Would Confucius Waterboard?
Well, it’s now official. We, as in the United States,
torture waterboard people. Not only that, but we plan to continue to do it if the situation calls for it. To me, this is a simple case — waterboarding is torture. But although there’s plenty more that could be said about that on its own terms, I was trying to think about this in terms of Confucianism: would Confucius waterboard someone, if the situation was “appropriate”? Is torturing consistent with Confucianism?
I must be honest — I’m not positive that I know a clear-cut answer to the question (which should not be surprising, I suppose, given Confucius’ claim at 4.10 not to be “for or against” anything in advance, but rather allowing for the situation to reveal what is and isn’t appropriate).
But still, even Aristotle, a fellow virtue ethicist, said that some things could be ruled out as vicious tout court. As Aristotle put it, there are no “moderate adulterers” (he had a few other examples, but they aren’t coming to mind). Does torture fall into this category of “vicious tout court” for a Confucian? Or would it always “depend”?
Moreover, what kind of an ethical analysis would a Confucian suggest that we use? Does the virtue of the action “depend” on the kinds of results that the X act would produce, surrendering virtue to consequentialism? Or would he suggest that torturing is a violation of an essence of humanity, leaning towards a form of deontology?
What would the virtuous agent say in such a case? How would they begin to assess? Where should we begin with this kind of analysis? I’m curious to hear what “starting assumptions” people want to toss into the pot as places where a Confucian analysis of the problem needs to start.
(By the way, there’s a piece on the US decision to embrace waterboarding here in the Washington Post. A good read. Froomkin is hardly an unbiased source, but then again, you should always go do your own due diligence. )