Personal relations and moral residue

History of the Human Sciences 17 (2-3):33-56 (2004)
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To what extent can one be saddled with responsibility or guilt as a result of actions committed not by oneself but by others with whom one has a familial or national connection or some other communal association? The issue of communal guilt has been extensively discussed, and there has been no shortage of writers willing to apply the notion of communal responsibility and guilt to Germany after the Holocaust. But the whole notion of communal guilt is deeply puzzling. How can evil actions cast a shadow over the future in this way to generate obligations or guilt on the part of those who did not in any way participate in those actions? In this article, I will focus on a question that is a smaller-scale analogue of the question of communal guilt, one which raises similar perplexities but in a more tractable way. I will concentrate on the restoration of relations with perpetrators of great evil in cases in which their whole-hearted repentance is not in doubt. Most of us feel a strong antipathy to the restoration of relations with such a perpetrator. What explains and supports that emotive reaction is the subject of this article, and its conclusions are suggestive of promising approaches to the question of communal guilt



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Eleonore Stump
Saint Louis University

Citations of this work

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