Skip to main content

The Conceptual Foundations of Transitional Justice

Image result for truth and reconciliation commission

The headline of this blog entry is the title of a newly published book by Colleen Murphy, out from Cambridge University Press.

Murphy is a professor of law at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Here is a link to the amazon page for her book. 

If I understand it, the question that concerns Murphy is the old one -- how should revolutionaries, who have taken power on a promise to pursue broader social transformation, understand their job? What do they do next?

The constitution established in South Africa in 1993, with the success of negotiations to end apartheid, was specifically called the "Interim Constitution." Two years later the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act, passed by the parliament pursuant to that interim constitution, created a Truth and Reconciliation Commission which was both truth finding and amnesty granting.

That TRC is at the heart of what Murphy has in mind by "transitional justice." But she doesn't want revolutionaries to feel their way blindly and with ad hocery. She wants legal philosophers such as herself to offer them "conceptual foundations."

I am frankly skeptical of the value of the enterprise, but she can't do a lot of harm by pursuing it.


Popular posts from this blog

Great Chain of Being

One of the points that Lovejoy makes in the book of that title I mentioned last week is the importance, in the Neo-Platonist conceptions and in the later development of the "chain of being" metaphor, of what he calls the principle of plenitude. This is the underlying notion that everything that can exist must exist, that creation would not be possible at all were it to leave gaps.

The value of this idea for a certain type of theodicy is clear enough.

This caused theological difficulties when these ideas were absorbed into Christianity.  I'll quote a bit of what Lovejoy has to say about those difficulties:

"For that conception, when taken over into Christianity, had to be accommodated to very different principles, drawn from other sources, which forbade its literal interpretation; to carry it through to what seemed to be its necessary implications was to be sure of falling into one theological pitfall or another."

The big pitfalls were: determinism on the on…

A Story About Coleridge

This is a quote from a memoir by Dorothy Wordsworth, reflecting on a trip she took with two famous poets, her brother, William Wordsworth, and their similarly gifted companion, Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

We sat upon a bench, placed for the sake of one of these views, whence we looked down upon the waterfall, and over the open country ... A lady and gentleman, more expeditious tourists than ourselves, came to the spot; they left us at the seat, and we found them again at another station above the Falls. Coleridge, who is always good-natured enough to enter into conversation with anybody whom he meets in his way, began to talk with the gentleman, who observed that it was a majestic waterfall. Coleridge was delighted with the accuracy of the epithet, particularly as he had been settling in his own mind the precise meaning of the words grand, majestic, sublime, etc., and had discussed the subject with William at some length the day before. “Yes, sir,” says Coleridge, “it is a majestic wate…