I sat next to a young man called John Wordsworth. Our hour long conversation, which ranged from quantum mechanics to philosophy to questions about the real meaning of “progress”, marked the first stranger I am to meet on this journey of mine. John has just finished his GCSEs at Trinity and lives in Newton Abbot. Strangely enough I think I have met his mother, Karen, at some stage. She works in the renewable energy field. Eitherway, she has certainly brought up a very remarkable young man.
John is one the few people who, when asked, went directly to the categorical response when asked about the use of torture to prevent a terrorist attack. The thought experiment goes like this. A terrorist has planted a bomb in a city of a million people. He is captured after the planting of the bomb and questioned. He refuses to inform his captors where the bomb is. Is it morally right to torture him to find out the location of the bomb?
A large proportion of people who respond to this, do so in a utilitarian fashion, in other words, of course it is ok to sacrifice his life to save one million. Especially, considering he is guilty of planting the bomb in the first place. The idea of the greatest happiness principle behind the greatest good for the greatest number of people often produces gut reactions like that. It is the kind of reasoning that states use to commit acts of war.
Banking left, with a view of the “Gold Coast”, we descended into Belfast City Airport, where Patrick Davidson kindly picked me up. A massive thank you must go to Nicky and Patrick, who have been my introduction to Northern Ireland and the warm, friendly voices of welcome. I met them both when they worked at Tavistock College.