Torture and the Balance of Evils
If (as the last chapter argues) criminal legislation should prima facie aim at prohibiting all and only moral wrongdoing, then the actual reach of the criminal law will depend on the nature of moral wrongdoing. Is it deontological or consequentialist in nature, for example? The general shape of our moral obligations and thus of their breach, wrongdoing, is approached in this chapter through what is known in criminal law as the issue of general justification, sometimes called ‘necessity’ or ‘balance of evils.’ This justification exists whenever the evil prevented by the doing of some act is greater than the evil of doing that act, considered by itself. The contours of this most general form of justification is taken to reveal the general shape of the wrongs that can be thus justified. A complex deontological form for moral wrongdoing is elucidated in this way, a form allowing thresholds over which consequences govern, exceptions, and limited scope, to moral ‘absolutes’ such as, ‘never torture.’
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