The second heading: Reasons of principle

Torture treats the victim as a means to an end and not an end in themselves

[First bullet] ● it treats the victim as a 'thing', not as a person with all the value that we associate with persons

[I omit the other bullets because I want to understand this sentence only from itself, alone]

I contended against the meaning of 'thing', but now the bold confuses me. Would someone please explain if the bolded depends on the virtues or vices of a victim? Suppose a depraved, heinous person is tortured (I'll abbreviate him as a malfeasant). Wouldn't torture correspond wih the negative values of this malfeasant, and thus this malfeasant him/herself? Is it possible that society may judge that a malfeasant not require 'care for the trauma inflicted' (last clause, para 4)? Then how does the bolded make sense?

I know no philosophy, so would someone please explain the meaning of the bolded, basically and simply. Also, please recognise that I'm only trying to understand the bolded. This post only hypothesises a situation and neither implies or reflects anything about me or my opinions on torture.

2 Answers 2


The bolded cannot depend upon the virtue or vices of a person insofar as we are willing to apply a blanket statement that torture is unacceptable.

As soon as we say that torture is unacceptable - and support this statement with the argument that torture turns a human being into a thing - we are immediately tied to the reality that follows from "a person is not a thing".

If a person is "not a thing", a person then is not an object, but a subject: meaning they exist in such a way that we cannot seperate our experience completely from their experience; and thus cannot treat them as merely a means to an end without objectifying ourselves as well.

Martin Buber spoke upon this brilliantly in Ich und Du (I and Thou):

[Buber's] main proposition is that we may address existence in two ways:

  1. The attitude of the "I" towards an "It", towards an object that is separate in itself, which we either use or experience.
  2. The attitude of the "I" towards "Thou", in a relationship in which the other is not separated by discrete bounds.

If we are to accept that we ourselves have value, then the value that we possess is not tied to what we have accomplished. It can't be, because what we have accomplished can only be assessed as valuable within the context of a subjective experience. To a rock nothing has value. Or everything does. It doesn't matter.

What is valuable in us then must be somehow correlated with our abilities as subjective beings to experience a reality that includes one another. In other words, when stating that a human being is valuable, we must a priori say that human beings are valuable.

This is also stated in your quoted text:

not as a person with all the value that we associate with persons

notice it didn't say:

all the value that we associate with a person

Because (with this argument) we all already automatically have value, reducing a person to a thing is dehumanizing regardless of the human in question. The human in question is first a Thou who is "experiening us experiencing him", only secondarily do we relate to him as the actions he has undertaken.


The origin of the phrase "not as a person with all the value that we associate with persons" is a modification of an idea found in Kant.

For Kant, persons have worth not price. For him, the difference is that things that have a price can be compared with other things that have a price, and we make a selection as to what we buy or sell.

Things that have worth, on the other hand, are valuable regardless of any usefulness they have. In fact, for Kant, we should always be willing to sacrifice things that have a price for things that have worth.

Given this basic background, it's clear that the choice of the word "value" here can be misleadingly ambiguous. It is not value that we evaluate but rather value that follows from personhood. Thus, regardless of what the individual does, is doing, or has done, on the Kantian picture, they remain persons of worth which obligates us to treat them in certain ways.

It then follows that torture (at least on most readings of what torture is) is something that undermines the worth/value of persons. It does not matter if they are a child molester or murderer or saint, they still get the same worth that is associated with being a person.

The particular quote you're supplying does not explain why persons should be considered to have worth. While in the above, I've given Kant's account, there are many others.

Another answer mentions Buber who also things persons have worth not price. Buber's justification is different from Kant. For Kant, we have worth due to being possessors of reason. For Buber, we have worth with respect to others, because we are for them a Thou. You can get a similar idea in Levinas as to Buber in which case all others are Other to us and above us in worth.

One further possible route could be the UN Declaration of Human Rights.

Or Kierkegaard's account of the "love your neighbor command"

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