Forgiveness

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FORGIVENESS

QUESTIONS…
(Is there a ‘logical paradoxy’ of forgiveness?) x2
(To what extent, if any, can one forgive someone over whom one has an unequal authority?) (is forgiveness possible?)

READING ONE

Forgiveness – Aurel Kolnai…

Forgiveness is pre-eminently an ethical subject, and a paper written about it cannot help being a paper in ethics. It may well be properly philosophical, conceptual and analytical, as he intended his works to be. In fact he intended it to be chiefly logical in nature: with the central question he discusses being not how far and in what sense forgiveness is commendable or perhaps objectionable, but whether, and if so in what manner is it logically possible at all.

Delimination of the concept…

Forgiveness most basically refers to a context of “interpersonal” relations, in the narrower sense of relations between two parties “on a footing of equality,” neither of them being the other’s “superior” or having “authority” over him. It presupposes an affront, injury, transgression, trespassing or offence committed by one person against the other and consequently the other’s readiness or refusal to “forgive” him.

This is not of course to exclude the possibility that the two parties could in some respects be unequal or that either of them could in some sense stand for certain collective interests or points of view. But he steers clear of such complications, and that is what he means by restricting himself to an interpersonal context. For clarity’s sake call the supposed offender I.e. the party who inflicts a wrong, “Ralph”, and the one who is or feels “wronged” and feels inclined or reluctant to forgive, “Fred.”

Hurting, Wrongdoing and “Wronging”
In biblical language we hear a great deal about its being commendable to forgive “our enemies,” “those who trespass against us,” and “sinners,” as if these things meant one and the same thing. Yet the three concepts have sharply different meanings, though of course in the given circumstance they may coincide. A person may behave towards another as an adversary, or in a way displeasing him, or with foreseeable harmful consequences to him, yet his conduct may be wholly defensible or indeed justified, perhaps even the right action in the given case. For example, he may point out the other’s errors in a discussion, justly assign to a third party a post also coveted by the first, confer some other selective privilege on a third person instead of on the first, and the like. The person thus combated or “left out” or “harmed” may nurse feelings of revenge, but that is simply a moral defect on his part, and if he has no such feelings or bravely suppresses them that is not “forgiveness” but only normal behaviour which conforms to his strict duty. (And further, if he in the sequel tries to refute what he believes to be faulty in his adversary’s arguments, or tends to keep aloof from the person who apparently does not greatly appreciate him, that again is normal behaviour and not vindictiveness.)

On the other hand, if Ralph commits moral transgressions which do not infringe on Fred’s rights and are not even indirectly calculated to hurt Fred, again Fred is not strictly speaking the victim of an offence and the question of his forgiving or not forgiving does not properly arise. Here, Aurel has used qualifications like “strictly speaking” and “properly.” For although by supposition it is not part of Fred’s office to punish Ralph’s sins, he may well feel indignant about them and in some sense hurt by them and this inclined to “cut” Ralph henceforth; in cases relevant to the criminal law it might also be his duty to denounce Ralph to the proper authorities and testify against him in court. If Ralph commits his iniquities as it were “in Fred’s sight,” or boasts about them to Fred, that may actually make him an offender in relation to Fred. However, the classic case of “trespassing against” and this raising the problem of forgiveness consists...
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