Date of Award

Fall 12-2-2011

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Andrew Jason Cohen

Second Advisor

Andrew Altman

Third Advisor

Christie Hartley

Fourth Advisor

George Rainbolt


I argue here that the practice of penal torture is not intrinsically wrongful. A common objection against the practice of penal torture is that there is something about penal torture that makes it wrongful, while this is not the case for other modes of punishment. I call this claim the asymmetry thesis. One way to defend this position is to claim that penal torture is intrinsically wrongful. It is the claim I argue against here. I discuss and reject three versions this claim. I first address a version that is based on the idea that penal torture, unlike other modes of punishment, is intrinsically wrong because it is inhuman. I then address a version grounded on the claim that, because penal torture is an assault upon the defenseless, it is morally impermissible. Finally, I discuss a version that concerns the idea that penal torture attacks human dignity and undermine agency.


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