Justice for the Past

By Stephen Kershnar

Subjects: Philosophy
Series: SUNY series in American Constitutionalism
Paperback : 9780791460726, 170 pages, July 2004
Hardcover : 9780791460719, 170 pages, July 2004

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Table of contents




SECTION 2: Civil Rights Laws

1. The Most Qualified Applicant


Part 1. The Job Qualification
Part 2. The Best Conception of a Job Qualification Yields at Most a Very Weak Reason to Favor a Meritocracy
Part 3. Antidiscrimination Laws Cannot Be Justified by Meritocratic Concerns
Part 4. Qualifications for Educational Institutions
Part 5. Conclusion


SECTION 3: Strong Affirmative Action

2. Strong Affirmative-Action Programs at State Institutions


Part 1. Introduction
Part 2. The Duty to Judge Persons according to Their Interests and Desert
Part 3. Strong Affirmative-Action Programs at State Educational Institutions Cannot Be Justified via Compensatory Justice
Part 4. Conclusion


3. Uncertain Damages to Racial Minorities and Strong Affirmative Action


Part 1. The Hypothetical Imperative to Distribute Resources in a Just Manner
Part 2. Compensatory Justice and the Assessment of Damages
Part 3. Compensatory Justice and Inadequate Knowledge of Damages
Part 4. We Do Not Have Adequate Knowledge of the Amount of Compensable Injury to Current Members of Some Racial Minority Groups
Part 5. Conclusion


SECTION 4: Reparations for Slavery

4. The Inheritance-Based Claim to Reparations


Part 1. Introduction
Part 2. Slavery Did Not Harm the Descendants of Slaves
Part 3. Compensation May Be Owed to the Descendants of Slaves As a Result of a Legitimate Inheritance Claim
Part 4. Conclusion


5. Reject the Inheritance-Based Claim to Reparations


Part 1. Objections to the Inheritance-Based Claim to Reparations
Part 2. Who Owes Compensation?
Part 3. Conclusion


SECTION 5: Proper Respect

6. Intrinsic Moral Value and Racial Differences


Part 1. The Expression of Equal Moral Value
Part 2. The Argument
Part 3. Implications of the Argument
Part 4. Conclusion


SECTION 6: Educational Diversity

7. Experiential Diversity


Part 1. Grutter and Bakke
Part 2. Experiential Diversity and Truth
Part 3. A More General Approach to Diversity
Part 4. Equal-Opportunity Arguments
Part 5. Conclusion




Examines whether race-based programs and slavery reparations are justified.


Among the most controversial issues in the United States is the question of whether public or private agencies should adopt preferential treatment programs or be required to pay reparations for slavery. Using a carefully reasoned philosophical approach, Stephen Kershnar argues that programs such as affirmative action and calls for slavery reparations are unjust for three reasons. First, the state has a duty to direct resources to those persons who, through their abilities, will benefit most from them. Second, he argues that, in the case of slavery, past injustice—where both the victims and perpetrators are long dead—cannot ground current claims to compensation. As terrible as slavery was, those who claim a right to compensation today owe their existence to it, he reasons, and since the events that bring about a person's existence are normally thought to be beneficial, past injustices do not warrant compensation. Finally, even if past injustices were allowed to serve as the basis of compensation in the present, other variables prevent a reasonable estimation of the amount owed.

Stephen Kershnar is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Fredonia and the author of Desert, Retribution, and Torture.


"This is an important and serious critique of both affirmative action and reparations for slavery. Despite the provocative nature of the subject matter, Kershnar writes coolly and objectively. " — Michael Levin, author of Why Race Matters: Race Differences and What They Mean

"Civil rights, affirmative action, and reparations for slavery are burning issues today. Kershnar's bold, clearly reasoned arguments are fresh, insightful, and cogent. " — Louis P. Pojman, United States Military Academy, West Point

"Although I strongly disagree with his views, Kershnar provides the most coherent set of arguments against reparations available in the philosophical literature. " — Albert Mosley, coauthor of Affirmative Action: Social Justice or Unfair Preference?