Reparatory Justice Reconsidered. On its Lack of Substance and its Epistemic Function

Philosophical Forum 50 (1):59-86 (2019)
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Unlike other kinds of theories of justice, reparatory justice can only be negatively defined, in non-ideal contexts in which initial wrongs had already been committed. For one, what counts and what does not count as wrongdoing or as an unjust state of affairs resulted from that wrongdoing depends on the normative framework upon which a theorist relies. Furthermore, the measures undertaken for alleviating historical injustices can be assessed only from the vantage point of other, independent normative considerations. In the present paper I argue that this lack of substance is a feature that, far from being problematic, is what makes reparatory justice attractive. The specific example that I put forward is that of a reparatory justice account which seeks to instantiate the desiderata of a sufficientarian theory of justice. At first, distributive justice fills the content of reparatory justice, specifying up to what level reparations in-kind or compensatory measure should go. Afterwards, reparatory justice clarifies and provides epistemic inputs for distributive justice. Reparatory justice thus becomes an epistemic source for distributive justice, in that it provides the means for assessing whether someone’s level of well-being can be traced to her choice or to a wider, historically-sensitive operationalization of her “circumstances”.
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