The immediate response to the question in the title of this article would surely be “NO”!

By torture we mean inflicting physical or mental pain to achieve some end, and the thought of it is totally abhorrent to almost all people. But what about the ends some people say justify ( makes it okay .. makes it ethical)? Of course, if I torture someone  because it gives me pleasure, that is unethical. However, what about the following scenario? I am a senior police interrogator called in because a person who has just been captured, has placed a bomb in a school classroom with 30 children aged about nine years old. The bomb will explode in 60 minutes. There is no way anyone can get into the classroom to defuse the bomb.

The person asked for £1,000,000 to be transferred to his bank account on the promise that he would give the 10-digit code to stop the countdown on the bomb. The money was transferred but the person has renaged on his promise and refuses to give the code. There is 30 minutes left before the bomb goes off.

If there is no other way to stop the bomb exploding and if there is no other way of getting the children out of the classroom, would it be ethical to torture the person to try and get the 10-digit code?  Giving justifications for our answer, one way or the other, would help clarify what we human beings mean by ethical.

Similarly in a military (war) context. If one knows a person has information that could save many of out troops’ lives, would it be ethical to torture that person. However, if we do not know if the person has valuable information, is it ethical to torture him to find out if he has any valuable information? Again, answers will help us understand what is meant by being ethical.