Making Up for What We Did: From Morality to the Law; From the Present to the Past
The research project "Making Up for What We Did: From Morality to the Law; From the Present to the Past" was funded by the POLONEZ BIS 2 competition, co-financed by the European Commission and the National Science Center under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie COFUND grant.
- Project Title: Making Up for What We Did: From Morality to the Law; From the Present to the Past
- Duration: March 1, 2023 - February 28, 2025
- Project Manager: Dr Giulio Fornaroli (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Supervisor: Tomasz Żuradzki, PhD, Prof. UJ
Popular descriptionWe are sometimes required to make up for what we did. It is something we are told from the beginning of our moral
education: if you do something bad to others and do not make up for it, these others may have a legitimate grievance
against you, which they can turn into resentment or antipathy.
Philosophers have widely commented on this received moral wisdom. Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, for instance, is
credited with having first identified an entire branch of justice – corrective justice – whose core content is the
appropriate reparation of wrongs inflicted by some actors on others. The regulation of reparations is, further, one of the main branches of private law.
The investigation I pursue during the program is about the concept of a moral wrong and its relation to corrective
justice. Its objectives are: 1) elaborating an account of wrong that may sustain the idea that some wrongs call for
corrective interventions, 2) explaining the limits of intervention in the legal treatment of wronging, taking medical
negligence as an example and 3) employing the concepts of wrong and corrective justice to address the problem of
reparations for historical wrongs. The perspective I advance is original in three dimensions. Firstly, it gives unity to the three distinct literatures on corrective justice, historical reparations, and the legal analysis of corrective practices. Secondly, it offers a novel conception of wronging which, more than any other previous attempt at explaining what it means to wrong others, can help us understand why all cases of wronging are followed by demands for corrections.
Wronging, I argue, consists in denying others minimal moral concern, thus acting as if others’ status as a moral fellow
were irrelevant in one’s deliberation. By correcting, the wrongdoer demonstrates that the lack of concern did not
originate out of a presumption of moral superiority and commits to paying adequate respect to the victim’s moral status in future interactions.
The account does not reduce corrective duties to duties of reparation. If correcting means counterbalancing moral
neglect, repairing the damage can often be neither necessary nor sufficient to discharge a corrective duty. It may not be necessary because certain harms can be repaired by third parties without that preventing the wrongdoer from
discharging her corrective duties. And it can be insufficient because repairing the damage may be an overly easy option for some wrongdoers.
Once I have defended an account of wronging, I move to the applied parts of the project. In the firs applied part, I argue that the law cannot simply mimic corrective justice: any treatment of harm redress and harm prevention in liberal democracies ought to respond both to corrective justice and, through what I call accommodation (the idea that,
sometimes, the costs of some individual decisions can be borne by society rather than by the individual who caused
them) to individual autonomy. To exemplify, I will consider in particular, due to the research specialisation of the
Interdiscilplinary Center of Ethics, the case of medical negligence. In the second applied part, I argue that what one
needs to prove to make a demand for historical corrections sensible is that some individuals currently count as victims of the original wrong and other individuals count, under some kind of description, as perpetrators. To prove this, I argue, merely relying on the beneficiary pays principle is insufficient as benefiting from an injustice is not equivalent to wronging the wrongdoer. I advance two conditions that can make a request for historical corrections meaningful. One is that the agent required to correct is a collective or coporate one, which has a kind of trans-historical existence. The second it was reasonable for the agent who committed a wrong in the past to consider the long-term consequences of their actions, including on agents that are still unborn.
Source of funding
This project is being carried out at the Interdisciplinary Centre for Ethics at Jagiellonian University. Although the Centre is part of the Faculty of Philosophy, and cooperates closely with the Institute of Philosophy, it is an interdisciplinary enterprise: the Centre’s Academic Board includes representatives of several university faculties. We use an interdisciplinary approach that bridges the gap between philosophical ethics and other disciplines, such as psychology, medicine, legal studies and economics; we utilize “armchair” methods typical for the humanities, as well as social science (conceptual analysis, case studies) and empirical methods (behavioral experiments, corpus analysis, topic modelling). See more information about INCET
This research is part of the project No. 2021/43/P/HS1/02997 co-funded by the National Science Centre and the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 945339.