Ethical Perspectives

December 2010

Why Genuine Forgiveness must be Elective and Unconditional

Christopher Cowley


Charles Griswold’s 2007 book Forgiveness argues that genuine forgiveness of an unexcused, unjustified and unignored offence must be normgoverned and conditional. In the same way that gift-giving is governed by norms of appropriateness, so too is forgiveness; and the appropriateness of forgiving is centrally dependent on the offender’s repentance. In response, I claim that genuine forgiveness must always be elective and unconditional, and therefore genuinely unpredictable, no matter how much – or how little – the offender repents. I consider and reject one defence of unconditional forgiveness, that of Garrard and McNaughton. I then develop my own account, which builds on Bernard Williams’ notion of practical necessity.

 Page : 556 - 579

To  Ethical Perspectives 4/2010