Philosophy Ph.D. Dissertations


Honoring Their Services: Why Blacks in the United States Should Be Paid Reparations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Philosophy, Applied

First Advisor

Louis I. Katzner, PhD

Second Advisor

Christopher Morris, PhD (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Sara Worley, PhD (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Andrew Schocket, PhD (Committee Member)


In 1862, President Lincoln proposed a joint resolution to congress on compensated emancipation. Lincoln preferred a gradual rather than an immediate emancipation so that the process would be less taxing to the slave holding states. Lincoln indicated that compensation should be paid to the states for the problems that such emancipation might cause. From localities to where slaves were owned to localities where property might be lost due to actions on the part of the United States government in freeing the slaves, Lincoln expected the government to compensate the slaveholders, not the slaves. There was no mention of recompense for the slaves themselves. This paper argues for compensatory relief for the former slaves and their descendants.

The methodology explored several dimensions of the arguments for and against the payment of reparations for slavery by defining what reparations is and using different concepts of justice to determine which theory was applicable to arguments for compensation. The following arguments were posited: (1) blacks in the United States are owed reparations based on moral and legal grounds; (2) that the concept of collective responsibility was applicable to this issue; (3) that the descendants of slaves should be paid reparations for the unjustified forced and uncompensated labor and loss of freedom of their ancestors.

An analysis of the problem included an exploration of the development of racial slavery, the slave system established to perpetuate it as the basis for the moral argument that reparations should be paid to the descendents of former slaves. Defining different concepts of justice indicated that compensatory and rectificatory justice is applicable in reference to the forced and free labor that slaves in the United States provided. The forced service of those slaves to the economic, social, and political development of a supposedly liberal democratic state under the most adverse conditions can only be corrected through the payment of reparations for slavery.

An analysis of American history will show that the United States, when it became a nation, set about the deliberate task of instituting a racial system of slavery and justifying its practice legitimately through its constitution. The historical assessment shows how the United States as an established legal and political entity existing over time and as a core-institution defining entity is a collective and can be held legally responsible for paying reparations.