Forgiveness: Necessity


2. Necessity

– the necessity vs non-necessity of forgiveness as a practice in moral relations (obligations to forgive) – is forgiveness morally obligatory for individuals/groups (under what circumstances)? – Is it different for individuals or groups – ways in which this obligation could be conceived.  Is forgiveness a morally obligatory concept for a mature ethical system (what would be defective about a society with no concept of forgiveness)? –  virtue theory; pragmatics. Supererogatory acts?

3. Teleology
– the teleology/orientation of the practice of forgiveness – therapeutic, reconciliation, self vs other, recognition, acknowledgement, etc.

4. Forgiveness and the Ecology of Wrongdoing
– forgiveness and punishment: the nature of harm/wrong/evil (as a society conceives of wrongdoing, so they conceive of forgiveness); forgiveness and punishment as parallel modes of response to wrongdoing (Arendt); forgiveness and (in)justice, retribution, mercy; forgiveness and cosmic justice.

5. Plurality: Forgiveness vs Forgivenesses?
– forgiveness and plurality: is there such a thing as a unified concept of forgiveness or is there really only a loosely affiliated set of practices that are subsumed under a single rubric? Paradigm cases vs extensions of the concept (forgiveness, amnesty, pardon, economic forgiveness, metaphysical forgiveness, etc)? What implications does this have for the practice of forgiveness in a pluralistic society? What happens when parties to an act of forgiveness mean different things by it? (this is obviously more significant for those who argue for conditionality in forgiveness, are the conditions met?). The nature of the practice: is it related to a concept of moral debt, trading acknowledgement of moral standing, overcoming resentment, overcoming the past. What elements of a practice are required for it to be given the label ‘forgiveness’?


The answers to 1-4 provide us with an interesting set of axes on which to plot various theories about forgiveness – maybe a way forward through the questions posed by (5)? – can we distinguish between various practices of forgiveness based on their answers to 1-4, or even determine a normative version of the concept –

– conditionality and necessity intersect in interesting ways: someone who believes that forgiveness should be unconditional and is morally obligatory will look very different from someone who believes that forgiveness is granted only in response to very specific conditions being satisfied by the offender, and even then, could be appropriately withheld.

And both these sets of convictions will intersect with views about the teleology (or non-teleology) of the practice: someone who believes in the absolute unconditionality and necessity of forgiveness might do so under a strong belief about the telos of the practice toward reconciliation or under a strong belief about the forgiveness’ personal therapeutic benefits. These would be two distinct sets of justifications for a similar practice, but might suddenly diverge in particular situations, i.e., the death of the offender.

– finally, the teleology of the practice is related to a conception of the nature of harm/wrongdoing/evil – the good that forgiveness aims at, is a response, both to the wrong that was originally done by the offender, and a particular vision of the consequences of that wrong.

Thus, the teleology of the practice can’t be grasped without understanding the concept of wrong which forgiveness responds to, and the structure of the practice, its conditions and necessity, can’t be grasped without understanding the good toward which it aims.


In these initial sections, I hope to set out carefully the scope of these questions and present some of our best attempts to come up with answers. Later, we will come back to these topics again with some of the insights we have gleaned from our study of both the constitutive contexts of the practice of forgiveness and communicative ontology in order to see how these problems can be fruitfully addressed.

Thus we have:

an axis running through conditionality and necessity as basic concerns that shape the practice itself.

another axis running between teleology and the nature of wrong that serves to justify beliefs about conditionality and necessity.

the broader conceptual ecology enabling the beliefs about teleology and wrong.

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