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Bell, Macalester. Against Simple Removal: A Defence of Defacement as a Response to Racist Monuments
, Journal of Applied Philosophy
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Added by: Ten-Herng Lai
Abstract: In recent years, protesters around the world have been calling for the removal of commemorations honouring those who are, by contemporary standards, generally regarded as seriously morally compromised by their racism. According to one line of thought, leaving racist memorials in place is profoundly disrespectful, and doing so tacitly condones, and perhaps even celebrates, the racism of those honoured and memorialized. The best response is to remove the monuments altogether. In this article, I first argue against a prominent offense-based account of the wrong of simply leaving memorials in place, unaltered, before offering my own account of this wrong. In at least some cases, these memorials wrong insofar as they express and exemplify a morally objectionable attitude of race-based contempt. I go on to argue that the best way of answering this disrespect is through a process of expressively “dehonouring” the subject. Removal of these commemorations is ultimately misguided, in many cases, because removal, by itself, cannot adequately dishonour, and simple removal does not fully answer the ways in which these memorials wrong. I defend a more nuanced approach to answering the wrong posed by these monuments, and I argue that public expressions of contempt through defacement have an ineliminable role to play in an apt dishonouring process.

Comment: Two things should be noted in this paper. First, many have discussed the importance of stopping or blocking the harm of objectionable commemorations. This paper goes a step further and discusses the importance of “answering” the wrong done by these monuments. Second, the paper engages with a “negative” emotion, namely, contempt, that is present at both racist monuments and the effort to confront them. It allows us to see the legitimate role this negative emotion may play in the struggle for equality: contempt can be apt towards inapt contempt expressed through racist monuments. It also nicely spells out the potential practical implications of taking this negative emotion seriously.

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Burch-Brown, Joanna. Is it Wrong to Topple Statues and Rename Schools?
2017, Journal of Political Theory and Philosophy 1(1):59-88
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Added by: Ten-Herng Lai
Abstract: In recent years, campaigns across the globe have called for the removal of objects symbolic of white supremacy. This paper examines the ethics of altering or removing such objects. Do these strategies sanitize history, destroy heritage and suppress freedom of speech? Or are they important steps towards justice? Does removing monuments and renaming schools reflect a lack of parity and unfairly erase local identities? Or can it sometimes be morally required, as an expression of respect for the memories of people who endured past injustices; a recognition of this history's ongoing legacies; and a repudiation of unjust social hierarchies?

Comment: It is often thought that statues and monuments, even those of terrible people, are innocuous, that they cannot harm or affect us negatively. This paper helps to spell out the harms of preserving these commemorations. Among other important issues, this paper also engages with the “anachronism” problem, that we are judging people of the past with contemporary standards. This paper also gives a good introduction on the notion of “ideology” and its relation to objectionable commemorations.

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Frowe, Helen. The Duty to Remove Statues of Wrongdoers
2019, Journal of Practical Ethics 7(3):1-31
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Added by: Ten-Herng Lai
Abstract: This paper argues that public statues of persons typically express a positive evaluative attitude towards the subject. It also argues that states have duties to repudiate their own historical wrongdoing, and to condemn other people’s serious wrongdoing. Both duties are incompatible with retaining public statues of people who perpetrated serious rights violations. Hence, a person’s being a serious rights violator is a sufficient condition for a state’s having a duty to remove a public statue of that person. I argue that this applies no less in the case of the ‘morally ambiguous’ wrongdoer, who both accomplishes significant goods and perpetrates serious rights violations. The duty to remove a statue is a defeasible duty: like most duties, it can be defeated by lesser-evil considerations. If removing a statue would, for example, spark a violent riot that would risk unjust harm to lots of people, the duty to remove could be outweighed by the duty not to foreseeably cause unjust harm. This would provide a lesser-evil justification for keeping the statue. But it matters that the duty to remove is outweighed, rather than negated, by these consequences. Unlike when a duty is negated, one still owes something in cases of outweighing. And it especially matters that it is outweighed by the predicted consequences of wrongful behaviour by others.

Comment: This paper highlights several important things. First, statues are blunt tools and express pro-attitudes to the persons they represent as a whole. Second, it sets out a clear standard for removal, and defends the conclusion that we should remove many or even most existing statues. Third, to the question “what if removal incites violence?” this paper provides a good answer. Fourth, a legitimate question is what we should do about statues of wrongdoers of the distant past? The discussion on this here is insightful.

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Lai, Ten-Herng. Civil Disobedience, Costly Signals, and Leveraging Injustice
2021, Ergo 7(40): 1083-1108
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Added by: Simon Fokt, Contributed by: Anonymous
Abstract: Civil disobedience, despite its illegal nature, can sometimes be justified vis-à-vis the duty to obey the law, and, arguably, is thereby not liable to legal punishment. However, adhering to the demands of justice and refraining from punishing justified civil disobedience may lead to a highly problematic theoretical consequence: the debilitation of civil disobedience. This is because, according to the novel analysis I propose, civil disobedience primarily functions as a costly social signal. It is effective by being reliable, reliable by being costly, and costly primarily by being punished. My analysis will highlight a distinctive feature of civil disobedience: civil disobedients leverage the punitive injustice they suffer to amplify their communicative force. This will lead to two paradoxical implications. First, the instability of the moral status of both civil disobedience and its punishment to the extent where the state may be left with no permissible course of action with regard to punishing civil disobedience. Second, by refraining from punishing justified civil disobedience, the state may render uncivil disobedience—illegal political activities that fall short of the standards of civil disobedience—potentially permissible.

Comment: Talks about civil disobedience, especially on how its punishment can be problematic.

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