chapter  9
22 Pages

Apologies for Historic Injustice

WithAndrew I. Cohen

This chapter defends the view that there can be, and there are, rights and duties regarding apologies for injustices that were originally visited upon previous generations. An appeal to a liberal view of persons as free and equal roots the chapter’s account of who are potential parties to rights and duties of apology for historic redress. Several concrete examples provide a platform for applying the account. The chapter closes by considering some key worries about any defense of rights and duties of apology, such as the view that apologies are ill-suited as platforms for moral repair, the defense of rights and duties of apology is insufficiently determinate, and apologies invite moral hazards.

The pages of the book of history are filled with plenty of injustice. The injustices range from petty transgressions to wholesale expropriation and slaughter. These injustices are often not merely historic. In the United States, for instance, the University of Georgia is grappling with its ties to slavery, especially after construction work on campus exposed some unidentified slaves’ remains. As one professor there remarked, “But the past never cooperates by staying in the past. Eventually it always reaches out to us and asks, What have you learned?” 1 This is an overstatement. Injustices sometimes fade from public attentions. However, the depredations of the past are often not mere museum curiosities. They can survive in the policies, opportunities, narratives, and communities that shape our world today.