The Journal of Ethics 26 (1):1-25 (2022)

Jeff Helmreich
University of California, Irvine
Forgiving wrongdoers who neither apologized, nor sought to make amends in any way, is controversial. Even defenders of the practice agree with critics that such “unilateral” forgiveness involves giving up on the meaningful redress that victims otherwise justifiably demand from their wrongdoers: apology, reparations, repentance, and so on. Against that view, I argue here that when a victim of wrongdoing sets out to grant forgiveness to her offender, and he in turn accepts her forgiveness, he thereby serves some important ends of apology and reparation, no matter what else he did—or did not do—by way of repair. Although much overlooked, the simple act of accepting forgiveness joins victim and offender in affirming and acting upon some important shared background assumptions, including many of those expressed in standard apologies. Perhaps more surprisingly, I argue that accepting forgiveness also fulfills the duty to counteract any concrete harm wrongfully inflicted. The argument helps explain some otherwise puzzling features of forgiveness, including that a victim can change her offender’s normative status, making him a less fitting target of the resentment, indignation and shunning of others, and even his own guilt pangs, simply by forgiving him.
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DOI 10.1007/s10892-020-09352-0
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Two Treatises of Government.John Locke - 1988 - Cambridge University Press.
Philosophical Papers.J. L. Austin - 1961 - Oxford University Press.
Shaping the Normative Landscape.David Owens - 2012 - Oxford University Press.
Forgiveness and Mercy.Jeffrie G. Murphy & Jean Hampton - 1990 - Cambridge University Press.

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