Daniel Butt (Oxford)


Hello - this is my personal web page.

NEW (2018): New podcast from Philosophy 24/7: Should we pay reparations for wrongs committed in the past?




I am a political theorist at the University of Oxford, where I am Associate Professor in Political Theory in the Department of Politics and International Relations, and Fellow and Tutor in Political Theory) at Balliol College. I’m a member of the Centre for the Study of Social Justice (CSSJ). This is my Oxford webpage. This is my academia.edu profile.  


I started my current job in 2013, and have recently acted as Course Director for the M.Phil. in Political Theory (2013-16), Tutor for Undergraduate Admissions at Balliol (2014-16), Director of the Centre for the Study of Social Justice (2015-16), Vice-Master (Academic) of Balliol (2016-2020), and Oxford PPE Admissions Coordinator (2017-2020). From 2009 to 2013, I was Lecturer in Political Theory at the University of Bristol. Before that, I spent five years as Fellow and Tutor in Politics at Oriel College in Oxford, and was a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow in Social and Political Thought in the Department of Politics and IR. I spent three years as Research Fellow and Tutor in Politics at Keble College, Oxford, and was both a graduate and undergraduate student at Wadham College, Oxford, where I did a D.Phil. and an M.Phil. in Politics, and a B.A. in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, and was President of Wadham College Students’ Union. I was previously an Associate Editor, and am now a member of the Editorial Board, of the journal Contemporary Political Theory, and am a member of the Editorial Board of the Intergenerational Justice Review.


I teach both contemporary political theory and the history of political thought, though much of my research to date has tended to concentrate on modern day questions of rectificatory and distributive justice, particularly with reference to the rectification of past wrongdoing. I am currently working on a range of different projects, including a book on reparations, as well as pieces on the moral implications of benefiting from wrongdoing, the ethics of parenting, and a number of topics in environmental ethics. I won the Outstanding Graduate Supervisor Award for the Social Sciences at the 2018 Oxford SU Student Led Teaching Awards.


I once appeared on the Moral Maze on BBC Radio 4 talking about luck and inequality: details on how to hear it are here. I also feature in this BBC article by David Edmonds: “How do you decide when a statue must fall?”


My email address is daniel.butt@politics.ox.ac.uk.






Rectifying International Injustice: Principles of Compensation and Restitution Between Nations (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009). The full text is available online here, via Oxford Scholarship Online. It should be accessible on most University networks. It has been reviewed in International Affairs 85, 5 (2009), accessible here, Political Studies Review 8, 2 (2010), accessible here, Global Justice: Theory Practice Rhetoric 3 (2010), accessible here, and Ethical Perspectives 19,1 (2012), accessible here. An abstract and a summary of each chapter of the book are at the bottom of this page.



(with Sarah Fine and Zofia Stemplowska) Political Theory, Here and Now: Essays in Honour of David Miller (Oxford University Press, forthcoming)



“What structural injustice theory leaves out", Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, forthcoming.

"Judicial independence and transformative constitutionalism: squaring the circle of legitimacy" in D. J. Galligan (ed.), The Courts and the People: Friend or Foe? (Hart, forthcoming) 

(with Zofia Stemplowska) "No country for strangers", in Butt, Fine, and StemplowskaPolitical Theory, Here and Now: Essays in Honour of David Miller (Oxford University Press, forthcoming)

(with Matthew Butt) “The mathematics of juries”, Counsel, forthcoming.

“The ethical implications of benefiting from injustice”, in Hugh LaFollette (ed.), Ethics in Practice: An Anthology (5th edition) (Wiley Blackwell, 2020).

“Restitution post bellum: property, inheritance, and corrective justice”, Journal of Applied Philosophy 36,3 (2019), 357-365

Decolonising universities: the second wave”, Common Ground 2 (2019), 16-19.

“Justice postcoloniale” [Postcolonial justice], in Patrick Savidan (ed.), Dictionnaire des inégalités et de la justice sociale (Presses universitaires de France, 2018) (in French).

“Historical emissions: does ignorance matter?”, in Lukas Meyer and Pranay Sanklecha (eds.), Historical Emissions and Climate Justice (Cambridge University Press, 2017) pdf

“Law, governance and the ecological ethos”, in Stephen Gardiner and Allen Thompson (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Environmental Ethics (Oxford University Press, 2016) pdf

“Microfinance, non-ideal theory, and global distributive justice”, in Luis Cabrera and Tom Sorell (eds.) The Ethics of Microfinance (Cambridge University Press, 2015)

“Historical justice in post-colonial contexts: repairing historical wrongs and the end of Empire”, in Janna Thompson and Klaus Neumann (eds.) Historical Justice and Memory (University of Wisconsin Press, 2015)

“’A doctrine quite new and altogether untenable’: defending the beneficiary pays principle”, Journal of Applied Philosophy  31,4 (2014), 336-348 pdf

“Reparative justice: the debate over inherited inequities”, in Rupert Jones-Parry and Andrew Robertson (eds.), The Commonwealth Yearbook 2014 (Cambridge: Commonwealth Secretariat, 2014) pdf

"‘The Polluter Pays’: Backward-looking principles of intergenerational Justice and the environment" in Jean-Christophe Merle (ed.), Spheres of Global Justice, (Dortrecht: Springer, 2013) 

“Inheriting rights to reparation: compensatory justice and the passage of time”, Ethical Perspectives 20, 2 (2013), 245-269 pdf

“Historic injustice and the inheritance of rights and duties in East Asia”, in Jun-Hyeok Kwak and Melissa Nobles (eds.) Inherited Responsibility and Historical Reconciliation in East Asia(Routledge, 2013) pdf 

Colonialism and postcolonialism”, in Hugh LaFollette (ed.) The International Encyclopedia of Ethics (Blackwell, 2013), pp. 892-8 pdf

“Repairing historical wrongs and the end of empire”, Social & Legal Studies 21,2 (2012), 227-242 pdf

“Option luck, gambling, and fairness”, Ethical Perspectives 19,3 (2012), 417-443 pdf

“Global equality of opportunity as an institutional standard of distributive justice”, in Chios Carmody, Frank J. Garcia, and John Linarelli (eds.), Global Justice and International Economic Law: Opportunities and Prospects, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012), pp. 44-67 pdf

(with Stuart White and Martin O’Neill) “Liberalism and trade unionism”International Union Rights, 18 (2012)

배상 요구와 의무의 상속성:‘위안부여성들의 후손에 대한 배상” (Inheriting compensatory claims and duties: reparations to the descendants of “comfort women”), Journal of Asiatic Studies, 53 (2010), 40-70 (in Korean – translation by Sun Young Leepdf   

“‘Victors’ justice’? Historic injustice and the legitimacy of international law”, in Lukas H. Meyer (ed) Legitimacy, Justice and Public International Law (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), pp. 163-185 pdf

"On benefiting from injustice", Canadian Journal of Philosophy 37 (2007), 129-152 pdf 
- Reprinted in Lukas Meyer (ed.) Intergenerational Justice (Ashgate, 2012).

"Nations, overlapping generations and historic injustice", American Philosophical Quarterly 43 (2006), 357-67 pdf





The following reports were written for the Foundation for Law, Justice and Society in Oxford, in my previous capacity as Director of their programme on “Courts and the Making of Public Policy”.


The Capacity of Courts to Handle Complexity (2009)


Adjudicating Socio-Economic Rights (2008)


Transformative Constitutionalism and Socio-Economic Rights (2008)


In Times of Crisis, Can We Trust the Courts? (2008)


If the Public Would Be Outraged by their Rulings, Should Judges Care? (2007)


The Courts and Social Policy in the United States (2007)


Report: Democracy, the Courts, and the Making of Public Policy (2006)


Policy Brief: Democracy, the Courts, and the Making of Public Policy (2006)





Reparations and the End of Empire (November 2013)


Does Inequality Matter? Social Justice and Political Theory (September 2016)



Rectifying International Injustice: Principles of Compensation and Restitution Between Nations 

Daniel Butt 

Book Abstract 

The history of international relations is characterized by widespread injustice. What implications does this have for those living in the present? Should contemporary states pay reparations to the descendants of the victims of historic wrongdoing? Many writers have dismissed the moral urgency of rectificatory justice in a domestic context, as a result of their forward-looking accounts of distributive justice. Rectifying International Injustice argues that historical international injustice raises a series of distinct theoretical problems, as a result of the popularity of backward-looking accounts of distributive justice in an international context. It lays out three morally relevant forms of connection with the past, based in ideas of benefit, entitlement and responsibility. Those living in the present may have obligations to pay compensation insofar as they are benefiting, and others are suffering, as a result of the effects of historic injustice. They may be in possession of property which does not rightly belong to them, but to which others have inherited entitlements. Finally, they may be members of political communities which bear collective responsibility for an ongoing failure to rectify historic injustice. Rectifying International Injustice considers each of these three linkages with the past in detail. It examines the complicated relationship between rectificatory justice and distributive justice, assesses the appropriateness of judging the past by contemporary moral standards, and argues that many of those who resist cosmopolitan demands for the global redistribution of resources have failed to appreciate the extent to which past wrongdoing undermines the legitimacy of contemporary resource holdings. 

Book keywords: historic injustice, international relations, reparations, compensation, distributive justice, rectificatory justice, benefit, entitlement, property, responsibility 

Chapter 1: Introduction 

This chapter outlines the empirical context of the debate over reparations for historic international injustice, with particular reference to colonialism and the slave trade. It characterises the argument of the book as a specific type of non-ideal theory, and explains the book’s commitment to a particular kind of practicality, whereby its arguments can be employed by real world political actors. It outlines an approach to international justice labelled “international libertarianism”, advocated by writers including John Rawls, David Miller, Michael Walzer and Thomas Nagel, which is analogous to domestic libertarianism in terms of its commitment to respect for sovereignty, self-ownership and the minimal state. This is distinguished from alternative accounts of international justice such as cosmopolitanism and realism. The book’s focus on rectificatory duties, rather than rights, is explained, and the terminological relation between terms such as restitution and compensation, and nation and state, is explicated. 

Keywords: colonialism, slave trade, non-ideal theory, practicality, Rawls, Walzer, international libertarianism, sovereignty, self-ownership, minimal state 

Chapter 2: Why Worry about Historic Injustice? 

This chapter outlines a number of critical responses to the project of seeking to rectify historic injustice, and explains why largely they do not apply to international libertarian accounts of international justice. It distinguishes between backward-looking and forward-looking accounts of distributive justice in both ideal and non-ideal theory, and looks at how both accounts relate to ideas of rectificatory justice. If one advocates a forward-looking account of distributive justice, and so advocates a redistribution of resources with each new generation, then the rectificatory project will seem to be of little importance. However, this nonchalance in the face of historic injustice is unsustainable if one advocates backward-looking principles. Since international libertarians resist cosmopolitan calls for a generational redistribution of resources across political boundaries, they must carefully scrutinize the provenance of modern day distributions.

Keywords: historic injustice, rectification, non-ideal theory, international justice, distributive justice, backward-looking, forward-looking, redistribution, cosmopolitan, generation 

Chapter 3: International Libertarianism 

This chapter lays out the account of justice between nations – international libertarianism – which the book uses to assess present day obligations arising from historic injustice. The first section outlines international libertarianism as a backward-looking account of international distributive justice, in contrast with forward-looking redistributive cosmopolitanism. The second section differentiates international libertarianism from prescriptive realism, by giving details of the principles of just international interaction which international libertarians believe should govern relations between different communities. These combine a respect for national self-determination with a prohibition on self-interested aggression. The third section considers the propriety of using these principles to judge historic international interaction, in the light of historically different beliefs about morality and the relatively recent development of international law. It concludes by considering the claim that historic departures from the principles might be seen as having been justified by necessity, and considers the duties of compensation which would result from such actions. 

Keywords: international libertarianism, distributive justice, backward-looking, forward-looking, realism, self-determination, aggression, international law, necessity, compensation 

Chapter 4: Compensation for Historic International Injustice 

This chapter examines claims that compensation should be paid as a result of the lasting harm and benefit caused by historic injustice. It argues that present day parties who have benefited from the automatic effects of past wrongdoing may possess compensatory duties if others are still disadvantaged, insofar as the victims and beneficiaries are not in a state of moral equilibrium. It argues that any claims relating to compensation must make reference to some account of counterfactual reasoning in order to assess the degree of harm which has been suffered. The question of identifying the morally relevant counterfactual is something which has been frequently misunderstood, particularly in relation to exploitation. Having considered, and dismissed, objections stemming from the “non-identity problem”, the chapter concludes by putting forward a substantive defence of the claim that benefiting from injustice can give rise to rectificatory duties, even when the receipt of benefit is involuntary. 

Keywords: historic injustice, compensation, harm, benefit, moral equilibrium, counterfactual, exploitation, non-identity problem, involuntary, rectificatory 

Chapter 5: Restitution and Inheritance 

This chapter focuses on the claim that present day parties have inherited entitlements to property which, owing to historic injustice, is currently in the possession of others. Those who advocate restitution as a response to wrongdoing argue that such property should be returned to the heirs of the historical victims. This inheritance-based model has often been rejected at a domestic level by theorists who reject the justifiability of inheritance. This response, however, is not available to international libertarians, who endorse backward-looking accounts of distributive justice. The chapter examines Jeremy Waldron’s claim that property rights lapse in the absence of sustained possession, and holds that this need not be accepted if one sees international libertarianism as based on historical entitlement.  The chapter proceeds to challenge Janna Thompson’s claim that the inheritance model is flawed as a result of its indeterminacy, maintaining that it need not rest upon counterfactual reasoning. 

Keywords: historic injustice, restitution, property, justifiability, inheritance, international libertarianism, distributive justice, historical entitlement, indeterminacy, counterfactual 

Chapter 6: Nations, Overlapping Generations, and Historic Injustice 

This chapter considers the question of the responsibility that present day generations bear as a result of the actions of their ancestors. Is it morally significant that we share a national identity with those responsible for the perpetration of historic injustice? The chapter argues that we can be guilty of wrongdoing stemming from past wrongdoing if we are members of nations that are responsible for an ongoing failure to fulfil rectificatory duties. This rests upon three claims: that the failure to fulfil rectificatory duties is unjust; that nations can bear collective responsibility for the actions of their leaders; and that nations are comprised of overlapping generations rather than successive generations. The claim that present day parties should apologise for historic injustice is then considered, and it is argued that such an apology is best understood in relation to an ongoing failure to fulfil rectificatory duties. 

Keywords: historic injustice, ancestors, responsibility, nations, national identity, collective responsibility, leaders, overlapping generations, successive generations, apology 


The conclusion of the book reviews the three forms of morally relevant forms of connection with historic injustice, based on benefit, on the inheritance of entitlement, and on an ongoing failure to fulfil rectificatory duties. These are presented as complementary but distinct bases for modern day rectificatory duties. It is claimed that taken together, these mean that those who advocate international libertarianism may have to accept the existence of demanding rectificatory duties, which may, in the short run, coincide with the demands of redistributive cosmopolitanism. Though present day individuals and groups may dislike the idea that they can acquire rectificatory duties in an involuntary fashion, without bearing moral responsibility for the original wrongdoing, they nonetheless act wrongly if they do not seek to rectify historic international injustice. 

Keywords: historic injustice, benefit, inheritance, entitlement, international libertarianism, cosmopolitanism, involuntary, moral responsibility, international injustice