What is involved in forgiving?

Philosophia 25 (1-4):33-49 (1997)
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I have argued that forgiveness paradigmatically involves overcoming moral anger, of which resentment is the central case. I have argued, as well, that forgiveness may involve overcoming any form of anger so long as the belief that you have been wrongfully harmed is partially constitutive of it, and that overcoming other negative emotions caused by a wrongdoer's misdeed may, given appropriate qualifications, count as forgiveness. Those qualifications indicate, however, significant differences between moral anger and other negative emotions; differences which must be taken into account when determining whether overcoming negative emotions other than moral anger count as forgiveness. I have proposed, too, that forgiveness requires neither overcoming all negative feelings (other than moral anger) nor the judgment that the offender is a wrongdoer.I must acknowledge that my analysis is incomplete, focusing as it does on the forgiver rather than on the person forgiven. After all, there are two sides to forgiveness. Not all forgiving involves a struggle to overcome negative feelings; sometimes it is a social transaction of a more casual sort that is effected by the simple speech act “I forgive you.” My analysis is incomplete insofar as it treats exclusively of forgiveness as a process and fails to offer an analysis of forgiveness as an act. Finally, a complete theory of forgiveness requires an account of the conditions under which forgiveness qualifies as a moral virtue, and such an account is beyond the scope of this essay. Though I have not offered a complete theory of forgiveness, my effort to clarify a dimension of what is involved in a common type of forgiveness may clear the way for answering related questions about it, and thereby lead to a fuller account of forgiveness as a moral phenomenon



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Paul Hughes
University of Michigan, Dearborn

Citations of this work

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References found in this work

Forgiveness and Resentment.Jeffrie G. Murphy - 1982 - Midwest Studies in Philosophy 7 (1):503-516.
Forgiveness.Howard McGary - 1989 - American Philosophical Quarterly 26 (4):343 - 351.

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