On the Uses and Disadvantages of the Ticking Bomb Case for Life

Document Type


Department or Administrative Unit

Philosophy and Religious Studies

Publication Date

Spring 2012


The ticking bomb case is meant to challenge absolute prohibitions on the use of torture. In “Imaginary Cases,” Michael Davis attempts to show that such cases can only be legitimately employed within certain limited parameters. In this paper, I explain how the ticking bomb case, suitably revised, does not run afoul of Davis’s prohibition on impossible content. The fact that torture could elicit the necessary information is enough; we need not stipulate a guaranteed result. I also defend philosophers’ use of the case to identify our moral intuitions and to evaluate our theoretical assumptions. Although our responses to actual events are better at mapping our actual commitments, imaginary events can also reveal our pre-theoretic intuitions. Ultimately, however, I reject the use of the ticking bomb case on practical grounds, because the imaginary case distorts our moral reasoning in actual cases and leads to our acceptance of torture more generally.


This article was originally published in International Journal of Applied Philosophy. The full-text article from the publisher can be found here.

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International Journal of Applied Philosophy


© 2012 Philosphy Documentation Center