Date of Thesis

5-5-2014

Thesis Type

Honors Thesis

Degree Type

Bachelor of Arts

First Advisor

Brantley Gasaway

Second Advisor

Stuart Young

Abstract

Conflict has marked civilization from Biblical times to the present day. Each of us, with our different and competing interests, and our desires to pursue those interests, have over time wronged another person. Not surprisingly then, forgiveness is a concern of individuals and groups¿communities, countries, religious groups, races¿yet it is a complex idea that philosophers, theologians, political scientists, and psychologists have grappled with. Some have argued that forgiveness is a therapeutic means for overcoming guilt, pain, and anger. Forgiveness is often portrayed as a coping mechanism¿how often we hear the phrase, ¿forgive and forget,¿ as an arrangement to help two parties surmount the complications of disagreement. But forgiveness is not simply a modus vivendi; the ability to forgive and conversely to ask for forgiveness, is counted as an admirable trait and virtue. This essay will explore the nature of forgiveness, which in Christian dogma is often posited as an unqualified virtue. The secular world has appropriated the Christian notion of forgiveness as such a virtue¿but are there instances wherein offering forgiveness is morally inappropriate or dangerous? I will consider the situations in which forgiveness, understood in this essay as the overcoming of resentment, may not be a virtue¿when perhaps maintaining resentment is as virtuous, if not more virtuous, than forgiving. I will explain the various ethical frameworks involved in understanding forgiveness as a virtue, and the relationship between them. I will argue that within Divine Command Theory forgiveness is a virtue¿and thus morally right¿because God commands it. This ethical system has established forgiveness as unconditional, an idea which has been adopted into popular culture. With virtue ethics in mind, which holds virtues to be those traits which benefit the person who possesses them, contributing to the good life, I will argue unqualified forgiveness is not always a virtue, as it will not always benefit the victim. Because there is no way to avoid wrongdoing, humans are confronted with the question of forgiveness with every indiscretion. Its limits, its possibilities, its relationship to one¿s character¿forgiveness is a concern of all people at some time if for no other reason than the plain fact that the past cannot be undone. I will be evaluating the idea of forgiveness as a virtue, in contrast to its counterpart, resentment. How can forgiveness be a response to evil, a way to renounce resentment, and a means of creating a positive self-narrative? And what happens when a sense of moral responsibility is impossible to reconcile with the Christian (and now, secularized imperative of) forgiveness? Is it ever not virtuous to forgive? In an attempt to answer that question I will argue that there are indeed times when forgiveness is not a virtue, specifically: when forgiveness compromises one¿s own self-respect; when it is not compatible with respect for the moral community; and when the offender is unapologetic. The kind of offense I have in mind is a dehumanizing one, one that intends to diminish another person¿s worth or humanity. These are moral injuries, to which I will argue resentment is a better response than forgiveness when the three qualifications cannot be met.

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