Toppling the Dehumanization Thesis
Eliane Mitchell

30 April 2018

Often, the perpetrators of the worst atrocities in human history have used rhetoric that labels the group they oppress as animals or objects, like "vermin" or "roaches." In turn, philosophers, such as Philosophy Talk's featured contributor David Livingtone Smith, argue that dehumanization enables the infliction of widespread violence since the perpetrators think of their victims as "nonhuman." While this "dehumanization thesis" certainly sounds intuitive, is it correct?

In this article from The New Yorker, Paul Bloom argues that the dehumanization thesis is limited. Perpetrators of violence are often aware of their victims' humanity and simply intend to exert power over another human. Bloom also suggests that violence does not entail a "blindness to moral considerations," for violence can reflect the desire to "exact just vengeance, or to teach someone a lesson." In this way, punitive violence, for example, recognizes that the victim is a moral agent and fully human.

Bloom uses other examples in this article to make his point, including philosopher Kate Manne's work on sexual violence and philosopher Martha Nussbaum's discussion of "dehumanization" as not, by necessity, indicative of cruelty. He concludes "that our best and our worst tendencies arise precisely from seeing others as human."

Read the article for a deep exploration of the subject here: