Nations, Overlapping Generations and Historic Injustice

American Philosophical Quarterly 43 (4):357-367 (2006)

Abstract

This article considers the question of the responsibility that present day generations bear as a result of the actions of their ancestors. Is it morally significant that we share a national identity with those responsible for the perpetration of historic injustice? The article argues that we can be guilty of wrongdoing stemming from past wrongdoing if we are members of nations that are responsible for an ongoing failure to fulfil rectificatory duties. This rests upon three claims: that the failure to fulfil rectificatory duties is unjust; that nations can bear collective responsibility for the actions of their leaders; and that nations are comprised of overlapping generations rather than successive generations. The claim that present day parties should apologise for historic injustice is then considered, and it is argued that such an apology is best understood in relation to an ongoing failure to fulfil rectificatory duties

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