Location

Brock University

Document Type

Paper

Start Date

15-5-1999 9:00 AM

Abstract

In the context of redressing wrongs of the past, the importance of acknowledgement is often urged. It figures significantly, for instance, in the final report of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission and in the 1996 Canadian Royal Commiss ion Report on Aboriginal Peoples. In both documents a central theme is that acknowledging wrongs of the past is a key first step towards healing and reconciliation. Several recent statements about public apology also urge that moral apologies are signif icant because of the ways in which they acknowledge wrongdoing and responsibility. However, there seem to be few explanations of what, exactly, acknowledgement amounts to and why one would expect it to be an important stage in the healing of victims or in the reconciliation between victim and perpetrator groups. I suggest that ackno wledgement is a kind of spelling out, or articulation, of something that we already know or are in a position to know. When we acknowledge something we avow or accept it as something attached to ourselves. I distinguish between granted acknowledgement, received acknowledgement, and self-acknowledgement. Often acknowledgement is partial and compromised, a situation which may be confusing and harmful to those who have been wronged. I propose explanations as to why the acknowledgement that they are worth y human beings who were wronged and deserved better tends to be profoundly important to groups such as Blacks in South Africa and native peoples in Canada. I also address difficulties which we face when we are pressed to acknowledge injustice and wrongdo ing which we would rather not accept as part of our social history.

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May 15th, 9:00 AM

What is acknowledgement and why is it important?

Brock University

In the context of redressing wrongs of the past, the importance of acknowledgement is often urged. It figures significantly, for instance, in the final report of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission and in the 1996 Canadian Royal Commiss ion Report on Aboriginal Peoples. In both documents a central theme is that acknowledging wrongs of the past is a key first step towards healing and reconciliation. Several recent statements about public apology also urge that moral apologies are signif icant because of the ways in which they acknowledge wrongdoing and responsibility. However, there seem to be few explanations of what, exactly, acknowledgement amounts to and why one would expect it to be an important stage in the healing of victims or in the reconciliation between victim and perpetrator groups. I suggest that ackno wledgement is a kind of spelling out, or articulation, of something that we already know or are in a position to know. When we acknowledge something we avow or accept it as something attached to ourselves. I distinguish between granted acknowledgement, received acknowledgement, and self-acknowledgement. Often acknowledgement is partial and compromised, a situation which may be confusing and harmful to those who have been wronged. I propose explanations as to why the acknowledgement that they are worth y human beings who were wronged and deserved better tends to be profoundly important to groups such as Blacks in South Africa and native peoples in Canada. I also address difficulties which we face when we are pressed to acknowledge injustice and wrongdo ing which we would rather not accept as part of our social history.