Holding Responsible in the African Tradition: Reconciliation Applied to Punishment, Compensation, and Trials

In Maximilian Kiener (ed.), The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Responsibility. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge. pp. 380-392 (2023)
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When it comes to how to hold people responsible for wrongdoing, much of the African philosophical tradition focuses on reconciliation as a final aim. This essay expounds an interpretation of reconciliation meant to have broad appeal, and then draws out its implications for responsibility in respect to three matters. First, when it comes to criminal justice, prizing reconciliation entails that offenders should be held responsible to “clean up their own mess,” i.e., to reform their characters and compensate victims in ways they find burdensome, an approach to punishment that differs from deterrence and desert theories. Second, regarding civil justice, reconciliation means that holding responsible to compensate wrongful harm means improving victims’ quality of life in ways they accept, which contrasts with a common prescription to put victims in the condition they would have been in had the wrong not occurred. Third, reconciliation can involve putting on trial more than just the direct offender, for instance family members who had been able to influence his behavior and were allied with him. The chapter provides reason to take the reconciliatory approaches seriously that will be found prima facie attractive by those from a variety of backgrounds.

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Thaddeus Metz
Cornell University (PhD)


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