Reconciliation for Realists


  • Susan Dwyer

    1. Visiting Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Maryland at College Park. Previously, she was Associate Professor of Philosophy at McGill University. She has published in epistemology and moral psychology, and is the editor of The Problem of Pornography (Wadsworth, 1994) and co-editor (with Joel Feinberg) of The Problem of Abortion (Wadsworth, 1997).
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       I am especially grateful to Arthur Evenchik for our many valuable conversations about reconciliation and for his astute and penetrating comments and questions on earlier drafts of this paper.


Reconciliation is being urged upon people who have been bitter and murderous enemies, upon victims and perpetrators of terrible human rights abuses, and upon groups of individuals whose very self-conceptions have been structured in terms of historical and often state-sanctioned relations of dominance and submission. The rhetoric of reconciliation is particularly common in situations where traditional judicial responses to past wrongdoing are unavailable because of corruption in the legal system, staggeringly large numbers of offenders, or anxiety about the political consequences of trials and punishment.

But what is reconciliation? How is reconciliation to be achieved? And under what conditions should it be sought? The notable lack of answers to these questions prompts the worry that talk of reconciliation is merely a ruse to disguise the fact that a “purer” type of justice cannot be realized–that, in being asked to focus on reconciliation rather than on punishment, victims of past wrongdoing are having to settle for the morally second best. By mining our pretheoretical understandings of reconciliation, the essay arrives at a core concept of reconciliation as narrative incorporation that at the same time suggests a way in which reconciliation might be pursued and grounds a response to moral qualms provoked by the use of an unanalyzed conception of reconciliation.