Supererogatory Forgiveness

Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 53 (6):540-564 (2010)
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While forgiveness is widely recognised as an example of a supererogatory action, it remains to be explained precisely what makes forgiveness supererogatory, or the circumstances under which it is supererogatory to forgive. Philosophers often claim that forgiveness is supererogatory, but most of the time they do so without offering an adequate explanation for why it is supererogatory to forgive. Accordingly, the literature on forgiveness lacks a sufficiently nuanced account of the supererogatory status of forgiveness. In this paper, I seek to remedy this shortcoming by offering a systematic account of forgiveness as an example of a supererogatory action. In terms of explaining the supererogatory status of forgiveness, I will argue that, to qualify as supererogatory, a forgiving action must fulfil three conditions: (i) it must be permissible; (ii) it must not be obligatory; and (iii) it must be good or praiseworthy, that is, it must have a certain moral value. Moreover, a distinction is drawn between “unconditional” and “conditional” forgiveness. I argue that conditional forgiveness (i.e. forgiveness of repentant wrongdoers) is sometimes a duty and sometimes supererogatory, whereas unconditional forgiveness (i.e. forgiveness of unrepentant wrongdoers) is typically supererogatory or beyond duty.

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Espen Gamlund
University of Bergen

Citations of this work

Against Elective Forgiveness.Per-Erik Milam - 2018 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 21 (3):569-584.
Forgiveness and Respect for Persons.Owen Ware - 2014 - American Philosophical Quarterly 51 (3).
Forgiveness and the Multiple Functions of Anger.Antony G. Aumann & Zac Cogley - 2019 - Journal of Philosophy of Emotion 1 (1):44-71.
Can the Paradox of Forgiveness Be Dissolved?Oliver Hallich - 2013 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 16 (5):999-1017.
Forgiveness: overcoming vs. forswearing blame.Julius Schönherr - forthcoming - Journal of Applied Philosophy.

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References found in this work

What we owe to each other.Thomas Scanlon - 1998 - Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
What We Owe to Each Other.Thomas Scanlon - 2002 - Mind 111 (442):323-354.
Practical reason and norms.Joseph Raz - 1975 - London: Hutchinson.
Forgiveness: A Philosophical Exploration.Charles L. Griswold - 2007 - New York: Cambridge University Press.
Kantian ethics almost without apology.Marcia Baron - 1995 - Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

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