The Damage of Moral Damage

Lisa Tessman

in Burdened Virtues

Published in print October 2005 | ISBN: 9780195179149
Published online October 2005 | e-ISBN: 9780199835782 | DOI:

Series: Studies in Feminist Philosophy

  The Damage of Moral Damage

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This chapter explores problems with utilizing the concept of moral damage for discussing oppressed people. Highlighting what are actually wounds due to oppressive conditions can unintentionally lend credibility to a victim-blaming stance that attributes a group’s subordination to an inherent or self-perpetuating inferiority. Indeed, this is exactly the fate met by African-Americans who have been persistently portrayed as damaged and as exhibiting character traits such as “criminality” and “dependency.” Even if one exposes the systemic sources of moral damage and points to this moral damage in the oppressed as evidence of injustices against them, such an argument may not be heard against a background in which the supposed character flaws of members of subordinated groups have been used to condemn these groups as the source of their own problems. And yet, simply denying that there is anything wrong with the self obscures from the view of liberatory thinkers the need to theorize what sort of a self one ought to try to be to survive and resist oppression, and steers activists away from projects—difficult as they may be—of transforming the self.

Keywords: moral damage; blaming the victim; African-Americans; oppression; character

Chapter.  9644 words. 

Subjects: Feminist Philosophy

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