Moral Bystanders and the Virtue of Forgiveness

In Christopher R. Allers & Marieke Smit (eds.), Forgiveness in Perspective. Rodopi. pp. 66--69 (2010)

Linda Radzik
Texas A&M University
According to standard philosophical analyses, only victims can forgive. There are good reasons to reject this view. After all, people who are neither direct nor indirect victims of a wrong frequently feel moral anger over injustice. The choice to foreswear or overcome such moral anger is subject to most of the same sorts of considerations as victims’ choices to forgive. Furthermore, bystanders’ reactions to their experiences of moral anger often reflect either virtues or vices that are of a piece with what we normally describe as a forgiving or unforgiving disposition. In this paper, I reject the view that only victims can forgive by comparing the experience and regulation of moral anger by victims and bystanders. The virtues of victims and bystanders with regard to moral anger are so similar that there is no good reason to apply different labels. However, the recognition of forgiveness in bystanders offers us more than simple consistency. It also leads us to think about the role moral bystanders play in the maintenance of the moral community, as well as the ways in which this role can be abused or overstepped.
Keywords forgiveness  bystanders  prerogative  victim  virtue  third party forgiveness
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