The Power to Forgive
32 Pages Posted: 14 Jan 2020 Last revised: 7 Feb 2020
Date Written: December 29, 2019
What is it to forgive? The dominant view is that A forgives B if and only if A undergoes the right kind of emotional change. This view should be rejected: it counts too few acts as forgiveness, too many people as potential forgivers, and fails to explain the normative differences that forgiveness can make. Instead, we should endorse a pluralist view, according to which A forgives B if and only if A either (1) undergoes the right kind of emotional change or (2) makes the right kind of declaration. A declaration of the right kind is an exercise of a normative power, which reverses certain normative changes brought about by that for which B is forgiven. A has this power because it gives her a means of conserving the status quo ante of her personal relations with B. Undergoing the right kind of emotional change serves a similar conservative function, which unifies the two species of forgiveness. Endorsing this pluralist view helps to explain why only some people can forgive, why some acts may be unforgivable, and why both questions have been so vexed.
Keywords: forgiveness, normative power, apology, autonomy
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