Synopses & Reviews
In this unflinching look at the experience of suffering and one of its greatest manifestations—torture—J.M. Bernstein critiques the repressions of traditional moral theory, showing that our morals are not immutable ideals but fragile constructions that depend on our experience of suffering itself. Morals, Bernstein argues, not only guide our conduct but also express the depth of mutual dependence that we share as vulnerable and injurable individuals.
Beginning with the attempts to abolish torture in the eighteenth century, and then sensitively examining what is suffered in torture and related transgressions, such as rape, Bernstein elaborates a powerful new conception of moral injury. Crucially, he shows, moral injury always involves an injury to the status of an individual as a person—it is a violent assault against his or her dignity. Elaborating on this critical element of moral injury, he demonstrates that the mutual recognitions of trust form the invisible substance of our moral lives, that dignity is a fragile social possession, and that the perspective of ourselves as potential victims is an ineliminable feature of everyday moral experience.
“For many years now Bernstein has been a leading voice in the evolving critical theory tradition, turning out impressive and influential work on Lukács, Adorno, the relation between art and philosophy, and social critique. Torture and Dignity is his most ambitious and systematic book. Taking his bearings from what are the clearest, most unambiguous cases of moral injury—torture and rape—he aims to develop a general account of the nature of moral wrong, and he does so without engaging the conventional (and, he argues, thoroughly misleading and distorting) problem of convincing the moral skeptic to refrain from such harm. What results is a book that is lucidly written, original, passionate, and compelling, with many moments of real brilliance. His ability to develop out of such a ‘negative ethics’ a positive account of our dependence on each other is no less valuable and challenging. The book is a major achievement.”
“There is a lot we can learn from topics most of us would rather avoid thinking about. Here, Bernstein does much of the difficult work for us, bringing rape and torture into the general discussions of human dignity, moral injury, and the nature of persons. A much-needed book, and brilliantly argued.”—
“This book has two topics, dignity and torture—each of which has assumed great importance in the last twenty years. Bernstein contrasts torture with the rule of law and human dignity with violation and degradation. I cannot imagine a better account of the affront to dignity posed by the terrible practice of torture.”
“Torture and Dignity raises a number of important issues in moral philosophy and moral practice in a way that is original and highly engaging. Bernstein is a brilliant writer whose passion and conviction come across vividly and persuasively in a breadth of styles and approaches, which is so unusual in contemporary ethics. In this work we see a philosopher engaged in analysis and argument, but also with literature, phenomenology, memoir, law, the history of ideas, and public policy.”
This volume brings together major works by German thinkers who were extremely influential in the crucial period of aesthetics prior to and after Kant. It includes the first translation into English of Schiller's Kallias Letters and Moritz's on the Artistic Imitation of the Beautiful, and new translations of some of Hölderlin's most important theoretical writings and works by Hamann, Lessing, Novalis and Schlegel. The volume features an introduction in which J.M. Bernstein places the works in their historical and philosophical context.
This volume offers new translations of major works of classic and romantic German aesthetics.
This volume brings together major works by German thinkers, writing just prior to and after Kant, who were enormously influential in this crucial period of aesthetics. They include the first translation into English of Schiller's Kallias Letters and Moritz's On the Artistic Imitation of the Beautiful, and new translations of some of Hölderlin's most important theoretical writings and works by Hamann, Lessing, Novalis and Schlegel. The volume also offers an introduction in which J. M. Bernstein places the works in their historical and philosophical context.
Torture and rape are only rarely considered by moral philosophersbecause they are so indisputably morally atrocious acts and because their specific mode of suffering cannot be accounted for by reigning moral theories. By making them pivotal to the understanding of morality in general, however, Jay Bernsteins intention is to throw into question the dominant schools of modern moral philosophy and to attempt to restructure moral experience and understanding on the basis of the formations of suffering they make salient. Morals, Bernstein argues, emerge from the experience of moral injury, from the sufferings of the victims of moral harm. For us moderns, morality at its most urgent and insistent is, finally, a victim morality. This can sound hyperbolic; but since all of us are potential victims, it turns out that this perspective is readily available and intrinsic to ordinary ethical experience. One of Bernsteins pivotal arguments is that trust is a form of mutual recognition; that trust is the ethical substance of everyday life; and that understood aright trust is structured from the perspective of a potential victim of harm rather than from the perspective of a deliberating agent. This book promises to be a major contribution to moral philosophy.
About the Author
J. M. Bernstein is University Distinguished Professor of philosophy at the New School for Social Research. He is the author of many books, including Adorno: Disenchantment and Ethics, Against Voluptuous Bodies: Adorno’s Late Modernism and the Meaning of Painting, and Recovering Ethical Life: Jürgen Habermas and the Future of Critical Theory.
Table of Contents
Part One : History, Phenomenology, and Moral Analysis
One / Abolishing Torture and the Uprising of the Rule of Law
II. Abolishing Torture: The Dignity of Tormentable Bodies
III. Torture and the Rule of Law: Beccaria
IV. The Beccaria Thesis
V. Forgetting Beccaria
Two / On Being Tortured
II. Pain: Certainty and Separateness
III. Améry’s Torture
IV. Pain’s Aversiveness
V. Pain: Feeling or Reason?
VI. Sovereignty: Pain and the Other
VII. Without Borders: Loss of Trust in the World
Three / The Harm of Rape, The Harm of Torture
I. Introduction: Rape and/as Torture
II. Moral Injury as Appearance
III. Moral Injury as Actual: Bodily Persons
IV. On Being Raped
V. Exploiting the Moral Ontology of the Body: Rape
VI. Exploiting the Moral Ontology of the Body: Torture
Part Two : Constructing Moral Dignity
Four / To Be Is to Live, to Be Is to Be Recognized
II. To Be Is to Be Recognized
III. Risk and the Necessity of Life for Self-Consciousness
IV. Being and Having a Body
V. From Life to Recognition
Five / Trust as Mutual Recognition
II. The Necessity, Pervasiveness, and Invisibility of Trust
III. Trust’s Priority over Reason
IV. Trust in a Developmental Setting
V. On First Love: Trust as the Recognition of Intrinsic Worth
Six / “My Body . . . My Physical and Metaphysical Dignity”
I. Why Dignity?
II. From Nuremberg to Treblinka: The Fate of the Unlovable
III. Without Rights, without Dignity: From Humiliation to Devastation
IV. Dignity and the Human Form
V. The Body without Dignity
VI. My Body: Voluntary and Involuntary
VII. Bodily Revolt: Respect, Self-Respect, and Dignity
Concluding Remarks : On Moral Alienation
I. The Abolition of Torture and Utilitarian Fantasies
II. Moral Alienation and the Persistence of Rape