Torture and DignityAn Essay on Moral Injury

Torture and DignityAn Essay on Moral Injury

J. M. Bernstein

Print publication date: 2016

ISBN: 9780226266329

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


Human beings are intrinsically vulnerable, injurable, and dependent creatures. For this reason, the primary source for the meaning of morals is the experience of moral injury. Through investigating what is suffered in torture and rape, a conception of moral injury is constructed. No matter how physically painful, moral injuries always involve an injury to the status of an individual as a person, a violent devaluing or degrading of the victim. Humiliation is the everyday version of such injuring; devastation (the moral version of trauma) is the extreme version that occurs as a consequence of torture and rape. Only living, embodied beings who must be recognized by and thus depend on their immediate social fellows for their standing as a person can suffer devastation in this way. To suffer devastation is to suffer loss of trust in the world. Trust, as a form of mutual recognition, is the invisible ethical substance of everyday living. To recognize another’s standing as a person is to respect their dignity. Dignity is a fragile social possession that is product of everyday practices of trust that are now best protected by the rule of law.