Reparations as Rough Justice

23 Pages Posted: 30 Sep 2005

Date Written: September 2005


Philosophers and others have criticized reparations, particularly compensatory cash reparations, on a range of conceptual grounds. I shall attempt to defend reparations programs against these criticisms. The defense is that compensatory reparations programs aspire to do "rough justice" - no less, but no more. Rough justice is the intuition that sometimes it is permissible, even mandatory, to enact a scheme of compensatory reparations that is indefensible according to any first-best principle of justice. Rough justice seems attractive only when compared to no justice at all. The status quo of inaction is also a proposal for a scheme of compensation (set at zero dollars). The status quo thus fares even worse, according to the same criteria that condemn the relevant reparations proposals.

Keywords: reparations, compensation, transitional justice, historical injustice

Suggested Citation

Vermeule, Adrian, Reparations as Rough Justice (September 2005). U Chicago Law & Economics, Olin Working Paper No. 260, U of Chicago, Public Law Working Paper No. 105, Available at SSRN: or

Adrian Vermeule (Contact Author)

Harvard Law School ( email )

1525 Massachusetts
Griswold 500
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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