Forgiveness as a Volitional Commitment

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(Forthcoming in Routledge Handbook of Forgiveness, edited by Glen Pettigrove and Robert Enright) This chapter discusses forgiveness conceived as primarily a volitional commitment, rather than an emotional transformation. As a commitment, forgiveness is distal, involving moral agency over time, and can take the form of a speech act or a chosen attitude. The purpose can be a commitment to repair or restore relationships with wrongdoers for their sake or the sake of the relationship, usually by forswearing one’s hostile attitudes toward a particular wrongdoing; the commitment may also be to oneself for one’s own sake, to be a person with a virtue of forgivingness. It can be incident-specific, that is, a response to a particular occasion of harm, or a forward-looking disposition, an aim to cultivate the habit of being a forgiving person in advance. The enabling conditions of forgivingness as a virtue may be more basic master virtues including integrity and humility, motivations that also underpin commitments to be unforgiving, so this chapter concludes with some careful consideration of the ethics of unforgivingness to others, and the commitment to be unforgiving of oneself.
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