Can the Paradox of Forgiveness Be Dissolved?

Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 16 (5):999-1017 (2013)
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The “paradox of forgiveness” can be described as follows: Forgiving, unlike forgetting, is tied to reasons. It is a response to considerations that lead us to think that we ought to forgive. On the other hand, acts of forgiveness, unlike excuses, are responses to instances of culpable wrongdoing. If, however, the wrongdoing is culpable, there is (or seems to be) no reason to forgive it. So two mutually exclusive theses about forgiveness both seem to be equally warranted: Forgiveness is related to reasons, but there can be no reasons for forgiveness. In this paper, I attempt to dissolve this paradox. I argue that the paradox arises as a result of a too narrow conception of “reason” and that it can be dissolved if we acknowledge different kinds of reasons for forgiveness. More specifically, I examine three kinds of reasons for forgiving an act of wrongdoing: (1) Moral reasons that make forgiveness morally mandatory. (2) Prudential reasons for forgiveness. (3) Moral reasons that pertain to the character of the forgiver and that favor forgiveness without making it morally mandatory. I show that while the paradox of forgiveness arises when we consider reasons of the first kind, it can be dissolved with recourse to reasons of the second and third kind. The upshot of the argument is that we can be rational in deciding to overcome our feelings of resentment towards an act of unjustified and unexcused wrongdoing—and this is a strong point in favor of forgiveness



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Oliver Hallich
Universität Duisburg-Essen

Citations of this work

Forgiveness, Repentance, and Diachronic Blameworthiness.Andrew C. Khoury - 2022 - Journal of the American Philosophical Association 8 (4):700-720.
Forgiveness and Moral Development.Paula Satne - 2016 - Philosophia 44 (4):1029-1055.
Focusing Forgiveness.András Szigeti - 2014 - Journal of Value Inquiry 48 (2):217-234.

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