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A release from debt or obligation

Freedom and Forgiveness

Dana Kay Nelkin

Cambridge Scholars Press, 2013

Research details

Type of paper: Theoretical/Conceptual/Review

Open Access: Yes


In this paper, I begin with a familiar puzzle about forgiveness, namely, how to distinguish forgiveness from excuse on the one hand and “letting go” on the other. After considering three recent and influential accounts of forgiveness that offer answers to this challenge among others, I develop an alternative model of forgiveness as a kind of personal release from debt or obligation. I argue that this model has a number of distinct advantages, including offering a new explanation of the subtle connections between forgiveness, resentment and perspective taking, as well as helping to provide plausible answers to normative questions such as whether forgiveness is ever morally required. Finally, I draw connections between the debate about forgiveness and the debate about free will, and suggest one way in which the compatibility of forgiveness and understanding of an action’s causes can illuminate the debate about the compatibility of freedom and determinism.