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Ancient Wrongs and Modern Rights

Sher, George
June 4, 2015

Source: (2004) In, Lukas H. Meyer, ed., Justice in Time: Responding to Historical Injustice. Baden-Baden: Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft. Pp. 135-144.

George Sher begins this essay with the assumption that it is widely acknowledged that people may deserve compensation for the effects of wrong acts perpetrated before they were born. For example, African-Americans and American Indians may deserve compensation for the injustices of slavery or the forceful seizure of traditional homelands by Euro-Americans. However, while the principle of some type of compensation for such wrongs seems clear and appropriate, it is not clear what the proper temporal scope of this principle should be. If it is granted that redress should be made for wrongs committed as much as ten or twenty generations ago, should that hold for wrongs committed as long as one hundred, five hundred, or a thousand generations or more ago? Are there rational and moral temporal limits on the principle of compensation or redress for past injustices? In this chapter, Sher advances several reasons why the question of temporal limits should be addressed, and he presents possible ways of resolving the issue.


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