Saturday, September 8, 2007

"Forgiveness: A Philosophical Exploration"

Charles Griswold is Professor of Philosophy at Boston University.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new book, Forgiveness: A Philosophical Exploration, and reported the following:
Nearly everyone has wronged another. Who among us has not longed to be forgiven? Likewise, nearly everyone has suffered the bitter injustice of wrongdoing. Who has not struggled to forgive? Revenge impulsively surges in response to wrong, and becomes perversely delicious to those possessed by it. Personal and national credos anchor themselves in tales of unfairness and the glories of retaliation. Oceans of blood and mountains of bones are their testament. Consequently, the importance of forgiveness and reconciliation are of intense concern to us both as individuals and as communities. Not surprisingly, the discussions of forgiveness, apology, and reconciliation in theology, literature, political science, sociology, psychology, and philosophy are innumerable. Truth and Reconciliation Commissions have been forging powerful new approaches to age old conflicts. Ground breaking work in conflict resolution, international law, the theory of reparations, and political theory pays ever more attention to forgiveness and the related concepts of pardon, excuse, mercy, pity, apology, and reconciliation.

Every instance of such efforts assumes an answer to the question "What is forgiveness?", and it is the purpose of my book to work out the answer philosophically. Forgiveness is not simply a matter of finding a therapeutic way to "deal with" injury, pain, or anger -- even though it does somehow involve overcoming the anger one feels in response to injury. Forgetting through hypnosis or amnesia or taking a pill can't count as forgiveness.

What then are the conditions that qualify a person for forgiveness, and those which the person must meet? Is forgiveness obligatory if the offender has met all the requisite conditions? The first two of these questions are answered in the pages preceding p. 69, and discussion of the third is launched on the same page under the title of "praiseworthy conditional forgiveness." Still further ahead lie questions as to whether any act or person is simply unforgivable, whether the idea of "moral monster" makes any sense, the role of shared humanity and sympathy in forgiveness, not to mention the complicated nature of "self-forgiveness," forgiving the unrepentant and the dead. Having analyzed them all, I turn to the role of forgiveness in politics, and offer a controversial view about its relation to apology, truth-telling, and the ideals of personal as well as communal life.
Read an excerpt from Forgiveness and learn more about the book at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue