"Sts Savinus and Cyprian are tortured," 11th century fresco in Abby of Saint-Savin-sur-Gartempe, France, artist unknown. © Unknown | WGA Web Gallery of Art
EssaysLiberal Democracy in Question

Torture and Dignity

This lecture to the New School’s General Seminar was originally published on the above date. Given the recent revelations concerning the CIA’s program of torture, we are highlighting Bernstein’s reflections today, Dec. 12, 2014. -J.G.

I. The Abolition of Torture

Human beings are the sorts of being who can undergo devastation: they can be destroyed in their standing as a person, as being possessed of morally inviolable intrinsic worth; they can have their dignity and self-respect destroyed. When one loses her dignity she also loses her trust in the world. Dignity is the representation of self-respect, where self-respect is the stance of one who takes herself to be of intrinsic worth and acts accordingly. …

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