After writing on such controversial issues as abortion, physician-assisted suicide, and embryonic stem-cell research, Frances Kamm turned to the ethics of torture, terrorism, and war. Her new book, Ethics for Enemies, is adapted from Uehiro Lectures given at Oxford University by Kamm, the Littauer Professor of Philosophy and Public Policy.
In a chapter on torture, she focuses on using the practice against those who create lethal threats as they act and also after to stop the harm coming about. For the sake of saving a victim, at minimum, she writes, “it seems reasonable to think that if it would be permissible to kill someone to stop his act, it would be permissible to engage in some kinds of torture to interfere with his act or to get him to act differently.”
On the question of whether intentionally harming civilians to produce terror is always a wrongful act of terrorism, Kamm points to a “supreme emergency exception” that would make it morally permissible, such as if bombing civilians had been Great Britain’s only recourse to prevent Nazi world domination. She also considers “nonsupreme emergencies,” where terrorism may not be the only means to achieve an important good.
Finally, she examines whether it is possible to pursue a just cause through war, even if it results in collateral harm not justified by achieving the just cause alone. “When the harms (including fatalities) are side effects . . . additional [side effect] goods might help to justify a war by making it proportional,” Kamm argues.