Structural Injustice and the Responsibilities of the Oppressed: The Case of Denialism

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Virginia Tech

Leading accounts of responsibility for structural injustice endorse the idea that all members of an unjust social structure—including those who are oppressed—bear a forward-looking responsibility to help combat structural injustice. Importantly, this idea assumes that all oppressed agents are capable of consciously combating structural injustice. But there exist oppressed agents, which I term 'denialists', who deny the existence of the wrongs that they and other members of their social group(s) experience in virtue of being subject to structural injustice. Initially, it seems doubtful that a denialist can consciously combat structural injustice—what could they possibly do to consciously combat wrongs whose existence they reject? This may lead one to think that a denialist cannot be held responsible for helping combat structural injustice, so that the aforementioned accounts must be revised. In this paper, I show that such revision is not needed. Despite initial appearances, a denialist can be held responsible for helping combat structural injustice. To establish this claim, I first argue that two criteria—feasibleness and plausible effectiveness—jointly generate pro tanto responsibilities to help fix structural injustice for oppressed agents. Then, I argue that these criteria entail that a denialist has a pro tanto responsibility to listen to others' claims of wrongdoing.

structural injustice, responsibility