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The Aporias of Justice and the Virtue of Un-inheritance

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This paper contends that Ananda Abeysekara’s notion of un-inheritance, developed via a Derridean analysis of contemporary Sri Lankan politics and society, can act as a helpful supplement to the concept of justice. What one finds in Abeysekara’s analysis is an interpretation of justice as ultimately aporetic: justice both opens up to the possibility of its ever greater concrete realization and continually defers its completion. This paper begins by examining the aporetic character of justice as articulated by Derrida. It then proceeds to Abeysekara’s account, situated as it is within a largely political consideration of Sri Lanka’s multicultural heritage and the recent conflicts that have arisen there. Abeysekara offers the notion of un-heritance as a way of thinking the possibility of justice precisely when political—and also religious—traditions come to an impasse, thus recognizing the inescapably aporetic structure of justice itself.

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  1. 1.

    One may recognize in the structure being described here the distinction Aristotle makes in the Nicomachean Ethics between the just (τὸ δίκαιον) and the equitable (τὸ ἐπιεικὲς) (Book V, chapter 10).

  2. 2.

    Cf. Derrida 2007, p.15: “The interest of deconstruction, of such force and desire as it may have, is a certain experience of the impossible.” This passage is referenced by Derrida (1993, p.15), among a list of places where the theme of aporia has emerged in his works.

  3. 3.

    The relationship between deconstruction and any truly normative ethical or political program is ambiguous at best, but, as Fritsch argues, it is reasonable to suppose that there is a positive relationship between openness to the other or the new and a reduction of violence and injustice (Fritsch 2002, p.589).

  4. 4.

    The primary source for much of the information in this section is Bandarage’s (2009) account, which obviously goes into much more depth historically and demographically, as well as politically.

  5. 5.

    The disparity between these two statistics—i.e., the fact that not all Sinhalese people are Buddhists—is important to recognize, especially given the political uses to which Sri Lanka’s Buddhist history has been put by Sinhala nationalists chief among which would be the privileged civic role constitutionally given to Buddhism in the country since the 1970s; cf. Ismail 2005, p.48.

  6. 6.

    It is, however, worthwhile to recognize that many of the Tamil “elite” (including late FP/TULF party leader S. J. V. Chelvanayakam) are Christians (specifically, Roman Catholics); cf. Bandarage 2009, p.6.

  7. 7.

    Cf. “Hostipitality” (Derrida 2002, pp.358–420) for one example among many others.


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  2. Bandarage, A. (2009). The Separatist Conflict in Sri Lanka. New York: iUniverse.

  3. Caputo, J. D. (2011). The Return of Anti-Religion: From Radical Atheism to Radical Theology. Journal of Culture and Religious Theory, 11(2), 32–124.

  4. Derrida, J. (1993). Aporias. (trans: Dutoit, T.). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

  5. Derrida, J. (1994). Specters of Marx (trans: Kamuf, P.). New York: Routledge.

  6. Derrida, J. (2002). In G. Anidjar (Ed.), Acts of Religion. New York: Routledge.

  7. Derrida, J. (2007). In P. Kamuf & E. Rottenberg (Eds.), Psyche: Inventions of the Other (Vol. I). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

  8. Fritsch, M. (2002). Derrida’s Democracy to Come. Constellations, 9(4), 574–597.

  9. Heidegger, M. (1962). Being and Time. (trans: Macquarrie, J. & Robinson, E.). San Francisco: Harper.

  10. Ismail, Q. (2005). Abiding by Sri Lanka. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

  11. Raffoul, F. (2010). The Origins of Responsibility. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

  12. Stout, J. (2004). Democracy and Tradition. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

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Correspondence to Michael Barnes Norton.

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Norton, M.B. The Aporias of Justice and the Virtue of Un-inheritance. Philosophia 41, 373–382 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11406-013-9438-1

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  • Justice
  • Deconstruction
  • Postcolonial theory
  • Jacques Derrida
  • Ananda Abeysekara