Faculty Publications: Torture and the Dream of Reason

February 21, 2012

In Torture and the Dream of Reason, Professor Paul Kahn examines the role of political theory and philosophy in confronting morally compelling situations - in this case, torture. He argues that, rather than advocating for or against the use of torture, political theorists should instead work to expose and disrupt patterns of thought commonly relied upon when thinking about the question of torture. These disruptions should serve not to get to "the truth of the matter" but to "make us think more carefully about the way in which legal rules and social norms operate and the meanings that they bear".

By way of illustration, Prof. Kahn looks to Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams, applying concepts like condensation, displacement and nodal points to interpret the liberal account of the prohibition of torture. Prof. Kahn disruptively argues that the contemporary torture prohibition must be read against the background of political violence that continues on a massive scale. To misread the torture prohibition and imagine that state violence should be limited to domestic and international law enforcement is "to read the manifest dream as if it were the dream-thought". To get a better sense of how Prof. Kahn fuses Freud with an analysis of the torture prohibition, please find his article published in the Fall 2011 issue of Social Research.

Further Reading

Paul Kahn, Sacred Violence: Torture, Terror and Sovereignty (2008).

Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams (A.A. Brill trans., Macmillan 3d ed. 1913).

David Luban, Liberalism, Torture, and the Ticking Bomb, 91 Va. L. Rev. 1425 (2005).



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