Associate 2013-14

Colleen Murphy


A Philosophical Defense of Transitional Justice

In recent decades, a number of states have emerged from periods of repressive rule and civil conflict and begun the transition to democracy. Most of these states have attempted to apply some form of “transitional justice” to address their legacies of wrongdoing. There is little consensus about which measure is most appropriate, why a given measure is morally justified to adopt, and what each measure, in fact, accomplishes. Professor Murphy is currently writing a book manuscript, A Philosophical Defense of Transitional Justice, that develops one of the first philosophical theories of transitional justice and argues that measures other than criminal trials can also achieve justice.

During her Center appointment, she will complete the second part of her book, applying her theory of transitional justice to three distinct justice measures: criminal trials, truth commissions, and reparations. Official reports of truth commissions as well as social scientific studies assume that each of these measures makes an important contribution to transitional communities. Professor Murphy will focus on the rationale through which these measures hold perpetrators accountable and examine whether and in what way(s) that rationale satisfies the principles of transitional justice.

What is at stake in determining whether justice in transitions is distinctive? First, a theory of transitional justice has the potential to broaden our understanding of the core demands made by justice in the aftermath of wrongdoing, showing why it may not require punishment. Second, by clarifying the conditions that need to be satisfied for justice to be achieved, Professor Murphy will provide a theoretical framework for resolving the moral debates surrounding the appropriate way to respond to wrongdoing in transitional societies. Third, her project has important policy implications and will help countries in transition face complicated decisions over how to address their legacies of wrongdoing. Her analysis will provide criteria by which we can judge whether particular responses to wrongdoing have satisfied the principles of justice. Finally, it is well understood that victims and citizens alike care that justice be achieved in the aftermath of wrongdoing.

A Philosophical Defense of Transitional Justice will provide a framework for theorizing what counts as justice in these difficult situations.