Evil and Forgiveness

In Thomas Nys & Stephen De Wijze (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of the Philosophy of Evil. New York, NY, USA: pp. 282-293 (2019)
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Our experiences with many sorts of evils yield debates about the role of forgiveness as a possible moral response. These debates include (1) the preliminary question whether evils are, by definition, unforgivable, (2) the contention that evils may be forgivable but that forgiveness cannot entail reconciliation with one’s evildoer, (3) the concern that only direct victims of evils are in a position to decide if forgiveness is appropriate, (4) the conceptual worry that forgiveness of evil may not be genuine or complete if hard feelings recur, (5) the interest of many in holding that forgiveness is never required, and (6) the concern that analyses of evil ought to prioritize the suffering, and credit the perspectives, of victims of evils, in tension with the possibility that forgiveness concerns the well-being of offenders. In this paper, I critically evaluate these concerns from the perspective of nonideal theory. I conclude that crediting victims’ perspectives is importantly basic to empirically informed moral theory, and that objections to forgiveness including (1) evil’s unforgivability ignore victims’ differing accounts. When we take actualities and experiences to be informative and central, some of the usual debates become less pressing, perhaps even moot.



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Kathryn J. Norlock
Trent University

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