Is Unconditional Forgiveness Ever Good?

Anca Gheaus
Central European University
Forgiveness is a compelling Christian ideal. By contrast, to many philosophers it is not clear that forgiveness should be endorsed as a moral requirement; some argue that unconditional forgiveness is morally wrong. Those who are required to exercise forgiveness can feel that their own dignity and moral worthiness is diminished by such requirement if insignificant recognition was given to the harms they suffered as victims.  This is particularly significant when thinking about women’s lives. Forgiveness and justice occasion particularly painful quandaries in feminist ethics. However, an important stream of feminist ethics—namely the ethics of care—can make a convincing case in favor of forgiveness. A main goal of an ethics of care is preserving relationships for which, in the less than ideal conditions of human life, forgiveness is essential. Thus, the ethics of care casts additional light on the tension between pursuing forgiveness and justice.   By spelling out these various dilemmas, I illustrate how a feminist ethics and a feminist philosophy of religion can be fruitful intellectual allies. A feminist ethics will benefit from cautious reliance on religious wisdom, concomitantly acknowledging the need for forgiveness and qualifying the requirements of forgiveness such that this ideal does not become, once again, oppressive for women. And a feminist philosophy of religion should be to some extent informed by feminist ethical goals, helping to unveil religious resources that give credit to our ongoing need for forgiveness, without however overlooking the importance of (gender) justice.
Keywords forgiveness  justice  care
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