Volume 25, Issue 1, Spring/Summer 2005
Touch on Trial
Power and the Right to Physical Affection
AGAINST THE BACKGROUND OF THE NEAR-PROHIBITION OF TOUCH IN RElations between unequals, this essay addresses very different questions: When do more-powerful people owe touch to less-powerful people as a consequence of their moral responsibility to care and nurture? How are we to understand morally the enjoyment that powerful adults receive from such contacts with their charges? This essay draws on psychological literature on touch to argue that touch is a condition of human flourishing. Consequently, in many circumstances (especially the nurture of children) the obligation to care not only permits but requires physical affection. It argues as well that the lines separating required, permitted, and forbidden touch are somewhat culture-dependent but nevertheless can be adjudicated. Finally, it suggests how traditional theologies and ethics of embodiment might support and be developed by these claims, showing that a positive ethic of touch shares the same theological foundations as the existing ethic of protection.