'New Yorker' article examines dehumanization theory of UNE philosopher David Livingstone Smith

David Livingstone Smith
David Livingstone Smith

November 27, 2017

The work of David Livingstone Smith, Ph.D., professor of philosophy, on the concept of dehumanization played a central role in an article in the November 27 issue of the New Yorker. Titled “The Root of All Cruelty” in the online version and Beastly in the print edition, the article examines Smith’s theory, described in his book Less Than Human: Why We Demean, Enslave, and Exterminate Others, that dehumanization—that is, viewing others as subhuman – is a crucial ingredient in the mental and emotional recipe that yields violence against other people.

The author of the New Yorker article, Paul Bloom, writes of Smith’s book, “It’s a thoughtful and exhaustive exploration of human cruelty.” He states that the book’s “core idea” is “that acts such as genocide happen when one fails to appreciate the humanity of others.”

Bloom turns Smith’s theory on its head, however, arguing that while “viewing others as objects or animals enables our very worst conduct would seem to explain a great deal,” in reality, the opposite is true: that cruelty is only satisfying to its perpetrator because its victim is regarded as suffering as the result of it and, therefore, must be regarded as fully human.

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