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Friday, March 15, 2013

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Bill,

" To forgive unconditionally is to refuse to take a stand against it. But I will leave the elaboration of this point for later."

This is your rational for maintaining that unconditional forgiveness is not morally acceptable, since by unconditionally forgiving a wrongdoer one does not take a stand against the wrong done. I have some reservations. After all if this were true, then it would make no sense to include as part of unconditional forgiveness an explicit denunciation of the wrongdoing; for instance by saying something like: "While I certainly denounce your transgression and lament that you refuse to repent, I forgive you nonetheless." Do you think that this would not be a genuine case of forgiveness?

Peter,

Thanks for the comment, but you didn't address the meat of the post, which is points 1-8. First we must agree on what forgiveness is before we can profitably pursue the other questions.

#8 is where the discussion really gets interesting.

>>"While I certainly denounce your transgression and lament that you refuse to repent, I forgive you nonetheless." Do you think that this would not be a genuine case of forgiveness?<<

It is not a genuine case of forgiveness if you accept my full analysis, #s 1-8. But even if it is a genuine case, it is morally objectionable to forgive in a case like this. Such evil-doers must not be accepted into our moral community, but excluded from it.

It seems clear to me that in cases like this one is morally obliged not to forgive.

Bill,

I provisionally agree with (1)-(7). And as you point out, (1)-(7) alone without (8) do not rule out unconditional forgiveness. So perhaps we may think of (1)-(7) without (8) as capturing our concept of unconditional forgiveness, whereas (1)-(8) as capturing a concept of conditional forgiveness. While the former is an intra-personal relation, the later is inter-personal.

The question, then, is whether you think that (1)-(7) alone capture a genuine concept of forgiveness (i.e., the concept of unconditional forgiveness)? I am not sure whether you do or not.

If you do not, then I am unclear how you can argue that a case that satisfies (1)-(7) alone is a case of forgiveness that is morally objectionable, since there is no case of forgiveness to pin the moral objection on. You may argue that the intention to forgive is morally objectionable, even if forgiveness fails (as I have suggested in the long post). However, this position is vulnerable to Steven's objection that this notion of forgiveness rules out the possibility of forgiving someone who is dead and, hence, cannot repent.

On the other hand, if you do accept that (1)-(7) alone constitute a case of genuine forgiveness, then you need to explain why it is morally objectionable. After all, as I pointed out in the last post, it is not incoherent to say that I forgive a wrongdoer while denouncing their transgression and lamenting their refusal to repent.

Hi Bill,

A good post, but I think it is missing much of what goes into the concept of forgiveness. If you'll permit me, I'd recommend you read Eve Garrard & David McNaughton, "In Defence of Unconditional Forgiveness" for one of the more compelling and popular conceptions of forgiveness in the literature. I can send you a copy of it, if you'd like. I can also send you a copy of a short essay I wrote in which I describe these philosophers' account, offer an objection, and expound my own understanding of what forgiveness involves.

Ad (1). We speak equally of forgiving x for y, as well as forgiving x or forgiving y. We say simply "I forgive you" as well as "Your sins are forgiven." So there is no reason to privilege a triadic formula over a dyadic one; what the phrases are getting across is perhaps not exactly expressed by their syntax.

Ad (2). This is right. Glen Pettigrove, in "Unapologetic Forgiveness", notes that this feature of forgiveness is precisely what makes it offensive to be told you are forgiven when you don't think you've done anything wrong.

Ad (4). Maybe, but we can also forgive character traits, habits, and other such things, as well. Certainly, at least, we can talk about forgiving a spouse for some bad habit.

Ad (6). Forgiveness doesn't remove guilt, but it does involve "wiping the slate clean" and bracketing that guilt in some sense. See Garrard & McNaughton.

Ad (7). I grant forgiveness does not retroactively confer innocence; it can't, since implicit in the act of forgiveness is the judgment that a wrong has been committed, and thus that there is guilt.

Ad (8). Certainly this is true in the case of self-forgiveness, but as far as other-forgiveness is concerned, this is simply too strict a condition. We can forgive dead persons; an abused wife can forgive her scumbag husband even when he doesn't admit to having done wrong; one of my professors told me of a time when she had forgiven a friend of hers for some wrong, whereas this friend did not ever recognize that she had done wrong, and they both worked together to move beyond this in their relationship. There are too many cases we name "forgiveness" for this condition to be plausible; you can't just define unconditional forgiveness out of existence.

You are right that "unconditional forgiveness is merely intra-personal as opposed to inter-personal," but that is the way we think about forgiveness for the most part: as an interior change that may or may not move us to seek exterior changes (e.g., reconciliation with the wrongdoer). Think of the fact that a person who seeks to interpret the ostensibly offensive behavior of another in the best possible light can be called "forgiving" or even "too forgiving": such an agent tries her best to act out of good will and kindliness for even the ostensibly bad; so it is this internal state or change that for us seems to be a mark of forgiveness.

As for your objections to unconditional forgiveness, that the unconditionally forgiving person fails to take a stand is simply false: do the Dalai Lama or Martin Luther King fail to take a stand against the racism and violence, etc., to which their respective peoples fell victim, simply because they have good will and not hatred or anger for their opponents? And, like Peter said, because implicit in the act of forgiveness is the judgment that a wrong has been done, any act of forgiveness, insofar as it effectively announces that judgment, takes a stand in some sense. It is simply not an emotional stand -- the stand doesn't manifest itself in hard feelings for the wrongdoer.

I think a further problem, Bill, is that you assume too tight a connection between forgiveness and reconciliation, welcome, etc. This seems to be implicit in what you say here: "Such evil-doers must not be accepted into our moral community, but excluded from it." Forgiveness and reconciliation come apart, as the cases of forgiving the dead or the deadbeat husband show. Also, none of your analysis offered in the above post says anything about reconciliation, welcoming the wrongdoer back in the community. Nor do you specify what change of mental state the forgiver has to undergo.

Peter,

It could be that forgiveness is a family-resemblance concept in Wittgenstein's sense in which case it would be futile to try to pin down the essence of forgiveness. (LW made the point using 'game.')

Steve,

Can you get me a photocopy of the article in question? You could give it to me next time we meet. I have your essay if thatis one you submitted to the competition.

Your comments are good; they go directly to what I said.

>>Ad (1). We speak equally of forgiving x for y, as well as forgiving x or forgiving y. We say simply "I forgive you" as well as "Your sins are forgiven." So there is no reason to privilege a triadic formula over a dyadic one; what the phrases are getting across is perhaps not exactly expressed by their syntax.<<

We also say things like 'Tom is married.' But that is elliptical for 'Tom is married to someone.' No one can be married who is not married to someone. So from the mere fact that we say 'I forgive you' it doesn't follow that forgiveness is dyadic.

So I say forgiveness is triadic. To refute me you need to produce an example in which x forgives y but not in respect of anything. If you say 'I forgive you,' it is always appropriate for me to respond, 'For what?'

>>Ad (4). Maybe, but we can also forgive character traits, habits, and other such things, as well. Certainly, at least, we can talk about forgiving a spouse for some bad habit.<<

We agree about this. I said that it is not just acts and ommissions that can be forgiven. I mentioned the state of being arrogant. We may extend the point to traits and habits. But I can't forgive a person for being female or black or young or for existing or being self-identical. Less clear: 'I forgive you for being poor.'

>>Ad (6). Forgiveness doesn't remove guilt, but it does involve "wiping the slate clean" and bracketing that guilt in some sense. See Garrard & McNaughton.<<

The question is whether any clear sense can be attached to 'wiping the slate clean.'

>>Ad (8). Certainly this is true in the case of self-forgiveness, but as far as other-forgiveness is concerned, this is simply too strict a condition. We can forgive dead persons; an abused wife can forgive her scumbag husband even when he doesn't admit to having done wrong; one of my professors told me of a time when she had forgiven a friend of hers for some wrong, whereas this friend did not ever recognize that she had done wrong, and they both worked together to move beyond this in their relationship. There are too many cases we name "forgiveness" for this condition to be plausible; you can't just define unconditional forgiveness out of existence.<<

You are begging the question against me. If #8 is ingredient in the concept of forgiveness, then we cannot forgive dead persons. It may be that what we call 'forgiving the dead' is related to but distinct from forgiving in the strict sense. It may be that there are several different concepts under the 'forgiveness' umbrella and no one concept.

I could say that we don't forgive the dead, we *forshmive* them. You like that, Peter?

Are you not just defining unconditional forgiveness INTO existence? By packing into your concept what you need to get the result you want?

Next stop: methodological considerations.

Now please forgive me while I break for lunch.

Bill,

"I could say that we don't forgive the dead, we *forshmive* them. You like that, Peter?"

1. You misspelled the Yiddish word. To Yidishize 'forgive', you ad 'sh' in the beginning, not in the middle, as in: 'Shforgive'.

2. I agree that there may be several different concepts of forgive. Let us focus on two: unconditional forgiveness and conditional forgiveness. Both present several interesting issues that your exchange with Steven touch upon.

3. I want to focus on unconditional forgiveness. You claim that unconditional forgiveness is morally objectionable. It is this claim that I would like to explore, if you and others do not mind.

4. We should keep in mind, as you and perhaps others, noted that forgiveness presupposes some wrongdoing. While Steven is right to point out that one can forgive character traits, habits, and the like, but only if they manifest themselves in some behavior that is deemed wrong.

5. So if x sets out to forgive y for z, it is already assumed that x perceives z as wrong, whether or not z repents. Thus, the very act of forgiveness already includes the idea that the forgiver takes a stand against the wrongful act; o/w no forgiveness is needed. It is incoherent, I think, to say to someone that I forgive you for a morally good act. This shows that there is not need for the forgiver to take an extra explicit stand beyond simply forgiving.

Yeah, I know that, Peter. But 'shforgive' doesn't roll off the tongue very well.

You make a good point. If I forgive a person for doing z, then I imply by so doing that z is morally or in some other sense wrong. But of course it is not the deed that is forgiven, but the agent's doing of the deed, and if the agent does not own up to his doing a wrong deed, then forgiving him, while it does not exonerate him, is a failure adequately to protest the agent's behavior.

Dr. Vallicella,

I don't think it's correct to accuse Steven of begging the question against you. You seem to include (8) in the analysis precisely because you question whether intra-personal forgiveness is actually forgiveness rather than something else like "forshmiveness". It's not begging the question if I take it for granted that intra-personal forgiveness is genuine forgiveness, because you didn't offer an argument to the contrary.

Those who think that conditional forgiveness is not genuine forgiveness might have included

(9) Necessarily, if x forgives y for z, then y has not admitted guilt to x or made atonement for z.

There can be two reasons (that I can think of) for justifiably rejecting (9). We might reject it if we find that it somehow contradicts one of the other items in the analysis. Or we might reject it precisely because it entails that conditional forgiveness is not forgiveness. The second option is not justified (is question-begging) only if an independent argument has been given against counting conditional forgiveness as genuine forgiveness. Notice that (8) and (9), which are controversial, don't follow from anything else (which is noncontroversial) in the analysis, as do (3) and (4). This is what makes them seem an arbitrary defining-out-of-existence, thrown in just to throw something out. Steven isn't doing that; he's including noncontroversial items in the analysis and honoring ordinary usage and practice.

Just some thoughts on wiping the slate clean. Suppose I said to someone, "I do forgive you and from the depths of me; but if the decision were mine I'd have you torn to pieces in hell, as you very well deserve, for the monstrous thing you did to me". Obviously I haven't forgiven him! So we might add to the analysis something like

(10) If x forgives y for z, then x no longer desires or demands that y be punished for z.

Suppose I steal your money. Now suppose I approach you, admit guilt, and offer to return the money. If you say, "Forget about it, I forgive you", and refuse to take the money, have the demands of justice been met? One possibility is yes, in your view at least, the demands of justice have been met: my admitting guilt and making the offer was enough, so you no longer desire to have me punished. But there's another possibility. There might be an important sense in which you've released me from certain perceived demands of justice, the perceived demand, for example, that I return the money; you've graciously "given" something to me; you've "allowed" things to stand "just" as they are. If Justice were a god in some halls on a mountain in Europe, he might reasonably be offended and seek to harm us, especially you because you've delivered me from him. Thus, one might reasonably believe, I think, that

(11) If x forgives y for z, then x would have y released from all, from further, or from certain perceived demands of justice, including the demand that y atone fully for z.

Now suppose instead that I admit guilt and do give you the money. It would be odd for you to say, "I forgive you but I'm calling the cops because you deserve to be punished". You haven't forgiven me (hence 10)! But it wouldn't be odd (hence 11) for you to say, "You know, you do deserve to be punished, and I should really report you for this, but since you came forth and admitted guilt I'm gonna forgive you".

Forgiveness doesn't remove the guilt of having done or failed to do z, but it seems plausible that to forgive y is to release y from all, from further, or from certain perceived demands of justice. Forgiveness is like a purification of sorts, somewhat akin but perhaps also opposed to that purification by reparation that justice seems to demand.

Dr. Vallicella,

I'd like to add one more comment if it's okay with you. You say that even after y has fully atoned for z, and x knows that y has fully atoned for z, it's still possible for x to forgive y. This of course implies that it's possible for x not to have forgiven y even after x believes that y has atoned fully for z. I'm not certain of this.

Suppose I steal someone's money, admit guilt, and return what I've stolen. Suppose I'm even imprisoned indefinitely for the crime, or executed in public. Now suppose he doesn't forgive me. Why might that be? I think it would indicate that he doesn't consider me "clean" of the guilt; justice, in his view, demands more; I deserve his hatred, enmity, or displeasure (a) until I've been tortured to death (which may now be impossible) or (b) indefinitely--he might be excessively vain, thinking any offense against him unpardonable, he might be a tyrannical, deluded despot, and so on. In either case the failure to forgive seems to indicate a belief that the demands of justice have not been met or were never met or cannot be met. This is why "I will never forgive him" can sometimes sound like the height of vanity or arrogance, and at other times indicates just how insufferable the victim's psychological pain is, how immeasurable the gravity of the loss or damage inflicted.

It doesn't follow from any of this that x can only forgive y for z if x believes that y has fully atoned for z. I'm just saying that if x fails to forgive y, it seems usually to be because x doesn't consider y as having atoned fully for z, sometimes because z impresses the wronged or victimized x, who has now personally experienced it and is living in the psychologically difficult aftermath, as a sin for which full atonement is impossible in this life, or even in the next. But, of course, and fortunately, not all cases are so extreme.

When x does forgive y, it is because

i. x's view of the demands of justice change with distance (in time) from y and z, or
ii. x, after time, would "release" y from the demands of justice, including hatred toward y, or
iii. x decides that in the interval since y did or failed to do z, the demands of justice have been somehow satisfied.

(It's not that there's nothing left to forgive after y has fully atoned for z. It's just hard to see why x wouldn't forgive y if x believed that y had fully atoned, suffered, paid, etc. for z. I might be making a mistake though.)

Hi Bill,

A couple points. (By the way, I hate the taedium of these internet discussions. The conversation would be a hundred times easier in person, perhaps over some Mediterranean food...)

1. Re: #8 above, obviously there are a number of possible dialectical maneuvers either one of us could make. I claim #8 is obviously false because we do talk about unconditional forgiveness; you claim I am begging the question and are perhaps disposed to deny those are cases of genuine forgiveness. But it seems to me that you are begging the question repeatedly throughout the whole discussion; there is not any real argument in your first post nor in subsequent comments that #8 is a part of the concept of forgiveness. Your comments about unconditional forgiveness being merely intrapersonal seem to be a non sequitur; and in any case, unconditional forgiveness is not purely intrapersonal because the internal change is done in response to the aggravating behavior of another agent. Moreover, I gave an argument that the common sense conception of forgiveness is intrapersonal, namely the linguistic habit of calling "forgiving" those persons who tend to find more generous interpretations of ostensibly bad behavior on the part of others; there the predication of "forgiving" is prompted by what is going on in the mind of the "forgiving" agent, not his interactions with the ostensible wrongdoer.

2. You are also begging the question as regards unconditional forgiveness. You've just claimed it's obvious that we are morally required to put up more protest than is implied in the act of forgiveness, and somehow this has something to do with forgiving only on the satisfaction of certain conditions; but this is question begging. Both Peter and I would like to hear more about why this is so. I also gave an argument that only unconditional forgiveness is forgiveness at its purest, at its most genuine, and I don't think you have addressed it.

My argument was an appeal to the paradox of forgiveness. You responded that even after atonement is made, guilt for the fact of having done wrong in the first place remains, and that can be forgiven. My rejoinder was (i) not all guilt has been atoned if there still remains guilt for having done the wrong deed in the first place, so the paradox argument (which requires that all guilt be atoned ex hypothesi in the case of conditional forgiveness) was not addressed; and (ii) even granting some guilt remains for the mere fact of having done wrong in the first place, I argued that it should be just as objectionable to forgive that guilt prior to its being atoned as it would be to forgive any guilt prior to atonement. You haven't responded to these points.

I think that it would be useful to distinguish between three distinct purposes that forgiveness serves.

1. The Curative Purpose: The curative purpose of forgiveness is to come as close as possible to restoring the psychological and/or social conditions that existed prior to the wrongdoing in the forgiver alone or in both the forgiver and the wrongdoer or with respect to the relationship between the forgiver and the wrongdoer.

2. The Moral Purpose: The moral purpose of forgiveness is to come as close as possible to restore the moral stability and equilibrium that existed prior to the wrongdoing.

3. The Recognition Purpose (for lack of a better word): The recognition purpose of forgiveness is to acknowledge in the wrongdoer their moral agency, thereby, recognizing the vulnerability of all moral agents, including the forgiver, to do wrong.

Unconditional forgiveness can serve the recognition purpose as well as some of the purposes listed in the curative purpose. The moral purpose, however, requires conditional forgiveness. I think that Bill focuses on the moral purpose of forgiveness and neglects the recognition and curative purposes.

Regarding the paradox of forgiveness, what might be involved in this topic is the difficult relationship between mercy and justice, or something like that. Chesterton says somewhere that children are innocent and love justice, while most adults are wicked and prefer mercy. And over at the blog Eclectic Orthodoxy (http://afkimel.wordpress.com/) there's a recent post (17 March) on the controversial, minority view of St. Isaac that God is not just but merciful.

If you accept (11) above (comment 5:14), then you will probably believe that forgiveness is opposed to justice, unless it comes after full atonement has been made.

However, one might hold

(12) If y wrongfully does or fails to do z, thereby offending x, then justice demands that y (a) admit guilt and atone fully for z; or (b) admit guilt, atone partially for z, and be forgiven for z by the offended x; or (c) admit guilt and be forgiven for z by x; or (d) be forgiven for z by x.

If you accept (11) and only (12a), then all forgiveness is unjust unless it comes after full atonement. But unconditional forgiveness is the most unjust, because it indicates a radical, especially excessive willingness to release a wrongdoer from the demands of justice, letting things stand as they are.

If you accept (11) and (12a-b), then all forgiveness is unjust except forgiveness on the conditions in (b). Unconditional forgiveness remains especially unjust.

If you accept (11) and (12a-c), then unconditional forgiveness only is unjust.

If you accept (11) and (12a-d), then unconditional forgiveness is just. But (d) will seem unacceptable to Dr. Vallicella. It seems unacceptable to me, too. Surely justice demands more!

Hi Peter,

You talk about the "moral purpose" of forgiveness: to come as close as possible to restore the moral stability and equilibrium that existed prior to the wrongdoing.

This is compatible with unconditional forgiveness -- an unconditionally forgiving person can still work to bring about repentance, acknowledgment of wrong, etc., in a wrongdoer; it is just that she does not condition her forgiveness on these things.

Steve,

Thanks for your comment.

I agree with you that there is a place for a forgiver to engage in a "ministerial" activity with respect to the wrongdoer "to bring about repentance, acknowledgment of wrong, etc., in a wrongdoer", as you say, without condition forgiveness on any of these things. However, I would place this activity in the Curative Purpose.

I think that Bill is after something else. Let me give you an example. The "Truth & Reconciliation" commission that was set up in South Africa after the apartheid was set up in part in order to give an opportunity to the wrongdoers to voice in public regret for human right abuses. The public character of the process of admitting wrongdoing and repenting was essential not merely as a psychological mechanism to enable reconciliation, but also as a moral tribunal in which wrongs are denounced publicly by both the victims and the perpetrators. It was a public mechanism of justice in which both sides participated in order the join in the moral denunciation of the wrongs. I think Bill thinks that such a public denunciation of wrongs by the wrongdoers is important in order to restore justice. I tend to agree with this part of Bill's thesis.

However, I do insist that forgiveness may serve the other two purposes as well and these other purposes are as important in the total scheme of things.

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