Sungnōmē in Aristotle

Apeiron 50 (3):311-333 (2017)
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Abstract

Aristotle claims that in some extenuating circumstances, the correct response to the wrongdoer is sungnōmē rather than blame. Sungnōmē has a wide spectrum of meanings that include aspects of sympathy, pity, fellow-feeling, pardon, and excuse, but the dominant interpretation among scholars takes Aristotle’s meaning to correspond most closely to forgiveness. Thus, it is commonly held that the virtuous Aristotelian agent ought to forgive wrongdoers in specific extenuating circumstances. Against the more popular forgiveness interpretation, I begin by defending a positive account of sungnōmē as the correct judgment that a wrongdoer deserves excuse since she was not blameworthy. I then argue that since sungnōmē is merited on the grounds of fairness, this shows that both the forgiveness interpretation and a third, alternative interpretation of sungnōmē as sympathy mischaracterize both the justification for sungnōmē and its nature. Moreover, I argue that Aristotle not only lacks an account of forgiveness but in fact, that his account of blame is incompatible with forgiveness altogether.

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Carissa Phillips-Garrett
Loyola Marymount University

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