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Volume 51 • Number 3

July 2014



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).

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ISSN: 2152-1123