Political Contempt, Divided Societies, and Transitional Justice

Mer, 04/19/2023 - 12:30 / 13:30

205AB, Viale Romania

Speaker: Colleen Murphy , University of Illinois


Contempt is an emotion that focuses on who someone is, and not just what someone has done. When we hold another in contempt, we view the other as inferior as a person, lower in worth or value. Michelle Mason has argued that contempt, properly focused, can be morally justified. In response to perpetrators of atrocities, she claims, permanent contempt is permissible; permanent contempt entails a permanent refusal to engage with the contemnable. If Mason is right, the implications for transitional justice are significant. Her view suggests that it is a mistake to engage with perpetrators of atrocities in the ways that many transitional justice processes do. But Mason is wrong. I argue that especially in contexts where there are perpetrators of atrocities, contempt at the political level will almost never be morally justified; only reactive attitudes focused on wrongdoing itself, like resentment and indignation, will be justified.

About the speaker

Colleen Murphy is the Roger and Stephany Joslin Professor of Law, Professor of Philosophy and of Political Science, and Director of the Women & Gender in Global Perspectives program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  She is the author of The Conceptual Foundations of Transitional Justice (Cambridge University Press, 2017); A Moral Theory of Political Reconciliation (Cambridge University Press, 2010); and more than 70 peer-review journal articles, law review articles, and book chapters on transitional justice and the ethics of risk analysis.  Murphy holds a M.A. and Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a B.A. from the University of Notre Dame.