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Mediating Between Thick Invocations of the Common Good and Thin Apeals to Human Rights: The Case of South Africa

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image of Comparative Sociology
For content published from 1960-2001, see International Journal of Comparative Sociology.

AbstractHow shall we think of our public reasoning in modern, pluralist societies? Is the most reasonable doctrine a “thin” public morality, e.g., a “moral Esperanto” of rights? Or as Michael Walzer urges, must we concede that “morality is thick from the beginning, culturally integrated” in particular narrative traditions? Benjamin Gregg offers an incisive and original response in Thick Moralities, Thin Politics: Social Integration Across Communities of Belief. In responding to Gregg, I explore the role of human rights in the public, political discourse of modern, pluralist polities, drawing, in particular, on victims’ narratives in the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). For, despite its limitations, the TRC offers an illuminating exercise in social integration among diverse communities.

Affiliations: 1: Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University 1735 Le Roy Ave., Berkeley, CA 94709, Email:


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