Forgiveness and Public Trust
31 Pages Posted: 15 Oct 2000
The currently received wisdom is that forgiveness is appropriate only in personal settings, between victims and wrongdoers, and that forgiveness is not only inappropriate in the public realm but usurps victims' rights and creates inequalities. This article denies these propositions and argues that community members can and ought to forgive wrongdoers, even if the victims do not. Forgiveness means risking a continuing relationship, and that is the aspect of forgiveness that must be public, not private. Nor does forgiveness undermine justice, if punishment is properly understood. Crime is a breaking of trust and an attempt to humiliate and degrade a victim. To give a criminal her due would be to humiliate and degrade the criminal and to break her trust. Yet even the most hard-nosed retributivists acknowledge that punishment must temper the crime in its rebound on the criminal. That temperance recognizes the communal ties to the criminal and is a form of forgiveness.
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