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The Normative Significance of Forgiveness

Brandon Warmke
All your life you’re told forgiveness is for you. But we’re never told why it’s for you. It means you’re working on owning your life.
Shani Tran
Therapist and Founder, The Shani Project
Forgiveness is nothing less than the way we heal the world. We heal the world by healing each and every one of our hearts. The process is simple, but it is not easy.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu
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The Normative Significance of Forgiveness

Brandon Warmke
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P.F. Strawson claimed that forgiveness is such an essential part of our moral practices that we could not extricate it from our form of life even if we so desired. But what is it about forgiveness that would make it such a central feature of our moral experience? In this paper, I suggest that the answer has to do with what I will call the normative significance of forgiveness. Forgiveness is normatively significant in the sense that, in its paradigmatic instances, forgiving alters the operative norms bearing on the interaction between the victim and the wrongdoer in certain characteristic ways. My project here is, first, to clarify the ways that paradigmatic cases of forgiveness alter the norms of interaction between victim and wrongdoer and to argue that it is in this respect that forgiveness is a normatively significant feature of our moral responsibility practices. Second, I show that most extant theories of forgiveness fail to explain the characteristic ways in which forgiving alters norms. Third, I offer a theory of forgiveness that accounts for this significant normative feature. I conclude by addressing two objections to my proposal.

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