Impossible Forgiveness

Ethical Perspectives 15 (3):369-379 (2008)
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Insofar as the notion of forgiveness stems from the Jewish and Christian traditions, it seems to point at something very extraordinary. Although Christianity recommends or even commissions forgiveness to everybody, it nevertheless seems to consist of something which is not humanly possible: how could one remember the evil committed , and at the same time not blame the one who committed it? By ultimately reserving the entitlement and ability to forgive to God, by describing human forgiveness as a theological virtue, and by emphasizing the gratuitous or gracious character of forgiveness, this tradition seems most of all to show that forgiveness is generally speaking impossible. In this paper, this conception of forgiveness is presented with the help of Jacques Derrida. The question how this apparently impossibility nevertheless sometimes happens is first answered with the help of Thomas Aquinas. Against this background, the paper claims that a ‘secular’ interpretation of forgiveness is also possible, which does justice to its being humanly impossible. Such interpretation describes forgiveness as an intersubjective act



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Paul Van Tongeren
Radboud University Nijmegen

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