Contributing to Historical-Structural Injustice via Morally Wrong Acts

Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 24 (5):1197-1211 (2021)
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Alasia Nuti’s important recent book, Injustice and the Reproduction of History: Structural Inequalities, Gender and Redress, makes many persuasive interventions. Nuti shows how structural injustice theory is enriched by being explicitly historical; in theorizing historical-structural injustice, she lays bare the mechanisms of how the injustices of history reproduce themselves. For Nuti, historical-structural patterns are not only shaped by habitual behaviors that are or appear to be morally permissible, but also by individual wrongdoing and wrongdoing by powerful group agents like states. In this article, I extend Nuti’s rich analysis, focusing on two questions that arise from her theory of historical-structural injustice: Beyond being blameworthy for wrongful acts themselves, are culpable wrongdoers blameworthy for contributing to structural injustice? Does historical moral ignorance mitigate moral responsibility for past injustice? Regarding, I distinguish between the local and societal structural effects of wrongdoing. Though I think this distinction is well-founded, it ultimately leads to tensions with structural injustice theory’s idea of ordinary individuals being blameless for reproducing unjust structures. Regarding, I argue that even though it is natural for the question of historical moral ignorance to arise in considering past wrongdoing, at least in the case of powerful group agents, we should not overlook forms of cruelty which present-day moral concepts are not needed to condemn.

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Jennifer Page
University of Zürich


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