Forgiveness as an Ethical Category: Limits of Ethical Theory

By Chin-Tai Kim.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Electronic $US5.00

This paper will examine the following questions: What is it to forgive? Who is qualified to forgive? Who is a fit object of forgiveness? What justifies forgiveness? What is the place of forgiveness in the structure of human moral life? What is the ontological presupposition of an ethics of forgiveness? What is the implication of the persistence of interest in forgiveness in ethical discourse? We will first try to illuminate the nature of forgiveness of moral wrongs in analogy with debt forgiveness. We will examine and compare the answers to the above questions from the deontological, eudemonistic, virtue, theoretic, and communitarian perspectives to draw some conclusions: that there cannot be a theory that tells us precisely whom to forgive, what, for what reasons; that on any view forgiveness is a situational departure from a normal moral practice, the best reason for which is that the forgiver sees a good for both the forgiver and the forgiven that supersedes the obligation to pursue justice; that the reluctance to dispense with the notion of forgiveness signifies the human awareness of human fallibility as agents and judges, an emblematic symptom of human finitude.

Keywords: Forgiveness, Mercy, Ethical Theory, Situational Departure from Rules, Primacy of the Good over Justice, Moral Fallibility

International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 9, Issue 4, pp.93-102. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 761.155KB).

Prof. Chin-Tai Kim

Professor of Philosophy, Department of Philosophy, College of Arts and Sciences, Case Western Reserve University, Shaker Heights, Ohio, USA

Dr. Kim has taught courses in the history of philosophy including: ancient, 17th-, 18th-, 19th-, and early 20th-century philosophy, phenomenology, hermeneutics, existentialism, philosophy of religion, East-West comparative philosophy, metaphysics, epistemology, and East-West comparative philosophy. Dr. Kim has published works on Descartes, Kant, Hegel, Brentano, Husserl, the foundations of morality, and the philosophy of religion; he is currently working on the career of the concept of subjectivity through the history of ideas, East and West.

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