Jun 152015

Sherman, Nancy, and . Torturers and the Tortured

2006, South African Journal of Philosophy 25(1): 77-88.

Abstract: Patrick Lenta and Jessica Wolfendale have written two very thoughtful discussions on torture. A central question that arises in responding to these essays in terms of my recent book, Stoic Warriors, is whether ancient Stoicism affords any insights into both the propensity to inflict torture as well as the capacity to endure it. Wolfendale suggests that the learned capacity to endure torture, and in particular, becoming desensitised to pain, may be part of the psychological background that informs a willingness to inflict torture. Training in resisting torture, such as that which special operations troops typically go through, involves not only learning techniques, which can then be reverse engineered in applying torture (what some argue has happened in Guantanamo Bay), but also learning the kind of stress inoculation that makes one willing to use those techniques. In short, military training that involves torture resistance hardens one’s soul and makes one indifferent to the suffering that torture involves. This indifference, Wolfendale claims, is not unlike Stoic apathy. I want to argue, on the contrary, that Stoic apathy is substantively different. However, before making the case, I take up a number of other preliminary points raised in both papers. I conclude with some remarks about interrogation in general.

Comment: This article is useful for post ad bellum discussions in philosophy of war, in addition to being recommended additional reading for political philosophy and ethics.

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