instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Friday, April 24, 2009

A sereous argument

I've seen a lot of arguments like this over the past several years:
The U.S. military's waterboarding of some of its servicemen as part of their training is morally acceptable. But what is morally acceptable can't be evil in its object. Therefore, waterboarding is not evil in its object. Therefore, it doesn't follow from the object of waterboarding that waterboarding terrorists is always immoral.
As far as I can tell, the above is a valid argument as long as we are not equivocating on "waterboarding": that is, if it refers to the same species of act throughout the argument.

Simply put, the argument is valid if and only if the interrogator waterboarding a terrorist is acting with the same object in mind as the trainer waterboarding a serviceman.

If the different circumstances give rise to distinct motives, then the argument can be rewritten as:
When a military trainer waterboards a servicemen as part of his training with the same object with which an interrogator waterboards a terrorist, it is morally acceptable. But what is morally acceptable can't be evil in its object. Therefore, waterboarding is not evil in its object. Therefore, it doesn't follow from the object of waterboarding that waterboarding terrorists is always immoral.
I'd grant that this is a valid argument.

Whether that first premise is true is a whole other question.

Of course, if it can shown that the interrogator's object is always necessarily the same as the trainer's object, then it only remains to establish the truth of the premise, "The U.S. military's waterboarding of some of its servicemen as part of their training is morally acceptable."

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