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Alters the norms of interaction

The Normative Significance of Forgiveness

Brandon Warmke

Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 2016

Research details

Type of paper: Theoretical/Conceptual/Review

Open Access: No


P.F. Strawson claimed that forgiveness is such an essential part of our moral practices that we could not extricate it from our form of life even if we so desired. But what is it about forgiveness that would make it such a central feature of our moral experience? In this paper, I suggest that the answer has to do with what I will call the _normative significance_ of forgiveness. Forgiveness is normatively significant in the sense that, in its paradigmatic instances, forgiving alters the operative norms bearing on the interaction between the victim and the wrongdoer in certain characteristic ways. My project here is, first, to clarify the ways that paradigmatic cases of forgiveness alter the norms of interaction between victim and wrongdoer and to argue that it is in this respect that forgiveness is a normatively significant feature of our moral responsibility practices. Second, I show that most extant theories of forgiveness fail to explain the characteristic ways in which forgiving alters norms. Third, I offer a theory of forgiveness that accounts for this significant normative feature. I conclude by addressing two objections to my proposal.