[lit-ideas] Re: Is torture wrong by definition?

  • From: "Andy Amago" <aamago@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Fri, 7 Apr 2006 10:05:04 -0400

> [Original Message]
> From: Donal McEvoy <donalmcevoyuk@xxxxxxxxxxx>
> To: <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
> Date: 4/7/2006 5:53:54 AM
> Subject: [lit-ideas] Re: Is torture wrong by definition?
> --- Andy Amago <aamago@xxxxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:
> > By your argument, as I'm understanding it, nothing you say can have
> > meaning, because, as I'm understanding it, none of your words can be
> > on, which is to say, defined.  As far as torture goes, the word wrong
> > not appear in the definition, but certainly torture would appear on a
> > of attributes of what can't be present if civilization were to flourish,
> > which is how I understood Omar's point.  
> Ah! But you are not understanding the argument I fear. For example, you
> responded to my post which contained no definitions (not even of
> 'definition'). If it were a post _without any meaning_ (a mere 'white
> as it were) you could hardly have responded in the meaningful (though, I
> suggest, mistaken) way that you have. That it clearly has a meaning,
> it offers no definitions, defeats your opening point.
> The post pointed out that the _persistent_ demand for definitions in
order to
> to establish meaning is _logically incoherent_ because it leads
> (logically/inevitably) to either an (unsatisfactory) infinite regress or
> circularity. You fail to challenge, or perhaps even understand, this.
> The last point you make on behalf of OK may be alright if we water-down
> thesis - but so watered-down it has nothing to do with definitions being
> integral to meaning and so does not attack my attack on the idea that
> something _substantive_ can be proved _by definition_. 
> If not watered-down this last point (I suggest) is plainly open to many
> objections, for example:- sad to say, but true, some form of coercive
> structure is endemic to any "civilisation" - and "torture" is simply not a
> clearly defined term but somewhere along the continuum of coercive
> behaviours. Second, it is in fact quite possible to have a quite
> sophisticated "civilisation" and yet there is "torture" beneath the
> (consider, one example among many, the ancient Romans; the Elizabethans;
> modern Iraq). [In fact, why don't you name one sophisticated
> that was entirely without coercive structures or even "torture" - and
> how this model works and can be generalised?].
> Please understand: "torture" is _at best_ a necessary evil (in my view,
> anyway). I am not at all defending "torture" (except, sometimes, as a
> necessary evil) or suggesting it is the aim of "civilisation" to promote
> torture. On the contrary I am (implicitly) defending Popper's view that
> central aim of "civilisation" is to reduce violence and suffering.
> But I do not think the serious fight against violence and suffering is
> by saying that these, or even "torture", are wrong _by definition_; and I
> still  suggest it is wrong to say that they are wrong _by definition_.
> are things to be opposed rather than promoted - but not, please God help
> by something as flimsy and lacking in substance as definitional arguments.

I think I get your point, that it's the "by definition" that you're
objecting to.  I still don't quite see how not knowing specifically what a
word means (i.e., defining it) is helpful in either thinking or discourse,
and especially in policy decisions.  Most acts are not thought through.  A
place to start in the thinking process is with definitions.  But, I won't
belabor the point. 

Civilization can still be "sophisticated" if torture is used, but what is
the point of having torture?  Is it not to make someone come around to
one's way of thinking?  Is civilization optimally served by using control
methods like torture?  Is torture a sophisticated, civilized activity?  For
Omar, the Romans did come in contact with other civilizations, but mostly
to fight them in order to conquer them.  Are you serious about civilization
being advanced by razing Carthage?  Maybe we should define what the hell is
a human?  A featherless biped that loves to inflict pain, having secondary
accomplishments like pictures and sonnets and buildings when resting from
the primary occupation, destroying and inflicting pain.  How's that for a

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