Acta Cogitata: An Undergraduate Journal in Philosophy


In recent work discussing how we should address public statues of wrongdoers, people typically argue for either removing statues or retaining them, often with the addition of a contextualizing plaque, counter-commemoration, or other alteration.1 In contrast to mere removal or modification, I argue that one permissible alternative is to create clearly condemnatory statues of wrongdoers, but only for wrongdoers with already existing statues. That is, we need not create statues of every wrongdoer; we should only create them following removal of the originals. While my arguments apply to wrongdoers generally, including confederates, colonizers, and genocidaires, I focus on Columbus as a wrongdoer and the Columbus statue in Marconi Plaza in Philadelphia.2 First, I outline Helen Frowe’s argument for our duty to remove statues of wrongdoers as part of the state’s duty to condemn and repudiate wrongdoing. While I do not frame my argument in terms of duties, building on Frowe’s claims, I argue that one permissible way of condemning and repudiating wrongdoing is to create condemnatory statues, and in cases involving serious rights violators, we ought to prefer creation of these statues over mere removal.3 I also draw on accounts of the value of blame to show how blame – and particularly the blame that condemnatory statues convey – demonstrates our commitment to morality. Finally, I address alternative options of retaining the statue and either adding a plaque, counter-commemoration, or vandalization, to illuminate some reasons why we might prefer condemnatory statues.

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