Our ideas about forgiveness seem to oscillate between idealization and scepticism. How should we make sense of this apparent conflict? This paper argues that we should learn something from each, seeing these views as representing opposing moments in a perennial and well-grounded moral ambivalence towards forgiveness. Once we are correctly positioned, we shall see an aspect of forgiveness that recommends precisely this ambivalence. For what will come into view will be certain key psychological mechanisms of moral-epistemic influence – other-addressed and self-addressed mechanisms of moral social construction – that enable forgiveness to function well when it is well-functioning, but which are also intrinsically prone to deterioration into one or another form of bad faith. Thus forgiveness is revealed as necessarily containing seeds of its own corruption, showing ambivalence to be a generically appropriate attitude. Moreover, it is emphasized that where forgiver and forgiven are relating to one another in the context of asymmetries of social power, the practice of forgiveness is likely to be further compromised, notably increasing the risk of negative influence on the moral-epistemic states of either the forgiver or the forgiven, or both.
Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.