Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Level





Jacob Adler

Committee Member

Eric Funkhouser

Second Committee Member

Thomas Senor


Justice, Race, Reparations, Rights, Structural injustice, Wolterstorff


The rights literature is full of accounts of rights, and each captures important aspects of the nature and function of rights. But none of the leading theories offers a comprehensive account of the nature and function of rights that both stands up under the pressure of counterexamples and can buck accusations of internal inconsistency.

In this paper I embrace much of Nicholas Wolterstorff's work on justice and the relation of human rights to worth, and I propose changes to his account in order to strengthen it. I evoke the works of Johan Galtung, Richard Rubenstein, and Elizabeth Anderson in order to equip my "Wolterstorffian" account with the ability to address structural injustice, structural violence, and concentrated disadvantage. I offer that human rights (morally legitimate claims) supervene on human worth and facts of the matter about that which is good for things like us, and I argue that this supervenience of rights on worth is best understood as indexed to particular socio-moral contexts. Human worth is inalienable, and from socio-moral context to socio-moral context our morally legitimate claims may vary based on the details of the socio-moral context we find ourselves in. All of the preceding will be controversial--far more controversial than the claims "humans have value," "humans are morally considerable," or "humans have rights."

Toward the latter part of my paper, I take an applied turn. I offer that if consensus cannot be reached on why, exactly, humans are valuable or what, exactly, rights are, then what is needed is a "Rawlsian maneuver" with which we can lean forward into territory that enjoys relative consensus: that humans have rights (whatever those are and for whatever reason they are had). From that place of relative consensus (humans have rights) I apply my "Wolterstorffian" account of rights and justice to the area of anti-Black racism in the American context. The application of my account to sins like slavery, various Jim Crow policies, and contemporary structural racism or direct racial violence demonstrates the moral legitimacy of two different (in kind) sets of claims to race reparations. The first set of morally legitimate claims to race reparations will include claims to compensation for past wrongs, in the sense of corrections for damages, back-pay for stolen labor, or compensation for stolen life. The second set of morally legitimate claims to race reparations will include claims to structural reform and the disruption of protracted anti-Black structural violence, in the sense of affirmative action policies, police and education reform, and the disruption of inequitable distributions of power.