Lamentable Necessities

Review of Metaphysics 66 (4):775-808 (2013)
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Slavery in Ancient Greece, Absolutist Monarchy in pre-modern Europe, and the European conquest of the New World strike us, from our contemporary perspective, as injustices on a massive scale. But given the impact of these large-scale historical activities on the particular course taken by Western history, they almost undeniably played an important role in the evolution of modern liberalism. Bernard Williams suggests a startling claim—that liberal universalists cannot condemn past injustices, because those injustices were necessary conditions of the development of the modern liberalism that they affirm. This paper examines this possible objection to liberal universalists who greatly value their liberal way of life, paying particular attention to the lamentable necessities thesis, the claim that modern liberalism would not have come into existence but for the occurrence of past injustices. It defends the lamentable necessities thesis, and argues that those who accept it, and greatly value modern liberalism, are precluded from regretting all-things-considered certain past injustices. Finally, it makes the case that liberal universalists who greatly value modern liberalism may condemn past injustices necessary to its emergence, even if they are unable to regret them in the relevant sense
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