When philosophical assumptions matter

Allison Mitchell

in Trauma, Truth and Reconciliation

Published on behalf of Oxford University Press

Published in print August 2006 | ISBN: 9780198569435
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191754449 | DOI:

Series: International Perspectives in Philosophy & Psychiatry

When philosophical assumptions matter

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The aims most commonly expressed by people involved in the work of commissions are twofold: reconciliation in the sense of peaceful coexistence, and the prevention of future injustices modeled upon past patterns of abuse. Of course, not every commission prioritizes these ends, and different commissions may understand the nature of the ends in quite different ways.1 Nevertheless, the frequent expression of these two aims makes them suitable for a general investigation into the relation between commissioners’ procedures and ends. My own project begins with the question: does truth-telling in the sense specified by commissioners promote their stated aims? Intentionally and meaningfully ambiguous, this question admits of two possible readings: first, does the way in which people involved in the work of commissions understand the activity of truth-telling suggest the possible or likely realization of their desired ends? In other words, should we expect these groups to succeed in light of their own understanding of their work? This question about the nature of and relation between abstract concepts (or conceptions) suggests the usefulness of philosophical analysis. Second, regardless of how they conceive of their procedures and ends, do commissions tend to succeed (as a matter of fact) in bringing about the kind of better social world they recommend? This second question concerns the nature and significance of tangible results, and so is a matter for empirical study. Although I will concentrate mainly on the first question, I assume that a clear understanding of procedure will have obvious practical value for the identification and successful realization of commissioners’ goals. Over the course of this chapter, I will develop and illustrate how an intuitive realist picture of the world expressed by commissioners, alongside a picture of their role as impartial investigators, restricts the range of practically realizable goals. Then I will suggest an alternative picture of the commissioners’ work that opens up the possibility of achieving a more ambitious set of aims. A provisional thesis guides my subsequent remarks: while impartial investigation into matters of fact may be necessary and sufficient for reconciliation, the achievement of moral agreement about those facts will be necessary (if insufficient) for the realization of the broadest possible range of aims. In order for their procedure to promote their desired ends, commissioners will need to develop and express a partially shared understanding of the moral significance of past events.

Chapter.  6684 words. 

Subjects: Psychiatry

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