Torture: a touchstone for global social justice

Bob Brecher

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceeding with ISSN or ISBNChapterpeer-review


This chapter considers the wider significance of torture, addressing the manner in which it represents a touchstone for any universalistic morality, and arguing that it offers a means of refuting any moral relativism, something that ties in closely with my long-term theoretical work in metaethics (eg Getting What You Want? A Critique of Liberal Morality (Routledge: London and New York, 1998; and ongoing work around the ultimate justification of morality). Since torture consists in 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. For it is embodied rational agents who constitute the subject of any form, and thus of any theory, of morality -- and thus of global social and thus to torture a person is to both accept and deny our identity as embodied rational agents. This work also led to the opportunity for further collaboration with one of the editors, Heather Widdows, this time as part of a larger project on which I have been working for some time – both academically and as an activist -- namely to rescue work from the 1970s and 1980s for the Left. I have so far made two academic contributions: Andrea Dworkin’s Pornography: Men Possessing Women – a Reassessment’, in eds H Marway and H Widdows, Women and Violence: the Agency of Victims and Perpetrators. Palgrave Macmillan: London, forthcoming 2013 and ‘The family and neo-liberalism: time to revive a critique’, Ethics and Social Welfare, forthcoming 2012.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationGlobal Social Justice
EditorsHeather Widdows, Nicola Smith
Place of PublicationLondon and New York
Number of pages12
ISBN (Print)9780415579414
Publication statusPublished - 2011


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