Forgiveness and Respect for Persons
by Owen Ware
Many philosophers agree that an account
of forgiveness must meet two conditions.
First, the account must explain how your
forgiveness can be articulate. We would
hesitate to say you forgave your offender
if you forgot about the wrong you suffered,
or if you stopped caring about it in order
to move on in life. If your forgiveness is
genuine, you must be able to provide a reason
for overcoming negative feelings like resentment.
At the same time, not every reason to
forgive will be a good one. As a victim you
might think you have no right to complain
against mistreatment, or worse, that you
deserve it. But genuine forgiveness must not
reduce to this; it must not compromise your
self-respect. Secondly, then, a philosophical
account must explain how your forgiveness
can be uncompromising. A number of writers have argued we can
satisfy these two conditions by turning to an
outside factor: the offender's sincere apology.
An offender who apologizes for his misdeed
attempts to re-address his offense, the source
of your resentment. If the offender made a
degrading claim against your person, symbolically
saying, "I count but you do not," then
his apology can be an attempt to retract that
claim, to say, "I was wrong, you do count."
In light of this retraction, you have articulate
grounds to foreswear resentment that do not
compromise your judgment of the offense, the
offender, or yourself. As Pamela Hieronymi
puts it: "Once the offender himself renounces
the deed, it may no longer stand as a threat
to either the public understanding of right or
wrong, to his worth, or to one's own. It has
been cut off from the source of its continued
meaning. The author has retracted his statement,
and anger loses its point" (2001, p. 548).