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Collective Responsibility for Historical Injustices

Thompson, Janna
June 4, 2015

Source: (2004) In, Lukas H. Meyer, ed., Justice in Time: Responding to Historical Injustice. Baden-Baden: Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft. Pp. 101-115.

It is generally accepted that an individual or even a group which commits a wrong against another individual or another group may be held responsible for the act and for redressing the harm caused by the act. It is less generally accepted that an individual or group may be held responsible in some sense – as in deserving blame and needing to make some sort of reparation – for a wrong or wrongs committed by a previous individual or group. As an example, Janna Thompson points to the disavowal of responsibility and reparation by some present day non-aboriginal Australians with respect to the injustices inflicted on aborigines in Australia in the last two centuries. Many other examples of this kind of situation could be noted from around the world. Contrary to that perspective, Thompson argues that historical obligations and entitlements exist. That is, the actions of an individual’s or group’s predecessors can impose a moral obligation on individuals and groups in the present, and those actions can endow a historical entitlement on present day successors of those wronged in the past. Thompson pursues this moral reasoning by considering theories of collective responsibility, posterity-binding commitments, respect for nations, and advantages of this moral theory.


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