Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Necessity of Morality

In the essay by Elizabeth Kiss entitled “Moral Ambition Within and Beyond Political Constraints,” Kiss brings up a new aspect of truth commissions that I don’t believe we had really discussed before. She bases her essay on the idea of the moral ambition of truth commissions, that they are determined “to honor multiple moral considerations and to pursue profound and nuanced moral goals” (70). As Kiss explains, this sense of moral ambition that is unique to truth commissions enables them to be successful, as shown in Truth V. Justice’s constant example of the TRC. Kiss argues that restorative justice is founded upon this idea of moral ambition.

Since restorative justice operates with the long-term goal of societal reconciliation, Kiss argues it is necessary for truth commissions to be victim-centered. She also identifies the three-fold commitment of restorative justice as (1) to affirm and restore the dignity of victims of human rights violations; (2) to emphasize the deeds of perpetrators and hold them accountable; and (3) to create social conditions conducive to respecting and protecting human rights. A fourth aspect Kiss names is one of great importance for truth commissions: restorative justice’s commitment to reconciliation. For Kiss, the moral ambition of restorative justice is evident in the actions of truth commission, specifically the TRC.

In my opinion, injecting a moral ambition/aspect into restorative truth makes the whole concept seem more realistic, or at least more comprehensible. Victim-centered truth commissions seeking reconciliation will naturally follow courses of action that have moral foundations. Reconciliation in and of itself seems to directly correlate to the moral undertaking of a truth commission. Restorative justice strives to reconcile the bonds/relationship between all members of the society affected by atrocities in order to create conditions in which all citizens are respected, treated with dignity, and have their human rights protected. Reconciliation, and restorative justice for that matter, begins with recognition. Truth, and therefore justice, can only truly be achieved when both the victim and the crime committed against them are acknowledged and recognized. From there, reconciliation and restoration can begin.

While I didn’t really get Kiss the first time I read her essay, now I understand how vital it is for truth commissions to have some sort of moral ambition. Morality provides the motivation for and ability to undertake successful truth commissions that ultimately establish some sense of reconciliation, that allow a community and the larger society to move forward together. I think that without some moral grounding, truth commissions wouldn’t work because the purpose of societal reconciliation seems, to me, to be morally-driven.


  1. While I agree with you that morality is necessary for a successful truth commission, what moral set is considered proper or right? The South African TRC has been criticized for the Christian influence that was so present within the commission. In the future, should there be more religious leaders involved from other religious beliefs? Should religion be left completely out of the commission? If a human's moral set is completely dictated by a religious belief, can religion be left out of a morally guided commission?

  2. While I do think the heavy influence of Christian values was slightly inappropriate in the South African TRC, I don't agree that "a human's moral set is completely dictated by a religious belief." While, sure, many people do derive their sense of morality from religion, I think it's possible for truth commissions to utilize a sense of morality stemming from a common sense of humanity. Tutu called for Christian forgiveness, but societal reconciliation doesn't have to be based on relgious beliefs. Or at least I don't think so.

  3. I agree that her point about the necessity of a moral ambition makes sense. If truth commissions were strictly after justice in the legal sense, it seems that many of the objections about truth commission overstepping into the boundary of courts would be valid. But adding the moral dimension really appeals to this idea of restorative justice, and the need to restore all of the relationships that have been broken by the atrocities that occurred.

  4. The issue I think is that morals are such a loose concept. People can have very different ideas about what is moral and what is not. Therefore, I think it is hard to pin certain morals on a given truth comission.


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