Corrective justice and the possibility of rectification

Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 11 (4):355-368 (2008)
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In this paper, I ask how - and whether - the rectification of injury at which corrective justice aims is possible, and by whom it must be performed. I split the injury up into components of harm and wrong, and consider their rectification separately. First, I show that pecuniary compensation for the harm is practically plausible, because money acts as a mediator between the damaged interest and other interests. I then argue that this is also a morally plausible approach, because it does not claim too much for compensation: neither can all harms be compensated, nor can it be said when compensation is paid that the status quo ante has been restored. I argue that there is no conceptual reason for any particular agent paying this compensation. I then turn to the wrong, and reject three proposed methods of rectification. The first aims to rectify the wrong by rectifying the harm; the second deploys punitive damages; the third, punishment. After undermining each proposal, I argue that the wrong can only be rectified by a full apology, which I disaggregate into the admission of causal and moral responsibility, repudiation of the act, reform, and, in some cases, disgorgement and reparations, which I define as a good faith effort to share the burden of the victim's harm. I argue, further, that only the injurer herself can make a full apology, and it is not something that can be coerced by other members of society. As such, whether rectification of the wrong can be a matter of corrective justice is left an open question

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Seth Lazar
Australian National University


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