Volume 42, Issue 2, April 2016
This paper considers the moral psychology of interpersonal conduct that is cruel, brutal, humiliating, or degrading. On the view I call “humanism,” such behavior often stems from the perpetrators’ dehumanizing view of their targets. The former may instead see the latter as subhuman creatures, nonhuman animals, supernatural beings, or even mindless objects. If people recognized their common humanity, they would have a hard time mistreating other human beings (so the humanist continues). This paper criticizes humanism so understood, arguing that its explanatory power is often overstated, and that there are alternative, “socially situated” explanations that are better in many cases.