In social philosophy, objectification means treating a person as a thing.
According to the philosopher Martha Nussbaum, a person might be objectified if one or a selection of the following properties are adhered to:
- Instrumentality - as a tool for another's purposes: "The objectifier treats the object as a tool of his or her purposes"
- Denial of Autonomy - as if lacking in agency or self-determination: "The objectifier treats the object as lacking in autonomy and self-determination"
- Inertness - as if without action: "The objectifier treats the object as lacking in agency, and perhaps also in activity"
- Fungibility - as if interchangeable: "The objectifier treats the object as interchangeable (a) with other objects of the same type, and/or (b) with objects of other types"
- Violability - as if permissible to damage or destroy (Violence): "The objectifier treats the object as lacking in boundary integrity, as something that it is permissible to break up, smash, break into"
- Ownership - as if owned by another: "The objectifier treats the object as something that is owned by another, can be bought or sold, etc"
- Denial of Subjectivity - as if there is no need for concern for their feelings and experiences: "The objectifier treats the object as something whose experience and feelings (if any) need not be taken into account"
Nussbaum has argued that the topic of Objectification is not only important to Sexuality which has been discussed at length but to the Marxist view on Capitalism and Slavery. Nussbaum argues that potentially not all forms of objectification are inherently negative act and that Objectification may not always be present when one of the 7 properties are present.
An internal criticism that Nussbaum made that is that the list needs more refinement in relation to other discourse and the many definitions of Autonomy and Subjectivity.
Rae Langton's Additions
Langton added to this list with:-
- Reduction to Body: the treatment of a person as identified with their body, or body parts;
- Reduction to Appearance: the treatment of a person primarily in terms of how they look, or how they appear to the senses;
- Silencing: the treatment of a person as if they are silent, lacking the capacity to speak.
Under Kantian Objectification to be objectified is a negative act and removes one's own dignity
Alan Soble questions the widely held Kantian view according to which human dignity is something that people have. He argues that objectification is not inappropriate. Everyone is already only an object and being only an object is not necessarily a bad thing. In one sense, then, no one can be objectified because no one has the higher ontological status that is required to be reduce-able by objectification. In another sense, everyone is vulnerable to objectification, and everyone can and may be objectified, because to do so is to take them to their correct ontological level. He writes:
The claim that we should treat people as ‘persons’ and not dehumanise them is to reify, is to anthropomorphise humans and consider them more than they are. Do not treat people as objects, we are told. Why not? Because, goes the answer, people qua persons deserve not to be treated as objects. What a nice bit of illusory chauvinism. People are not as grand as we make them out to be, would like them to be, or hope them to be.
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- Nussbaum, Martha C. (1985). "Objectification". Philosophy & Public Affairs 24 (4): 279–83.
- Rae, Langton (2009). Sexual Solipsism: Philosophical Essays on Pornography and Objectification. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- "Feminist Perspectives on Objectification".
- Alan Soble 2002, Pornography, Sex, and Feminism, Prometheus books.