what matters is that you coherently justify your conclusion and fairly consider objections to it).
It is perfectly acceptable, if you wish, to perform these two tasks simultaneously. That is, it is not required to do all the explaining and then do all the evaluating afterwards. You can evaluate as you are doing the explaining. Structure the paper in the way that makes the most sense for what you are trying to say.
The goal of this assignment is to train and evaluate your ability to apply moral philosophical theories to particular cases. If all goes well, the experience will improve your ability:
To distinguish the morally salient features of a situation from those that are not morally salient
To reason about the likely consequences of possible actions in a principled fashion, coherently interpreting the implications of the evaluative criteria you adopt
To perceive fine differences between similar moral perspectives
To understand and to judge the principles behind a moral decision as well as the decision itself.
The paper should be submitted to Canvas by midnight on Friday, February 25 (please note that you are required to submit a .docx file).
Grading Criteria
An excellent paper will:
Evince a clear and defensible understanding of the views of Bentham and Mill.
Defend its thesis consistently and clearly.
Demonstrate thoughtful and morally sensitive engagement with the issue, not merely parroting things said in class.
Be organized and presented in a way that lends it maximal clarity.
Be written clearly and economically, and be free from usage errors, from unnecessary verbosity, and from contamination by a thesaurus.
Be approximately 1000 words in length, using 12 point, double-spaced, Times New Roman font, and will not employ formatting strategies to distort its apparent length.

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