History, Value, and Irreplaceability

Erich Hatala Matthes

Published in: Ethics, v.. 124, no. 1 (October 2013) (pp. 35-64)

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It is often assumed that there is a necessary relationship between historical value and irreplaceability, and that this is an essential feature of historical value’s distinctive character. Contrary to this assumption, I argue that it is a merely contingent fact that some historically valuable things are irreplaceable, and that irreplaceability is not a distinctive feature of historical value at all. Rather, historically significant objects, from heirlooms to artifacts, offer us an otherwise impossible connection with the past, a value that persists even in the face of suitable replacements.