At a lecture given at our own Stony Brook University, Michael Ratner asserts that "Justice is losing its power" . What Michael Ratner, the defending lawyer for many prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay, means by this daring statement is that America is losing sight of its foundations. He can witness first hand the escalating debate about torture, so central in today's media, and concludes that we are retreating back to the times before our very own constitution was drafted, back to the times before the Magna Carta. Even though we have established laws, people in such places as Guantanamo, as long as they are claimed as "prisoners of war" are neglected the right of due process and many other civil rights, standard for human beings. It is such accusations that fuel this very debate about the rights a government and its agencies have over their prisoners during wartime. For better answers to such an intricate question one could turn to philosophers, particularly the more contemporary ones that have ethical views on the matter. Two such philosophers are Immanuel Kant and Augustine, one from Germany the other from the Roman Empire.
[...] However, if Augustine's views are looked at from the Idealist standpoint then he and Kant have a lot more in common. Kant, like Augustine, was a retributivist, meaning he believed that any criminal guilt deserved punishment.[xvi] And yet he was a lot more radically egalitarian than Augustine ever was, or was allowed to be. He believed in equality, that the accused should not have fewer rights than the accuser. In general, in Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, Kant stated that he does not believe anything that is done for the sake of morality alone” could be considered moral. [...]
[...] Although he states it is immoral to torture somebody, the laws of the state are superior to such a moral argument, because one must succumb to the laws of the city in order to keep away from anarchy. Augustine's “ideal theory of punitive justice” is satisfied only by god himself, who is “omniscient and omnipotent.”[x] But, in the city of god he says people on earth are incapable of such fairness because of their own unavoidable, innate ignorance. This ignorance stems from a lack of knowledge, and it is this lack of knowledge that can pursue a morally upright judge to torture and put to death an innocent person.[xi] Even though Augustine does not believe that any innocent person deserves punishment, in his works innocent people are sometimes punished because rulers and judges may “employ whatever means necessary to maintain” the greatest earthly good, according to Augustine, peace. [...]
[...] Augustine, the fifth century philosopher, and a very important figure in modern Christian and western thought, gives many answers on what man should do with his god given free will. Augustine claims that evil is not derived from the moral judgments of man; instead evil exists when man turns away from learning.[iv] Augustine claims that the source for evil is inordinate desire or and it is the free will that god gave us that allows us to have this evil desire. [...]
[...] Although Augustine might say this is necessary to keep us from anarchy, we live in a different time than he, and are more able to follow ideals. Anarchy seems more possible on the current “Ruler abiding” path of our country, as opposed to the one. And that is only speaking of Augustine; Kant's firm belief that torture is unethical because it infringes upon the rights of an individual to achieve a larger goal tells us that he would be even more disappointed in our country today. [...]
Online readingwith our online reader
Content validatedby our reading committee