The Philosophy of Forgiveness - Volume I

Explorations of Forgiveness: Personal, Relational, and Religious

Court D. Lewis (Ed.)

by Margaret Betz, Raja Bahlul (Doha Institute for Graduate Studies, Qatar), Jennifer Ang, Rebecca Dew (The University of Queensland, Australia), Gregory L. Bock (The University of Texas at Tyler), Christopher Cowley, Man-To Tang (The Chinese University of Hong Kong, China), Christopher Ketcham, William C. Gay, Alexis Elder, Court D. Lewis (Owensboro Community and Technical College)

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"Overall, I find this to be an excellent collection and a valuable contribution to scholarship in an important area that lacks similar collections.

"I think the focus on Hannah Arendt’s relationship with Heidegger, and whether his sins are forgivable, makes a nice focus for one third of the
Articles. Of course there are the Christian-centered accounts, because forgiveness is so central in Christianity. But I also really enjoyed
The final essay on Buddhism, and its suggestion that an enlightened soul would not need to forgive.

"I think the collection will appeal to many scholars working in philosophy and religion who are interested in forgiveness, a topic that
Increasingly interests modern scholars."

Gregory Pence,
Professor & Chair, UAB Philosophy
Director, Early Medical Acceptance Program

The Philosophy of Forgiveness is multi-dimensional and complex. As recent scholarly
philosophical works on forgiveness illustrate, incorporating personal, relational, political, ethical,
psychological, and religious dimensions into one consistent conception of “forgiveness” is
difficult. As part of Vernon Press’s series on the Philosophy of Forgiveness, Explorations of
Forgiveness: Personal, Relational, and Religious begins the task of creating a consistent multidimensional
account of forgiveness by bringing together multiple voices from around the globe
to analyze, discuss, and draw conclusions about how best to understand forgiveness. The
volume’s three opening chapters examine forgiveness as a relational concept, and offer insights
into the role of forgiveness in repairing, sustaining, stewarding, and healing relationships
damaged by wrongdoing. Continuing with the relational theme, the next four chapters
incorporate Hannah Arendt’s philosophical teachings (both her writings and her life) into the
discussion to offer several intriguing conclusions relating to “unforgiveable” persons and acts.
The final chapters examine the nature of forgiveness from three major world religions:
Buddhism, Christianity, and Confucianism.

1. From Relationship Repair to Relationship Stewardship: Forgiveness and Friendship
Alexis Elder Southern Connecticut State University
Forgiveness is often construed as a tool for relationship repair. When considered in light of recent work on belief norms in friendship, it seems to consist—at least partly—in setting aside resentment of wrongdoing so friendships can continue. Recognizing people’s shortcomings can give reason to end friendships, which would then imply that forgiveness is at odds with ending a friendship. But it might seem plausible to forgive someone as part of the process of cutting ties. This, in turn, can stem from a commitment to maintaining (only) high-quality friendships, suggesting that forgiveness can be a tool for ending as well as repairing relationships. The common element between these two uses is that both involve explicitly recognizing a friend’s wrongdoing in the context of acting as a steward of the friendship. I argue that a relationship-repair account of forgiveness should be replaced by one of relationship stewardship.

2. Restorative Justice and Care Ethics: An Integrated Approach to Forgiveness and Reconciliation
William C. Gay
Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, UNC Charlotte
Restorative justice tries to repair the harm of criminal behavior and seeks cooperative resolutions for victims, offenders, and the community. As an alternative to punishment, particularly incarceration, restorative justice has clear advantages for fostering forgiveness and achieving reconciliation, and generally works more effectively than punishment. As such, care ethics provides a useful philosophical justification. Its stress on particularity and connection avoids the problems that arise from seeking universalized foundations. By beginning with the way in which persons are entangled in a web of dynamic relationships which they may wish to maintain or repair, it replaces the punitive orientations of retribution found in corporal punishment, capital punishment, and international war. Its stress on preservative love complements strategies of nonviolence during conflict and practices of reconciliation following conflict. In this way, restorative justice, when coupled with care ethics, can be justified more fully as a robust and integrated approach to forgiveness and reconciliation.

3. Injustice as Injury, Forgiveness as Healing
Raja Bahlul
The Doha Institute for Graduate Studies
I propose to view forgiveness as a kind of healing process. The analogy between forgiveness and healing is based on two more basic analogies, one between injustice and injury, the other between resentment and pain. Injustice and injury, it will be suggested, can be viewed as species of harm, whereas pain and resentment can be viewed as aversive states that have protective functions connected to motivating powers. The analogies will elaborated along different but related dimensions which include causes (causal origins), effects, and function in the life of the organism. On the basis on the proposed analogies, it will be argued that, just as healing follows upon injury under certain conditions, so can forgiveness follow upon injustice when the conditions are right. In both cases aversive states are superseded, and the organism is restored to a previous condition of wholeness and integrity. The chapter concludes with a discussion of some objections and possible replies.

4. Filling that Moral Space: Forgiveness, Suffering and the Recognition of Human Identity
Rebecca Dew
University of Queensland
Suffering is a human reality, a reality that points to the need for human forgiveness even as it facilitates the apprehension of moral awareness. In this chapter I argue that it is the possibility of human forgiveness that fills the gaps generated by the reality of human suffering. In this sense forgiveness fills the spaces of moral recognition requisite for coming to terms with human identity. Although the most famous identification of the human experience with suffering is that made by Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky, political theorist Hannah Arendt also considers the experience of shared suffering in its performative function as a catalyst of political revolution. In the context of the French Revolution, suffering generated a socio-political movement to the extent that it was viewed as a structure capable of social deposition. However, in this chapter I will argue that Arendt views human suffering as carrying political weight not primarily as a stimulus to political action but as an identifier of private personhood by way of the forgiveness-act.

5. “Her loyalty survived his foolishness:” Hannah Arendt, Martin Heidegger, and Forgiveness
Margaret Betz
West Chester University and Rutgers University, Camden
The friendship between the German philosophers Hannah Arendt and Martin Heidegger remains one of the most dramatic chapters of twentieth century philosophy. It was tested by Heidegger’s unapologetic involvement in the Nazi party while Arendt (who was Jewish) scrambled to escape Germany. Once the war ended and they resumed their friendship, Arendt chose to forgive Heidegger. How could she, especially considering Heidegger never publicly expressed contrition for the role he played? This chapter explores the concept of forgiveness for Arendt and the impact it had on her relationship with Martin Heidegger. After their reconciliation, Arendt wrote about “Irreversibility and the Power to Forgive.” Utilizing Arendt’s philosophy of forgiveness allows us to critically examine a choice some have labelled “inexcusable” and “blind devotion.” Her political philosophy offers an opportunity to grasp her reasons for forgiving the unforgiveable. Arendt’s forgiveness of Heidegger, we see, represents the political act par excellence.

6. Unforgivable Evil and Evildoers
Jennifer ANG
SIM University
For many, public apologies and the accounting for heinous crimes through truth and reconciliation commissions is a first step in restoring the moral relationship between victims and perpetrators. This chapter looks at the relationship between legal/political forgiveness and interpersonal forgiveness in the context of Hannah Arendt’s conceptualization of the crimes of the Holocaust—of wrongs that defy our limits of law and are, hence, unpunishable. I will argue that such legally unpunishable acts should also be seen as unforgiveable. When wrongs are committed against the community as a whole (and not only particular victims), and when the evildoer is unreflective and unrepentant, then we should not forgive. Such evildoers are morally bankrupt. Forgiving them compromises our moral integrity in two ways: 1) by failing to mete out the moral punishment they deserve, we concede our category of what is morally reprehensible (not just offensive) by accepting their moral bankruptcy into our community; and 2) by failing to hold the evildoer fully responsible, we do not aide their moral growth.

7. Unconditional Forgiveness and Practical Necessity
Christopher Cowley University College Dublin In the basic schema of forgiveness, an Offender intentionally commits an Offence against a Victim; the Victim is entitled to resent, but should she forgive? One answer (Murphy, Griswold) speaks of the conditions that the Offender must fulfil (e.g. repentance) in order to earn a morally-admirable forgiveness. Another answer (Christianity) speaks of the Victim forgiving unconditionally. One problem for unconditionality is that as soon as one asks the unconditional forgiver why she forgave, then (i) either she will give reasons, and this reveals her to be a conditionalist, or (ii) she cannot give reasons, and so the forgiveness looks arbitrary, whimsical, and therefore not morally admirable. I want to defend unconditional forgiveness against this problem by examining the concept of “arbitrariness”’: what it means, what it presupposes when used pejoratively, and why it need not undermine a morally admirable forgiveness.

8. The Double Intentionality of Forgiveness: A Non-Reductive Account of Forgiveness in Confucius
TANG Man-to
The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Traditional Western accounts of forgiveness tend to be reductive, dividing forgiveness into either a purely personal account or an interpersonal account, and leading to a whole host of conceptual issues. For my chapter, I perform three tasks. First, I argue that the purely personal account cannot answer how the forgiver is supposed to overcome resentment and regain the respect, while at the same time reintegrate back into the community. Second, I argue that to address this issue we need a hermeneutics based upon “double intentionalities,” which describe the act of “reframing” through narration as a sufficient (but not necessary) condition for forgiveness. Third, I argue that an account of double intentionalities can be found in the Confucian’s doctrine of shu, translated as “forgive, pardon or excuse.” By infusing Western accounts of forgiveness with an Eastern account of shu, I formulate a non-reductive account of forgiveness that addresses many difficulties found in contemporary forgiveness literature.

9. Unconditional Forgiveness and Christian Love
Gregory L. Bock
The University of Texas at Tyler
In Forgiveness and Love, Glenn Pettigrove explores the connection between forgiveness and love and argues that it is morally permissible to forgive the unapologetic, but he stops short of endorsing a strong principle of unconditional forgiveness that would make forgiveness a moral absolute. The goal of this essay is to establish a stronger principle of unconditional forgiveness by exploring the concept of agape love in the New Testament, using Pettigrove’s three dimensions: affective, cognitive, and volitional. With the focus on the concept of Christian love, the connection between forgiveness and love is reexamined and shown to be closer than in Pettigrove’s analysis. Having established this, this essay concludes that unconditional forgiveness is not merely morally permissible, but also morally required.

10. Buddhism and the End to Forgiveness
Christopher Ketcham
Independent Scholar
There is no one Buddhism; there are many different Buddhist belief systems. I will focus on Theravada Buddhism which is aligned to the Buddha’s suttas (or lessons) as recorded in the Pali Canon. There is some disagreement in the literature whether Buddhism contains the idea of forgiveness or not. I suggest that forgiveness is more complicated in Buddhism than a simple “yes” or “no.” My thesis is that the Buddha would have told his followers to think beyond forgiveness. Forgiveness requires an ill and an attachment to that ill that is released by the one who forgives. While the path to enlightenment (nibbāna) does require the aspirant to release attachments to ills, ultimately the enlightened one has no more attachments, and ills are memories without the emotional flame associated with anger, guilt, and vengeance. Nibbāna is not a state where all is forgiven and all are forgiven. Forgiveness isn’t an issue because the enlightened one is no longer attached to the ill that could be forgiven—there is nothing left to forgive.

Court Lewis received his Ph.D. from the University of Tennessee, where he specialized in Ethics, Justice, and Forgiveness. He became interested in forgiveness studies while studying mass atrocities and social oppression in 20th Century Europe, especially after reading Simon Wiesenthal’s The Sunflower. His philosophical work on Justice and Rights introduced him to Nicholas Wolterstorff’s ethical concept eirenéism—a peace-based theory of rights. Combining eirenéism with the concept of forgiveness, Court developed a rights-based ethic of forgiveness. His research was featured in his dissertation, was the basis for a Capstone Philosophy course at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, which featured visiting speakers working on forgiveness, such as Martha Nussbaum, and portions of it have appeared in scholarly peer-reviewed journals such as Philosophia: Philosophical Quarterly of Israel. He is currently completing a monograph on his research. Court is Program Coordinator and Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Owensboro Community and Technical College.


Jennifer Mei Sze Ang is Senior Lecturer at the Singapore Institute of Management University (SIM University) and a member of the executive committee for The Asia-Pacific Chapter of the International Society for Military Ethics (APAC-ISME). She is the author of Sartre and the Moral Limits of War and Terrorism. Her recent book chapter publications include “Fighting the Humanitarian War: Justifications and Limitations,” in Routledge Handbook on Ethics and War: Just War in the 21st Century, and “Evil by Nobodies,” in The Problem of Evil: New Philosophical Directions. Her main focus is examining Sartre’s philosophy, in relation to Kant, Hegel, and Arendt, on various issues regarding ethics, war, revolutions, humanitarian interventions, and history.

Raja Bahlul is currently Professor of Philosophy at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies. He received his B.A. from the American University of Beirut, and completed his graduate studies in Philosophy at Indiana University-Bloomington (Indiana, USA). He has written on a variety of subjects, including Islamic Philosophy, Identity and Individuation, Emotion, Cognitivism about Ethics, and Political Islam and Modernity.

Margaret Betz teaches philosophy at West Chester University and Rutgers University. She is the author of various articles on feminist theory, environmental ethics, and animal ethics, and is the author of the book The Hidden Philosophy of Hannah Arendt.

Gregory L. Bock, Ph.D., is Senior Lecturer of Philosophy and Religion at The University of Texas at Tyler. His research areas include ethics and the philosophy of religion.

Christopher Cowley is Lecturer in philosophy at University College Dublin, Ireland. He is the author of Moral Responsibility, and has edited two recent volumes: The Philosophy of Autobiography and Supererogation.

Rebecca Dew lives in Brisbane, Australia and is a recent graduate of the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where she received her Bachelor of Arts in English and completed her Honors thesis in 2012. Rebecca is currently completing her PhD at the School of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Queensland. Her current thesis “Hannah Arendt, Utopia and the Ideology of Modernity” reflects her interest in the role of ideology as informative to an understanding of the history of political philosophy, with particular applications to epistemic engagement, meaning acquisition and cultural memory.

Alexis Elder is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Minnesota Duluth. Her research focuses on friendships and other close-knit social groups, including practices and technologies that affect them.

William C. Gay is Emeritus Professor (Retired) at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He received his Ph.D. in Philosophy from Boston College in 1976. Gay specializes in war and peace studies (focusing on weapons of mass destruction and nonviolent strategies), social and political philosophy (focusing on Soviet and post-Soviet Russian political thought), and continental philosophy (focusing on linguistic alienation and linguistic violence). He has authored numerous books, including, with Michael Pearson, The Nuclear Arms Race; with T.A. Alekseeva, Capitalism with a Human Face: The Quest for a Middle Road in Russian Politics. With Alekseeva, he has also co-edited two volumes: 1) On the Eve of the 21st Century: Perspectives of Russian and American Philosophers—the first post-Soviet collections of essays by Russian and American philosophers—and Democracy and the Quest for Justice. Finally, he is the editor of the English edition of Global Studies Encyclopedia. Gay is a member of several philosophical societies, including the Concerned Philosophers for Peace, having served as President, Executive Director, and Newsletter Editor. He has also organized numerous Russian-American exchanges and collaborations, particularly with the Institute of Philosophy in Moscow and with the Russian Philosophical Society.

Christopher Ketcham earned his Doctorate from the University of Texas at Austin. He teaches business and ethics for the University of Houston downtown. His research interests are applied ethics, social justice, and east-west comparative philosophy. He has chapters in Reconsidering the Meaning in Life and Commercial Space Exploration: Ethics, Policy and Governance. He has published articles in Philosophical Inquires, Per la filosofia, Leadership and the Humanities, and the Journal of the Philosophy of Life.

TANG, Man-to is a PhD Candidate at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, which excels at contemporary Confucianism and phenomenological research in Asia. He has been a teacher at the Community College at Lingnan University, HKSAR for many years. His main research areas are Phenomenology and Hermeneutics, the Philosophy of Psychological phenomena, and East-West Comparative studies. He can be contacted via email at

Bibliographic Information

Book Title
The Philosophy of Forgiveness - Volume I
Book Subtitle
Explorations of Forgiveness: Personal, Relational, and Religious
Number of pages
Physical size
236mm x 160mm
Publication date
February 2017