Jon Stewart channels Elizabeth Ascombe

Jon Stewart channels Elizabeth Ascombe May 7, 2013

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.

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  • Hate this little infomercial you’ve added. it reminds me of why we North Americans are such shallow, self absorbed creeps. what a waste of technology… an expensive little mirror that the guy here can look at and admire himself. do i sound ticked off?

  • Bruce in Kansas

    Wouldn’t the argument be that some form of sincere ignorance has to be considered and dismissed before Canon 915 would be appropriate? That by mistakenly thinking water-boarding is not torture Hannity is not “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin” by recommending it, just like Biden/Pelosi/Kerry who mistakenly believe aborting babies is not murder? A sort of invincible ignorance which would have to be investigated and eliminated as a possiblity?

  • trellis smith

    Even a strict liability claim requires rationales for a particular law or there would be less contesting in traffic court. You cannot just assert a moral law without demonstrating the harm that the offending action causes nor is an opinion nor ignorance nor intention unsupported by rationales a defense for an offending action.
    While I don’t know the context of Ms Anscombe’s remarks I see little evidence that intention is all important in determining the goodness or badness of an action rather it is of some importance in the attenuation of one’s culpability and perhaps the point of departure in accessing the morality of the law. The reason to divorce intention completely from a moral action assumes a morality outside ourselves when in fact (barring pathology) it is ‘written in our hearts”) and reinforced in the ethics of the community.

    • Cojuanco

      What Ms. Anscombe speaks about is whether something is moral. That is entirely different from whether something is actually legal.

  • trellis smith

    It is not necessarily nor entirely different
    In hunting with my friend and i mistake him for a duck, my intentions were to kill the duck not shoot my friend, I’m probably not legally culpable and most certainly not morally debased as my rationale was that i thought he was a duck.