According to David Sussman, what is the difference between coercion and torture, and why is coercion less wrong than torture?

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jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In his article "What's Wrong with Torture?" Sussman writes that while coercion and torture can overlap, they are distinct because coercion operates only on the victim's rational responses and normal cognitive processes. Coercion involves telling the victim that the oppressor will act against his or her rational interests, and therefore the victim can use reasoning to respond to these threats. Torture, on the other hand, involves manipulating the victim by appealing to his or her emotions and vulnerabilities in a situation that involves disorientation. In other words, in the process of torture, a victim does not always know what is rational and cannot use his or her rational facilities to figure out the best course of action. It is possible to coerce another person only through using reason and rationality, while torture involves manipulating the other person's emotions.  

Coercion is not as bad as torture because it presents the victim with a rational set of actions to which he or she can respond with reason. However, when a victim is being tortured, he or she cannot submit to reason, as the outcome of submission will be a conclusion that involves an emotional or moral dilemma. In short, torture presents its victims with no rational options.