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Philosophy in the Contemporary World

Volume 8, Issue 1, Spring 2001

Stephen Kershnar
Pages 41-46

The Case Against Reparations

George Schedler raises interesting issues with regard to the amount of reparations owed for slavery, the parties who are owed reparations, and the standard for these reparations. His arguments, however, do not hold up upon analysis. His analysis of the case for the descendants of slaves being owed compensation seriously overestimates the case for such reparations. He does not identify the grounds for such compensation, i.e., either stolen inheritance or the descendants’ trustee-like control over the slave’s estate, and this results in his not identifying the metaphysical and epistemic problems that accompany the descendants’ claim to reparations. In analyzing whether the U.S. government owes compensation, Schedler provides arguments based on its small role in bringing about slavery and the break in national identity that followed the Civil War. Such arguments fail but his conclusion can be supported by other arguments, specifically the nature of the federal government’s relation to slavery and the limited nature of its powers. Thus, the case against reparations is overwhelming but not for the reasons Schedler provides.

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