The trauma of evil and the traumatological conception of forgiveness

Continental Philosophy Review 42 (3):401-419 (2009)
In recent years there has been widespread interest in assimilating forgiveness into a rational conception of the moral life. This project usually construes forgiveness as a way of “moving past” evil and resuming the moral narrative it disrupted. But to develop a philosophical sound conception of forgiveness, we must recognize that moral evil is world-shattering and cannot be assimilated into the moral narrative of our lives. It is not an event that happens in one’s world but to one’s world. In this respect it is similar to death as Heidegger has described it. But, contrary to what Heidegger implies, evil is more traumatic than death because, unlike the latter, it shatters moral reasoning and moral narrative. Evil is a monstrosity; it traumatizes historical existence by impossibilizing the future. A philosophical account of forgiveness must therefore be traumatological: recognizing the traumatizing impact that evil has on historicity, it has provide us a heuristic that will help us to imagine the unimaginable possibility of transforming historical horror into good.
Keywords Evil  Trauma  Historicity  Moral narrative  Retribution  Forgiveness  Victim  Violator
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DOI 10.1007/s11007-009-9110-4
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Aristotle (2012). Nicomachean Ethics. Courier Dover Publications.
Jacques Derrida (1998). Of Grammatology. Johns Hopkins University Press.

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