Skip to content

Charles Fried, Heaven: What Sense Can It Make to Say That Something is Absolutely Wrong, 59 UCLA L. Rev. 60 (2011).

Abstract: Democratic legal systems and international human rights norms hold generally that torture can never be justified, however urgent the need. Many, but not all, thinkers about morality agree with this consensus. But the certainty breaks down in the face of catastrophic, “ticking bomb” hypotheticals, and lawyers and moralists retreat to arguments about the unreality of such hypotheticals and about the uncertainty as to whether torture is sufficiently likely to work to justify its use—all of which concedes that in principle torture is not always wrong. This Essay argues that it is always wrong—period. It then locates such an argument in a general moral landscape, showing how that and some other such absolutes are not as fanatic as they are made to appear. Rather, this argument is connected to a system of other moral concepts and commitments that we would be loath to unravel and does not depend on some supernatural guaranty that moral behavior will always have a happy outcome—in this world or the next: hence the title.