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In social philosophy, objectification is the act of treating a person, or sometimes an animal,[1] as an object or thing as though they were a possession of another.

Nussbaum's objectification[edit]

According to the philosopher Martha Nussbaum, a person might be objectified if one or more of the following properties are applied to them:[2]

  1. Instrumentality – treating the entity as a tool for another's purposes: "The objectifier treats the object as a tool of his or her purposes."
  2. Denial of autonomy – treating the entity as lacking in autonomy or self-determination: "The objectifier treats the object as lacking in autonomy and self-determination."
  3. Inertness – treating the entity as lacking in agency or activity: "The objectifier treats the object as lacking in agency, and perhaps also in activity."
  4. Fungibility – treating the entity as interchangeable with other objects: "The objectifier treats the object as interchangeable (a) with other objects of the same type, and/or (b) with objects of other types."
  5. Violability – treating the entity as lacking in boundary integrity and violable: "The objectifier treats the object as lacking in boundary integrity, as something that it is permissible to break up, smash, break into."
  6. Ownership – treating the entity as if it can be owned, bought, or sold: "The objectifier treats the object as something that is owned by another, can be bought or sold, etc."
  7. Denial of subjectivity – treating the entity as if there is no need for concern for its experiences or feelings: "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 acts and that objectification may not always be present when one of the seven properties is present.[3]

An internal criticism that Nussbaum made is that the list needs more refinement in relation to other discourse and the many definitions of autonomy and subjectivity.

Langton's additional properties[edit]

Rae Helen Langton, in Sexual Solipsism: Philosophical Essays on Pornography and Objectification, proposed three more properties to be added to Nussbaum's list:[4]

  1. Reduction to body – the treatment of a person as identified with their body, or body parts;
  2. Reduction to appearance – the treatment of a person primarily in terms of how they look, or how they appear to the senses;
  3. Silencing – the treatment of a person as if they are silent, lacking the capacity to speak.

Kantian Objectification[edit]

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:[5]

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.[6]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Arluke, Arnold (1988). "Sacrificial Symbolism in Animal Experimentation: Object or Pet?". Anthrozoös: A multidisciplinary journal of the interactions of people and animals 2 (2): 98–117. doi:10.2752/089279389787058091. Retrieved 2 February 2016. 
  2. ^ Nussbaum, Martha (1995). "Objectification". Philosophy & Public Affairs 24 (4): 249–291. doi:10.1111/j.1088-4963.1995.tb00032.x. Retrieved 1 December 2013. 
  3. ^ Nussbaum, Martha C. (1985). "Objectification". Philosophy & Public Affairs 24 (4): 279–83. 
  4. ^ Rae Langton (February 15, 2009). Sexual Solipsism: Philosophical Essays on Pornography and Objectification, 1st Edition (trade paperback). Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 228–229. ISBN 978-0199551453. 
  5. ^ "Feminist Perspectives on Objectification". 
  6. ^ Alan Soble 2002, Pornography, Sex, and Feminism, Prometheus books.