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Torture and DignityAn Essay on Moral Injury$
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J. M. Bernstein

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780226266329

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2016

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226266466.001.0001

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On Being Tortured

On Being Tortured

(p.73) Two On Being Tortured
Torture and Dignity

J. M. Bernstein

University of Chicago Press

If torture is the paradigm of moral injury, then what is first required is a descriptive, phenomenological account of the experience of torture. Jean Améry’s account of his torture is sufficiently detailed and conceptually refined to guide further philosophical reflection. Améry shows torture to be a work of inflicting unbearable pain that leads to devastation, a being broken, undone, overwhelmed in such a way that once tortured one remains tortured. By ‘devastation’ is meant the moral equivalent of psychological trauma: one is undone in one’s status as a person. In torture the victim experiences himself to be existentially helpless before an other who has complete control over his body: the victim’s active body belongs to the torturer, leaving the victim with only his passive, living body. The torturer thus separates the experience of pain from pain’s function of being a reason to act in an appropriate way (as Korsgaard has rightly argued). The torturer attempts to heighten the sensation of pain while emptying pain of its reason-giving force. Finally, the relation between torturer and victim is shown to be an analogue of Hegel’s account of the relation between master and slave.

Keywords:   Améry, body, devastation, existential helplessness, Korsgaard, pain, torture, trust in the world

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