Forgiveness, Resentment, and Self-Respect

Dissertation, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (2002)
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What is it about forgiveness, or a refusal to forgive, that is self-respecting? Do the demands of self-respect necessitate one response or the other? My thesis is that the answer to this latter question is "No." However, regarding forgiving at some time or other, the answer to the latter question is "Yes." That is to say, while one need not forgive in any particular instance, self-respecting people do forgive at least sometimes. I argue that forgiving should be construed as what Kant called "an imperfect duty." ;I contrast my view with two prominent alternatives. One set of positions mandates forgiveness. Within this camp, some argue for unconditional forgiveness, while others require it at least in those cases where the wrongdoer has repented. In these accounts, forgiveness is a perfect duty, rather than an imperfect duty. I argue that these views regard forgiveness as a duty because they conflate it with excuse, justification and what I call "readjustment." ;Another set of positions cautions against forgiveness. The concern here is that forgiveness conflicts with the most basic demand of justice---that each is to receive his due. For those who would allow forgiveness at all, it must be the case that one who forgives does not compromise her commitment to justice. For them, forgiveness is not permissible unless certain conditions, largely having to do with a change in status of the wrongdoer, have been met. I distinguish these latter accounts from my own because they mistakenly assume that another person's actions or attitudes are what determine the appropriateness of forgiveness



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