Forgiveness and Moral Solidarity

In Stephen Bloch-Shulman & David White (eds.), Forgiveness: Probing the Boundaries. Inter-Disciplinary Press (2008)
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Abstract

The categorical denial of third-party forgiveness represents an overly individualistic approach to moral repair. Such an approach fails to acknowledge the important roles played by witnesses, bystanders, beneficiaries, and others who stand in solidarity to the primary victim and perpetrator. In this paper, I argue that the prerogative to forgive or withhold forgiveness is not universal, but neither is it restricted to victims alone. Not only can we make moral sense of some third-party acts and utterances of the form, “I can or cannot forgive…” but also, we ought to recognize them as legitimate instances of third party forgiveness. Concern for the primary victim’s autonomy tends to exaggerate a need for moral deference, while ignoring how others are called upon to support and mediate for victims of violence and oppression. I advocate a cautious extension of the victim’s prerogative to forgive, one that grounds forgiveness in a double relation of sympathetic identification and attentive care. Following Jean Harvey’s recent work, I call this relationship moral solidarity. Furthermore, I argue, there are important moral and political reasons to acknowledge third party forgiveness; these reasons are particularly evident in contexts of oppression. In fact, third party refusals to forgive may have particular moral significance. In situations of abuse, oppression and damaged self-respect, third party refusals may protect the agency of victims who too easily forgive.

Author's Profile

Alice MacLachlan
York University

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