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Wrongdoing and Forgiveness

  • Joanna North (a1)


To forgive a person for a wrong he has done has often been valued as morally good and as indicative of a benevolent and merciful character. But while forgiveness has been recognized as valuable its nature as a moral response has largely been ignored by modern moral philosophers who work outside the confines of a religious context.1 Where it has been discussed, forgiveness has been thought particularly difficult to define, and some have thought the forgiving response paradoxical or even impossible. I shall discuss some of these difficulties and suggest firstly that the value of forgiveness lies in the fact that it essentially requires a recognition of the wrongdoer's responsibility for his action, and secondly that forgiveness typically involves an effort on the part of the one wronged: a conscious attempt to improve oneself in relation to the wrongdoer.



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1 Two notable exceptions are Aurel, Kolnai's ‘Forgiveness’, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 19731974, and R. S., Downie's ‘Forgiveness’ in Philosophical Quarterly, 15, No. 59, 1965.

2 St Luke, 15, xxiv.

3 Anne C., Minas deals with some of these in her article ‘God and Forgiveness’, Philosophical Quarterly, 25, No. 99, 1975.


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