Why Reconciliation Requires Punishment but Not Forgiveness

In Krisanna Scheiter & Paula Satne (eds.), Conflict and Resolution: The Ethics of Forgiveness, Revenge, and Punishment. Springer. pp. 265-281 (2022)
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Adherents to reconciliation, restorative justice, and related approaches to dealing with social conflict are well known for seeking to minimize punishment, in favor of offenders hearing out victims, making an apology, and effecting compensation for wrongful harm as well as victims forgiving offenders and accepting their reintegration into society. In contrast, I maintain that social reconciliation and similar concepts in fact characteristically require punishment but do not require forgiveness. I argue that a reconciliatory response to crime that includes punitive disavowal but not necessarily forgiveness is supported by an analogy with resolving two-person conflict and by relational facets of human dignity. I also specify a novel account of the type of penalty that is justified by reconciliation, namely, burdensome labor that is likely to foster moral reform on the part of wrongdoers and to compensate their victims, which would serve neither retributive nor deterrent functions. I illustrate this conception of punishment in contexts that include having cheated on an exam at a university, engaged in criminal behavior such as robbery, and committed atrocities during large-scale social conflict.

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Thaddeus Metz
University of Pretoria


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