Torture: A touchstone for global social justice. In: N Smith and H Widdows (Eds) Global Social Justice (pp. 90-101). London and New York: Routledge. ISBN: 9780415579414
Building on my earlier work on the nature and the impermissibility of torture, this contribution to the burgeoning philosophical literature in global ethics seeks to embed the notion of global social justice in the claim that there is some universal fact of the human condition – that there is something which is the human condition – on the basis of which one might be able to show that some things must be judged morally wrong on pain of contradiction.
This chapter thus opens with a defence of such an approach – the avoidance of contradiction – as enabling ethics to avoid both subjectivism and modish relativism. That established, it argues that, since torture is the erasure of a person on the basis of their being an embodied rational agent, that is to say, of their being a person, it requires that the torturer at once recognise and negate the personhood of the person being tortured. The contradiction involved is immediate and integral. Torture, one might say, is practical self-contradiction par excellence. To torture a person, in short, is to both accept and deny our identity as persons, as embodied rational agents.
The chapter thus offers a considerably original understanding of the significance of debates about the morality of torture: it is not simply that torture is morally wrong, but that an understanding both of what is wrong about it and of the meta-ethical position on the basis of which that claim is made enables us to see that torturing a person is the paradigm of moral wrong, a paradigm on the basis of which, moreover, an embryonic conception of global social justice – global both epistemically and geographically – might be developed.