Forgiveness as Process

Lloyd Steffen


p. 287 - 310

Volume: 28 Issue: 3 2021

The moral psychology of forgiveness and the meaning of forgiveness in the context of justice are topics worthy of reflection and investigation.

Forgiveness as a response to injury or harm prompts a variety of ethics questions: when is it morally appropriate to insert forgiveness into a relationship upset by injury or harm? Is it ever wrong to offer forgiveness - under what circumstances?

The justice questions involving forgiveness are prominent ethics issues, but moral psychology will inquire into the conditions of mind and emotion that must be present in order for forgiveness to be offered sincerely - and what actually is the meaning of the utterance, 'I forgive you?'

Forgiveness is a complex concept that points to a process even more than to the result of a process. That process involves persons aggrieved unjustly and harmed by an offender actually shedding the desire for vengeance, for grudge holding, and for resentment even if some pain from experiencing injustice lingers, relationships once intimate are not restored completely and some form of punishment outside of the forgiveness process goes forward.

Forgiveness is properly present and at play in moral relations when an attitude of emotional equipoise toward the offense and the offender becomes present offering emotional relief.

Such relief obtains when offended persons forgo continued resenting, grudge-bearing and anger in the face of injustice. To utter, 'I forgive you', then is not a performative act but a report on a process leading to emotional relief or equipoise. Four short illustrations open the discussion about forgiveness and its relation to justice, two involving 'common life' situations, one involving the aftermath of terrorism, and another related to wartime atrocity. Analysis of these examples of the forgiveness process allows for a more substantial grasp of forgiveness as a dynamic in moral relations.

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