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A Liberal Theory of Reparation


This dissertation articulates a new account of how reparation works, a new framework for assessing theories of reparation, and a new argument for why states should make reparation for injustices.

Chapter 2, How Does Reparation Work?, starts from the idea that wrongs and injustices have normative significance, and reparation characteristically diminishes (and sometimes eliminates) this significance. How does reparation effect this change? On the predominant explanation, the compensatory conception, wrongs create debts and reparation ameliorates by satisfying these debts in whole or in part.

The compensatory conception is invalid. It cannot explain reparation’s causal structure, or the way that a gesture’s etiology (in particular, the attitudes it conveys and reasons for which it is made) matters to its ameliorative impact. In this chapter, I propose an alternative view, the relational conception. On this approach, wrongs and injustices impair relationships, and these impairments explain the functions of and impetus for reparation. Reparation works by changing how a wrong or injustice bears on relationships.

Chapter 3, Theories of Reparation: A Framework, offers a set of questions that can be used to evaluate any substantive theory of reparation (that is, an account of when and why states should make reparation for injustices). These questions include how reparation works, who may claim reparation, who may be expected to make reparation, how the passage of time and the collective nature of political injustices affect the case for reparation, whether the case for reparation is distinct from (or reduces to) other political considerations, and whether it is possible to differentiate the injustices that call for reparation from the ones that do not.

Chapter 4, Assessing Theories of Reparation, uses this framework to evaluate the most prominent existing theories of reparation. I contend that none of these theories is satisfactory. However, the failures of theories are instructive, and some of them have useful elements. In particular, legitimacy-based approaches show promise in offering both a compelling justification for why a state should make reparation and a descriptively accurate conception of how reparation works.

Chapters 5 and 6 articulate and defend the Liberal Theory of Reparation, a new theory of reparation for political injustices based on the philosophical liberalism of John Rawls. Chapter 5, Why A Liberal Should Care About Reparation, contends that, contra Rawls and most contemporary Rawlsians, reparation is a central topic for philosophical liberalism generally and the Rawlsian project specifically. Chapter 6, The Liberal Theory of Reparation, builds the Liberal Theory of Reparation out of Rawls’s theories of justice and political legitimacy. Serious injustices can impair the kind of reciprocal justification that are the bedrock of the political relationship. Where injustices impair political relationships in this way, reparation is called for as a way of valuing those relationships. On the Liberal Theory, the commitment to reparation of these serious injustices is part of a broader commitment to justice. The Liberal Theory provides a compelling answer to all of the questions in the framework and can avoid or resolve all of the thorny issues that lead other theories to absurdity or implausibility.

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