Unforgivable Sins? Revolution and Reconciliation in Kant

David Sussman

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Moral reconstruction is perhaps the most urgent if neglected problem of contemporary moral and political philosophy. This problem arises in the context of communities that, after a period of significant systemic injustice, are trying to reconstitute themselves justly while properly addressing the wrongs suffered by their members (such as Argentina after the restoration of democracy, South Africa after the dismantling of apartheid, and Rwanda's attempt to confront the massacres of the 1990s). One of the most vexing questions of such reconstruction is how a reformed polity should deal with individuals who, acting under state authority, committed grave injustices against its members. Should these people be tried and punished, or are they properly immune from prosecution in at least some respects? Is there a political role for something like pardon or amnesty, conditional perhaps on the kind of public accounting central to South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission? Do the victims of the old regime have anything like a political or moral obligation to forgive their former tormentors, if such forgiveness is needed to create a stable, just social order? Kant's practical philosophy may not seem a particularly promising place to pursue these questions, since they lie at the intersection of his two least popular doctrines: his strongly retributivistic understanding of punishment and his absolute condemnation of political revolution. Moreover, the primary arguments for granting some kind of pardon or amnesty to the agents of the old regime seem to be fundamentally consequentialist.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationKant's Anatomy of Evil
EditorsSharon Anderson-Gold, Pablo Muchnik
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)9780511691898
ISBN (Print)9780521514323
StatePublished - Jan 1 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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