Jon Stewart channels Elizabeth Ascombe
In one of his regular pieces on Fox News, Jon Stewart recently played a clip of Sean Hannity loudly proclaiming that the Boston bombing suspect should be waterboarded. He defended this by saying that he did not believe enhanced interrogation was torture.
This was Steward’s answer: “You don’t believe enhanced interrogation is torture? Because torture, like Tinkerbell, depends on if you believe“?
Without knowing it, Stewart hit on a profound point here, taking on moral reasoning based on a personal and subjective approach to intention.
Here is what Elizabeth Anscombe had to say about that: “Now if intention is all important – as it is – in determining the goodness or badness of an action, then, on this theory of what intention is, a marvellous way offered itself of making any action lawful. You only had to ‘direct your intention’ in a suitable way. In practice this means making a little speech to yourself: What I mean to be doing is…”
Of course waterboarding is torture. So are the other enhanced interrogation techniques. They have always been regarded as torture, and always will be seen as torture. Deploying the Tinkerbell approach doesn’t make this go away.
Incidentally, I’m still waiting to see those who support the Burkean approach to Canon 915 call for the likes of Hannity to be denied communion for public support of torture, an intrinsically evil act of high moral gravity.