Philosophy Torture
Seumas Miller
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 July 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0353


Most sustained philosophical analyses of torture are relatively recent and have been given impetus by the so-called War on Terror. Hence, these analyses tend to focus on interrogative torture of suspected terrorists. In relation to the definition of torture, a number of contemporary philosophical accounts are now on offer. Moreover, numerous detailed discussions detail what is wrong with torture. The contemporary philosophical debate concerning the justifiability of torture is dominated by two groups. There are those who argue that torture is justified in exceptional circumstances and point to so-called ticking time-bomb scenarios to support their case. Many of these theorists adhere to some form of consequentialism, such as utilitarianism; others appeal to the deontological consideration, the right to self-defense. Then there are those who argue that torture is never justified and point to the inherent immorality of torture and also to the incompatibility between liberal institutions and the legalization of torture. A third perspective combines elements of both of these two groups, namely, that torture can in some extreme emergencies be morally justified, but that torture ought never to be legalized or otherwise institutionalized.


The books on torture include monographs and edited collections. The monographs include ones on the history and practice of torture as well as contemporary philosophical treatments. A number of book length philosophical analyses of torture have appeared in the wake of 9/11 and the revelations of the use of torture by the US military in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in particular.

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