The Age of Apology: Facing up to the Past

One of the most characteristic features of our age is the search for recognition
and moral equality. A key challenge for contemporary liberalism is finding the
best model for accommodating the legitimate search for justice of aggrieved and
historically oppressed groups within a framework that is both constructive and
conducive to reconciliation and the strengthening of democracy. This is no easy
task. It is daunting both because of the frequently controversial nature of claims
concerning the past, and because of the important debate surrounding the role
of the state and other collective bodies in representing and ultimately atoning
for historic wrongs. Furthermore, collective apologies raise the question of the
malleability of collective memory. Can a society re-interpret its past in order to do
greater justice to its victims and move in a better direction? It seems entirely likely
that how the current generation navigates these continuing problems and debates
will have a major influence on our moral and political future. I will point to some
of the specifically philosophical problems to be dealt with below.

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