At the Bar of Conscience: A Kantian Argument for Slavery Reparations

Philosophy and Social Criticism 48 (5):674-702 (2022)
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Arguments for slavery reparations have fallen out of favor even as reparations for other forms of racial injustice are taken more seriously. This retreat is unsurprising, as arguments for slavery reparations often rely on two normatively irregular claims: that reparations are owed to the dead (as opposed to, say, their living heirs), and that the present generation inherits an as yet unrequited guilt from past generations. Outside of some strands of Black thought and activism on slavery reparations, these claims are widely rejected. I develop an argument for slavery reparations around those foundational claims by adopting the normative framework of Immanuel Kant. On what I call the Basic Argument for slavery reparations, the application of Kant’s retributivist theory of punishment to slavery justifies reparations as a kind of proportional punishment for slavery. I also show that Kant’s philosophy offers reparations theorists resources to overcome several contemporary objections to slavery reparations.



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Jason Fisette
University of Nevada, Reno

References found in this work

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