On Relational Injustice: Could Colonialism Have Been Wrong Even if it Had Introduced More Benefits than Harms?

Journal of Practical Ethics 7 (Supplementary):1-12 (2019)
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A certain objection to the view that colonialism is and was morally problematic is that it has introduced more benefits than harms to the populations that have undergone it. This article sets aside the empirical question – that is, of interrogating whether colonialism did bring more benefits than harms; instead, it argues that historical instances of colonialism were wrong even if they had in fact brought net-positive aggregate consequences to the colonised populations. In arguing this, I develop and substantiate a new concept of relational injustice in describing the unique nature of inegalitarian, subjugative relationship defining the interaction between perpetrators and victims in colonialism. Given that moral relations cannot be reduced into the welfare of their respective individual agents, it is hence the case that incidental, unintended gains in individual welfare neither adequately compensate for nor at all rectify the initial relational injustice. There are three objections that are discussed and rejected, such as: i) the purported irrationality in individuals regretting events that left them better-off on aggregate, ii) individuals can opt to waive being in just and equal relations with others in exchange for individual gains, and iii) the advanced account is self-defeating, because it nullifies the possibility for adequate compensation.
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Archival date: 2019-10-24
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