Remembrance beyond Forgiveness

In Paula Satne & Krisanna M. Scheiter (eds.), Conflict and Resolution: The Ethics of Forgiveness, Revenge and Punishment. Switzerland: pp. 301-327 (2022)
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I argue that political forgiveness is sometimes, but not always, compatible with public commemoration of politically motivated wrongdoing. I start by endorsing the claim that commemorating serious past wrongdoing has moral value and imposes moral demands on key actors within post-conflict societies. I am concerned with active commemoration, that is, the deliberate acts of bringing victims and the wrong done to them to public attention. The main issue is whether political forgiveness requires forgetting and conversely whether remembrance can be an impediment to political forgiveness. The notion of political forgiveness, its definition, very possibility and desirability are contentious issues in the contemporary literature. I develop a multidimensional account of political forgiveness with a core element. The core element of political forgiveness involves taking a non-adversarial stance towards perpetrators in the sense of committing to stop holding their wrongdoing against them. The core element of forgiveness is usually combined with other attitudes and practices, which are appropriate depending on the circumstances. This is due to the fact that there are different ways of holding a wrong against an offender. I argue that forgiving perpetrators is not compatible with continue to punishing them, refusing to reconcile with them, and/or reminding them of their misdeed if perpetrators refuse to accept punishment, deny the importance of commemorating the past or wish to reconcile against the victim’s desires. I show that some forms of political forgiveness are not morally legitimate because they conflict with moral demands to punish perpetrators, commemorate atrocities and respect victims. This conclusion is less alarming than it might initially seem because the refusal to forgive politically motivated wrongdoing does not necessarily lead to the perpetuation of violence and conflict. I briefly draw on the example of Argentina in order to show how some forms of political un-forgiveness can be morally legitimate and effective ways for victims to uphold these demands.

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Paula Satne
University of Leeds


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