Twixt Mages and Monsters: Arendt on the Dark Art of Forgiveness

In Court D. Lewis (ed.), Philosophy of Forgiveness, Volume II: New Dimensions of Forgiveness. Wilmington, DE, USA: pp. 215-240 (2016)
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In this chapter, I will offer a strategic new interpretation of Hannah Arendt's conception of forgiveness. In brief, I propose understanding Arendt as suggesting—not that evil is objectively banal, or a mere failure of imagination—but instead that it is maximally forgiveness-facilitating to understand the seemingly unforgivable as merely a failure of imagination. In other words, we must so expand our imaginative powers (what Arendt terms “enlarged mentality”) by creatively imagining others as merely insufficiently unimaginative, all in order to reimagine them as beings whom we are willing and able to forgive. It is in this sense that I understand forgiveness for Arendt as a kind of “magic.” That is, forgiveness involves the imaginatively-funded creation of a new reality by merely naming it, like the phenomenon of “magic thinking,” wherein one believes one’s thoughts or speech are immediately realized in the world. The magic of forgiveness, in other words, is an incantation or performative speech act, based on the forgiver’s choice to “make believe,” or pretend-into-being, that the forgiven person is forgivable qua thoughtless.
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