In social philosophy, objectification is the act of treating a person, or sometimes an animal, as an object or a thing.
According to the philosopher Martha Nussbaum, a person is objectified if one or more of the following properties are applied to them:
- Instrumentality – treating the person as a tool for another's purposes
- Denial of autonomy – treating the person as lacking in autonomy or self-determination
- Inertness – treating the person as lacking in agency or activity
- Fungibility – treating the person as interchangeable with (other) objects
- Violability – treating the person as lacking in boundary integrity and violable, "as something that it is permissible to break up, smash, break into."
- Ownership – treating the person as though they can be owned, bought, or sold
- Denial of subjectivity – treating the person as though there is no need for concern for their experiences or feelings
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.
Rae Helen Langton, in Sexual Solipsism: Philosophical Essays on Pornography and Objectification, proposed three more properties to be added to Nussbaum's list:
- 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.