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Before Forgiveness
The Origins of a Moral Idea


  • Date Published: July 2012
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781107680203

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About the Authors
  • In this book, David Konstan argues that the modern concept of interpersonal forgiveness, in the full sense of the term, did not exist in ancient Greece and Rome. Even more startlingly, it is not fully present in the Hebrew Bible, nor in the New Testament or in the early Jewish and Christian commentaries on the Holy Scriptures. It would still be centuries - many centuries - before the idea of interpersonal forgiveness, with its accompanying ideas of apology, remorse, and a change of heart on the part of the wrongdoer, would emerge. For all its vast importance today in religion, law, politics and psychotherapy, interpersonal forgiveness is a creation of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when the Christian concept of divine forgiveness was fully secularized. Forgiveness was God's province and it took a revolution in thought to bring it to earth and make it a human trait.

    • Presents the novel idea that interpersonal forgiveness is a modern idea
    • Argues that the ancient cultures of Greece and Rome, Jews and Christians, did not develop a concept of interpersonal forgiveness
    • Concludes that modern forgiveness may be understood as the secularization of divine forgiveness in the Judaeo-Christian tradition
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    Reviews & endorsements

    Reviews of the hardback: 'Konstan's book is one of those studies that increases the reader's puzzlement and thus makes one seriously reflect on the subject-matter in question … Konstan's book is an indispensable survey for anyone dealing with ancient ethics, not least because of the wide range of texts it introduces and discusses. It can be seen as both an interesting and challenging contribution to contemporary discussion of the ancient inspiration for modern forms of virtue ethics.' Bryn Mawr Classical Review

    'This volume makes for fascinating reading and is a remarkable scholarly achievement.' Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

    '… this is a thought-provoking work. The author is at his best in summarizing contemporary philosophical analysis of forgiveness as a concept, and in disabusing modern readers of reading 'forgiveness' into ancient texts.' Choice

    'This book is nothing less than brilliant. Every one of its chapters contains a startlingly unexpected message, and the range of the book as a whole is enormous. At every point, David Konstan makes one think philosophically about different concepts and hence about the concept of forgiveness itself. The philosophical insight he provides is based on his perceptivity about an incredible range of texts.' Richard Sorabji, University of Oxford

    'Konstan's magisterial grasp of the relevant texts and thinkers from the ancient Greek and Roman periods through early Christian and Judaic sources to the Church Fathers is extraordinary. Contemporary discussions of forgiveness often make a number of unexamined assumptions about the historical sources of this crucial moral idea … It turns out, in Konstan's view, that the modern notion of interpersonal forgiveness – and with it a supporting web of ideas about morality, the emotions, and the self – is of quite recent vintage. Konstan also sheds light on crucial modern treatments of the idea such as those found in Shakespeare, Molière, Butler, Kant, and Derrida, among others. His remarkable book will challenge readers to rethink their assumptions, and therefore to sharpen their answer to the much-debated question – what is forgiveness? – that lies at the heart of his inquiry.' Charles L. Griswold, Boston University

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    Product details

    • Date Published: July 2012
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781107680203
    • length: 208 pages
    • dimensions: 226 x 150 x 15 mm
    • weight: 0.29kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. What is forgiveness?
    2. Before forgiveness: Greeks and Romans on guilt and innocence
    3. Did they forgive? Greek and Roman narratives of reconciliation
    4. Divine absolution: the Hebrew and Christian bibles
    5. Humility and repentance: the church fathers
    6. Enter forgiveness: the self transformed.

  • Author

    David Konstan, Brown University, Rhode Island
    David Konstan is Professor of Classics at New York University and is John Rowe Workman Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Classics and the Humanistic Tradition and Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at Brown University. Among his most recent books are Friendship in the Classical World (1997), Pity Transformed (2001), The Emotions of the Ancient Greeks (2006) and 'A Life Worthy of the Gods': The Materialist Psychology of Epicurus (2008). He has served as president of the American Philological Association and is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

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