States' Culpability Through Time
Stephanie Collins (Monash University, Australian Catholic University), Stephanie Collins

Yesterday, 4:15pm - 6:15pm
The University of Melbourne

North Theatre, Old Arts
The University of Melbourne


University of Melbourne

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Some contemporary states are morally culpable for historically distant wrongs. But which states for which wrongs? The answer is non-obvious, due to secessions, unions, and the formation of new states in the time since the wrongs occurred. This paper develops a framework for answering the question. The argument begins by outlining a picture of states’ agency on which states’ culpability is distinct from the culpability of states’ members. It then outlines, and rejects, a plausible-seeming answer to our question: that culpability transmits from a past state’s action to a present state just if the states are numerically identical, for example as determined by international law. I advocate a different answer: culpability transmits from a past state’s action to a present state to the extent that the present state is ‘continuous’ with the culpable action. The relationship of ‘continuity’ is one in which the present state’s existence and ‘endorsed agential resources’ are the result of the culpable action, via an unbroken agential chain of connection from the culpability-producing action to the present state. This relation can hold across secessions, unions, and the formation of new states—for example between former colonial power and contemporary settler-colonial states.

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