COMPETING CONCEPTIONS OF FORGIVENESS
Few people dispute that a willingness to forgive, when appropriate, is laudable – an expression of what Roberts (1995) calls the virtue of forgivingness. And nearly all agree that, in order to forgive, the victim needs to overcome at least some negative feelings towards the person who has wronged her. Beyond this point, there is considerable dissension. Four questions, in particular, have been at the forefront of recent debate.
• When is it appropriate to forgive?
• What are the negative feelings and attitudes that must be overcome in forgiveness?
• What else has to take place in order for the victim to have forgiven the wrongdoer?
• What justifies forgiveness?
These questions are obviously related in a number of ways. For example, with respect to the first question, there is marked disagreement about whether it is appropriate to forgive the unrepentant. To some extent, this disagreement reflects competing models of what it is to forgive that find expression in differing answers to the other three questions. On one conception, reflected in the popular phrase “wiping the slate clean”, forgiveness involves a restoration (so far as is possible) of the status quo ante. On this model, as regards the second question, forgiveness may involve not only the cessation of resentment, but also of indignation, blame and even (on one account) all negative feelings whatever.