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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

Chapter:
(p.73) Two On Being Tortured
Source:
Torture and Dignity
Author(s):

J. M. Bernstein

Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226266466.003.0003

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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