Jeffrie Murphy on “Forgiveness”
1. What is ‘forgiveness’ and when is it best to forgive? Jeffrie Murphy defines forgiveness as the “principled overcoming of feelings of resentment…directed towards a person who has done one a moral injury.” (JM)
2. JM distinguishes forgiving a person from excusing the act and from justifying the act. To (successfully) excuse an act is to show that the wrongdoer is not fully responsible for the wrongdoing: “He was tired.” “She has Alzheimer’s,” “He was pushed” and so forth. These explanations of the cause of the act locate that cause outside of the agent’s control; so, they excuse the agent from blame for the act.
3. To justify wrongdoing is to continue to see the act as a responsible doing of the agent but one that was not, in these special circumstances, wrong to do. In other words, a successful justification shows that an act that’s normally wrong to do was not wrong to do in these circumstances. “He took my car without my permission because it was the only way he could take his very sick mother to the hospital.” Or: “Yes, he killed that man, but that was the only way he could protect his family from being killed by that man.”
4. Sometimes attempts are made to justify an act that fail. For example: I take your car without your permission. I offer as my justification that I had to go get beer during my party. OR: I say that I wanted to see how fast I could drive on the freeway. Neither of these reasons for acting as I did succeed at making my act ok to do; they don’t succeed as justifications of my act.
5. And, sometimes attempts are made to excuse an act that fail. For example: I crash my car, and say that I had been drinking. OR: I take your food and say I was hungry and couldn’t resist.
6. Neither excusing a person nor justifying their act is a case of forgiveness, per Murphy. This is because if a normally wrongful act is excused or justified, resentment would no longer be an