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Supersession of historical injustice and changed circumstances (ongoing)

Project period

02.10.2017 - 01.10.2022

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Redressing the past today remains an important problem. Past injustice has often left a legacy in the present, with many individuals and groups suffering disadvantages from its lasting effects. Many peoples suffer from mass displacement. Many victims (and their successors) have yet to receive compensation for what was taken. Injustice endures because of radical injustices like exile, trauma, damages to collective narratives, a history of mistrust, and disputes over sacred spaces. On what grounds should justice be concerned about past injustice? Does it matter that an existing disadvantage was caused by a past injustice or not? If a group or individual was damaged through past injustice, but is now well-off, should justice be concerned to redress a past injustice, or should justice look forward and be concerned only with present disadvantage? How much should justice be concerned with the structure of the relationship between parties and aim at reconciliation? When is a forward-looking orientation best, when is a backward-looking orientation best, and when should we transition between the two?

To answer these questions, we look to analyze and critically develop the thesis that historical injustice can be superseded. For example, if it were unjust for settlers to seize indigenous lands in 1865, changes in circumstances, such as population increases and environmental conditions, might make it unjust in 2016 to simply return the land and resources originally taken. The “supersession thesis” (named by legal and political theorist Jeremy Waldron) has become extremely influential among theorists both skeptical and supportive of reparations for past injustice. What are different possible versions of the supersession thesis? How might its theoretical structure be further analyzed and developed? Which changes in circumstances matter? How can justice be superseded in different contexts and cases? Four different types of supersession will be examined, relating to (1) property, (2) attachment to land in the sense of mass expulsion, genocide, and settlement, (3) group identity, and/or (4) sovereignty. Our method will involve applying our principles to specific cases to see if they match our judgments about these cases. If the principles and judgments do not match up, we will need to reflect further and adjust either our principles or judgments and bring them into equilibrium. Our exploration of a further universe of cases may cause further reflection and adjustment of our principles on historical injustice.

We hypothesize that the best version of the supersession thesis is affected by how much it creates perverse incentives to unjustly change circumstances. We hypothesize that group rights may be appropriate when true reconciliation is impossible. We aim to develop a theory of supersession that properly integrates concerns of present-day needs, historical claims, and whether relationships are justly structured.


Head of the section Univ.-Prof. Dr. Lukas Meyer Phone:+43 (0)316 380 - 2300
Fax:+43 (0)316 380 - 9705



Office and project management
Attemsgasse 25/II 8010 Graz
Mag. Kanita Kovačević Phone:+43 (0)316 380 - 2299
Fax:+43 (0)316 380 - 9705

please contact for an appointment

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