Statues, Monuments, & Philosophy


Recent protests against racism have included or prompted the removal of statues and monuments honoring historical figures associated with racist actions and views around the United States and elsewhere around the world

This is not the the first wave of such removals, and Ten-Herng Lai, a Ph.D.. candidate in philosophy at Australian National University, has helpfully compiled a list of writings by philosophers on the topic.

Former site of the statue of 17th-century slave trader and member of Parliament Edward Colston

He says,

Given the recent events, it seems good to show that the philosophical community has been discussing the ethics of monuments/commemorations/racist heritage for some time. Here is a non-exhaustive lit review of some of the recent developments:

Burch-Brown, J. (2017). “Is it Wrong to Topple Statues & Rename Schools?” Journal of Political Theory & Philosophy, 59–86.

Demetriou, D. (Forthcoming). “Ashes of Our Fathers: Racist Monuments and the Tribal Right“. In Ethics Left and Right: The Moral Issues that Divide Us, edited by B. Fisher.

Demetriou, D., & Wingo, A. (2018). “The Ethics of Racist Monuments“. In Palgrave Handbook of Philosophy and Public Policy, edited by D. Boonin.

Frowe, H. (2019). “The Duty to Remove Statues of Wrongdoers“. Journal of Practical Ethics, 7(3).

Lai, T.-H. (Forthcoming). “Political Vandalism as Counter-Speech: A Defense of Defacing and Destroying Tainted Monuments“. European Journal of Philosophy.

Lim, C. (Forthcoming). “Vandalizing Tainted Commemorations“. Philosophy and Public Affairs, Online first.

Nili, S. (2020). “From Charlottesville to the Nobel: Political Leaders and the Morality of Political Honors“. Ethics, 130(3), 415–445.

Schulz, J. (2019). “Must Rhodes Fall? The Significance of Commemoration in the Struggle for Relations of Respect“. Journal of Political Philosophy, 27(2), 166–186.

Timmerman, T. (Forthcoming). “A Case for Removing Confederate Monuments“. In Ethics Left and Right: The Moral Issues that Divide Us, edited by B. Fisher.

Tsai, G. (2016). “The morality of state symbolic power“. Social Theory and Practice, 42(2), 318–342.

Feel free to add other relevant works in the comments.
guest
18 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Nate
Nate
10 months ago

“Within the Shadow of Monuments” by Dana Miranda https://blog.apaonline.org/2019/03/26/within-the-shadow-of-monuments/Report

Derek Bowman
Derek Bowman
10 months ago

“Michele Moody-Adams on Monuments and Memorials” at the UnMute Podcast.

https://unmute.squarespace.com/season-4/2112019/episode-037-michele-moody-adams-on-monuments-and-memorials
Report

Jeff
Jeff
10 months ago

“Civil War Monuments: Mourning and Terror” by Jeff Frank in the Philosophy of Education Society Yearbook. https://educationjournal.web.illinois.edu/ojs/index.php/pes/article/view/309Report

Berel Dov Lermer
Berel Dov Lermer
10 months ago

Take down all statues of people who made antisemitic remarks and the pigeons will die of constipation.Report

Daniel Brunson
Daniel Brunson
10 months ago

Refuting the Four Legs of Southern Confederate Memorial Defenders’ Arguments
by J. Edward Hackett and Walter Isaac

Abstract:
This article discuses four loosely related arguments to try to justify the maintenance of Southern Confederate Monuments. These arguments are: The Tradition Argument, The Slippery Slope Argument, The Free Speech Argument, and The Ethics of Instruction Argument. All four arguments are found wanting and in basic denial of the phenomenological reality that these symbols carry in the public sphere. The constituted phenomenological realities of the life world of hate, violence, and terror these objects possess in the lives of Black Americans is evident when we turn to lived-experience.

http://americanhumanist.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/art-4-Hackett-Refuting-the-Four-Legs-of-Confederate-Monument.pdfReport

Michel
Michel
10 months ago

Danto, Arthur. (1985). The Vietnam Veterans Memorial.The Nation. Aug 31, 1985: 152-155.

North, Michael. (1990). The public as sculpture. In Art and the Public Sphere.Ed. W. J. T. Mitchell. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Hein, Hilde. (1996). What is public art?: Time, place, and meaning.The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 54 (1): 1-7.

Horowitz, Gregg M. (1996). Public art/public space: The spectacle of the tilted arc controversy. _Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism_ 54 (1):8-14.

Kelly, Michael. (1996). Public art controversy: The Serra and Lin cases.The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 54 (1): 15-22.

Nguyen, C. Thi (2019). Monuments as commitments: How art speaks to groups and how groups think in art. _Pacific Philosophical Quarterly_ 100 (4):971-994.

Bicknell, Jeanette ; Korsmeyer, Carolyn & Judkins, Jennifer (eds.) (2019). _Philosophical Perspectives on Ruins, Monuments, and Memorials_. Routledge.

Willard, Mary Beth (2019). When Public Art Goes Bad: Two Competing Features of Public Art. _Open Philosophy_ 2 (1):1-9.Report

Travis Timmerman
10 months ago

Thanks for compiling this list Ten-Herng Lai and for posting this Justin! Here are a few more works on the topic.

Abrahams, D. (forthcoming). The Importance of History to the Erasing-History Defence. Journal of Applied Philosophy, 1-16.

Shedler, G. (1998). Racist Symbols and Reparations. Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield.

Torin, A. (2000). On Racist Symbols and Reparations. Social Theory and Practice 26(1), 153-171.

Also, this work of public philosophy by Joanna Burch-Brown is great.

https://www.bristolpost.co.uk/news/bristol-news/defenders-colston-ones-airbrushing-past-40454

Also, not that this really matters, but the publication date for Demetriou’s and my “Ethics left and Right” chapters should be (2020) and not (forthcoming).
Report

LAC prof
LAC prof
10 months ago

Susan Neiman’s Learning from the Germans (FS&G 2019) is outstanding; puts the debate about history in the US in context with post WWII Germany. Report

Alida Liberman
Alida Liberman
10 months ago

Thanks for putting this list together! I think this would be a great topic to cover in intro ethics in the fall. If anyone has successfully used any of these articles in their intro classes, please mention which ones!

Also some shameless self promotion: I have a paper offering guidelines for when it is morally permissible to endorse or support something with mixed good and bad features. While the focus isn’t narrowly on Confederate or other monuments, the paper offers an explanation of why endorsing Confederate (and other monuments intricately bound up with slavery) is impermissible:

Alida Liberman, “‘ But I Voted for Him for Other Reasons!’: Moral Permissibility and the Doctrine of Double Endorsement” – Oxford Studies in Normative Ethics

Link: https://www.dropbox.com/s/j98yaoian0gnyi6/Liberman%20Doctrine%20of%20Double%20Endorsement%20Penultimate%20Draft.docx?dl=0Report

Ten-Herng Lai
Ten-Herng Lai
Reply to  Alida Liberman
10 months ago

Thanks for sharing your paper.

I have indeed used a few of them teaching this semester: Schulz (2019), Nili (2020), Demetriou & Wingo (2018), Tsai (2016). I think they were very positively received by my students. I didn’t use Lim (Forthcoming), as that paper wasn’t out when I designed my course, but I think I would have if it were out then.

https://www.academia.edu/43124527/Syllabus_-_PHIL2122_Philosophy_and_public_policy

I would also like to mention

Archer, A., & Matheson, B. (2019). When Artists Fall: Honoring and Admiring theImmoral. Journal of the American Philosophical Association, 1-20.

This is an awesome paper. Though it’s on a different topic, the immediate application is very clear.Report

Travis Timmerman
10 months ago

Here are a few more.

Bülow, W. & Thomas, J. (forthcoming) On the ethics of reconstructing destroyed cultural heritage monuments. Journal of the American Philosophical Association.

​Bülow, W. (forthcoming) Risking civilian lives to avoid harm to cultural heritage? Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy.Report

Tanya Kostochka
Tanya Kostochka
10 months ago

Not strictly academic article but good and just came out: Julian Baggini’s “Not All Slopes Are Slippery: How to decide which statues can remain and which need to go”
https://www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/not-all-slopes-are-slippery/Report

Travis Timmerman
9 months ago

Apologies for the self-plug, but I just had this 1,000 Word Philosophy entry on the topic come out today. Here is the link should anyone be interested.

https://1000wordphilosophy.com/2020/06/19/removing-confederate-monuments/?fbclid=IwAR1jYPJtvj9DrHAeQiDqa1R2cMfJxAojNAEE39zxqxPcYqY7eSOlf_iuH9E

Report

Erich Hatala Matthes
Erich Hatala Matthes
9 months ago

People in interested in this topic might also find the general issues discussed in the Stanford Encyclopedia entry on The Ethics of Cultural Heritage helpful. I need to do a big update in the next year or so, and plan to add a section specifically on monuments that accounts for all the new work in the OP and comments.

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ethics-cultural-heritage/Report

Τεύκρος
Τεύκρος
8 months ago

Late to this, but thank you very much for it.Report

Ten-Herng Lai
Ten-Herng Lai
6 months ago

Just noticed these two contributions

Rossi, B. C. (2020). False Exemplars: Admiration and the Ethics of Public Monuments. J. Ethics & Soc. Phil., 18, 49.

Berninger, A. (2020). Commemorating Public Figures–In Favour of a Fictionalist Position. Journal of Applied Philosophy.Report

Ten-Herng Lai
Ten-Herng Lai
Reply to  Ten-Herng Lai
6 months ago

and this one

Durdiyeva, S. (2020). Memory production, vandalism, violence: Civil society and lessons from a short life of a monument to Stalin. Constellations.Report

Elizabeth Scarbrough
3 months ago

The Matthes encyclopedia entry above is excellent and I highly recommend it! For self-promotion, I have two articles about monuments published for non-expert audiences. I advocate for a monument graveyard:

“Burying the Dead Monuments” https://aestheticsforbirds.com/2020/06/18/burying-the-dead-monuments/

“Dead Monuments” in The Philosopher’s Magazine Issue 91 (pre-publication draft on my website) Report