In a classic article “The Problem of Dirty Hands”, the philosopher Michael Walzer offers the following scenario:

[C]onsider a politician who has seized upon a national crisis-a prolonged colonial war-to reach for power. He and his friends win office pledged to decolonization and peace; they are honestly committed to both, though not without some sense of the advantages of the commitment. In any case, they have no responsibility for the war; they have steadfastly opposed it. Immediately, the politician goes off to the colonial capital to open negotiations with the rebels. But the capital is in the grip of a terrorist campaign, and the first decision the new leader faces is this: he is asked to authorize the torture of a captured rebel leader who knows or probably knows the location of a number of bombs hidden in apartment buildings around the city, set to go off within the next twenty- four hours. He orders the man tortured, convinced that he must do so for the sake of the people who might otherwise die in the explosions- even though he believes that torture is wrong, indeed abominable, not just sometimes, but always.

Walzer concludes the politician is “right” to torture the rebel leader.  I want to point out how this leads to a commitment problem for the moral politician.  First, it is impossible to keep a promise to stop torturing if the rebel leader releases part of his information.  Once he has supplied the information, the Walzer argument can be reapplied.  The utility of saving innocent lives outweighs the costs of continuing torture so a utilitarian should continue not cease torture as he promised.  Second, the rebel leader says he was not involved in the planning of the attack and does not know the details.  You become convinced he is telling the truth.  Then, the Walzer argument means the moral politician should stop. The leader knows nothing that will save lives in the next 24 hours and the politician abhors torture so there is  no point carrying out the threat of torture.

So, the moral politician faces the two commitment problems Jeff and I have discussed in earlier posts.  Walzer concludes that the moral politician should get “dirty hands” and torture the rebel leader.  But what happens to this conclusion when the moral politician faces commitment problems?  To be continued….