Some normative theorists believe that there is a principled moral reason not to retain benefits realized by injustice or wrongdoing. However, critics have argued that this idea is implausible. One purported problem is that the idea lacks an obvious rationale and that attempts to provide one have been unconvincing. This paper articulates and defends the idea that the principled reason in question has an expressive quality: it gets its reason-giving force from the symbolic aptness of such an act as an expressive response to wrongdoing. The paper thus argues that at least in a certain subset of cases, renouncing benefits realized by injustice amounts to a powerful and uniquely apt expression of protest against the disrespect for the victim that is implied by the wrongdoer’s actions. The paper shows how this idea can inform the question of reparations for slavery and its aftermath in the United States. Lastly it develops an important objection to the argument presented and gives an account of how this objection can be met.
Sigurd Lindstad, Benefiting from Wrongdoing and Moral Protest, Ethical Theory and Moral Practice (2021). Published: 10 May 2021.