Confronting TortureEssays on the Ethics, Legality, History, and Psychology of Torture Today

Confronting TortureEssays on the Ethics, Legality, History, and Psychology of Torture Today

Scott A. Anderson and Martha C. Nussbaum

Print publication date: 2018

ISBN: 9780226529387

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


This book gathers fourteen essays on torture, addressing its complexities from the perspectives of psychology, history, philosophy, law, and cultural commentary. It appears in the wake of the American “War on Terror,” and the apparent evaporation of a broad consensus in international law, the U.S. legal community, and public thinking that torture is never an acceptable act, even in war. The chapters of the book seek to understand the historical and cultural roots of torture; to assess its impacts on survivors, their societies, and those who engage in it or with its victims; to consider philosophical arguments about its justification; and to consider how law and lawyers should confront the problem of torture. While there is no single message or thesis running throughout the book, all of the chapters seek to bring out the complexity of torture as a social, psychological, legal and ethical problem. The introductory chapter, by torture survivor Albie Sachs, who went on to become a justice on the Constitutional Court of South Africa, demonstrates many of the challenges that torture creates for a society, and for conceiving justice in the wake of torture. Many of the subsequent chapters address the possibilities and difficulties for law and social institutions to respond effectively to torture by creating legal frameworks and structural barriers to guard against the temptations that torture offers. While none of the chapters defend using torture, many grapple with the difficulties of explaining convincingly why ethics absolutely prohibits torture.

Table of Contents


Scott A. Anderson

Part I A Triumph over Torture, Told by a Survivor

Part II Psychological Perspectives on Torture

Part III Torture in Historical Context

Part IV The Ethics of Torture

Part V Torture in US Law and Policy

End Matter