Dr. Olufemi Taiwo of the Department of Philosophy at Georgetown University will present “Reconsidering Reparations” on Tuesday, Nov. 13, at 7 p.m. in Old Main Chapel. The lecture is free and open to the public.
Dr. Olufemi Taiwo earned his BA in philosophy and political science at Indiana University, and his PhD from the University of California, Los Angeles. This year, he joined the faculty at Georgetown University. Dr. Taiwo’s research develops themes of action and freedom and their relation to social structures. His work draws from German transcendental philosophy, contemporary philosophy of language and social science, histories of activism and activist thinkers, and the Black radical tradition. His most recent publication appears in the journal Public Affairs Quarterly.
There is an extensive literature and historical record of agitation for various forms of reparations from governments. Philosophers have responded to this literature and history by considering arguments for and against reparations in general and in specific historical cases. Much of this discussion has centered on the case of reparations for the harms of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, often specifically with respect to Black people in the United States. But the positions developed by philosophers have largely ignored potential contributions of the reasons and perspectives offered by activists and other political actors to the discussion. This paper aims to demonstrate the potential fruits of such engagement by pointing to a distinctive philosophical view made available by their work.
That distinctive view, which I call the constructive view of reparations, is rooted in distributive justice. Distributive justice is a topic in political philosophy that deals with how we understand, justify, or condemn distributions of goods and resources to people, and the processes and social facts that explain these distributions. It also issues forward-looking recommendations about whether and how to change our current distribution of goods and resources. Reparations fit into this conversation, given that claims for reparations can be described as claims about how to distribute resources between an aggrieved party and a party held responsible. I begin by examining many of the current views of reparations in philosophical literature and related ones. Then, I survey rationales and demands put forward by activists and thinkers in the African diaspora, contrasting them with the arguments in part II. With both in hand, I briefly sketch the philosophical features of a distributive justice-based reconstruction of the perspectives of activists and political actors surveyed, and gesture at reasons to adopt this view, while stopping short of a full defense thereof.