Forgiveness and Conflict

Convenor: Dr Paula Satne (

In recent years, philosophers from the English speaking tradition have started to pay more attention to the topic of forgiveness in both its moral and political dimension.

In moral theory, contemporary debates about forgiveness centre around two main issues: (i) conceptual debates about the nature and definition of forgiveness, and (ii) normative debates about the permissibility of forgiveness. With respect to (i), most authors follow Bishop Butler and claim that forgiveness necessarily  involves the overcoming  of the negative emotions of resentment, anger and hatred ‘that are naturally directed toward a person who has done one an unjustified and non-excused moral-injury.’ (Murphy, 1988: 15). For Murphy, forgiveness ‘… is primarily a matter of how I feel about you (not how I treat you)…’ (1988, pp. 20-1). More recently, however, Hieronymi has argued for an articulate (i.e. responsive to reasons) and uncompromising account of forgiveness, casting doubt as to whether forgiveness could be interpreted as a matter of overcoming feelings, and warning against ‘the all-too-common habit of talking about resentment and anger as things to be manipulated …rather than as attitudes sensitive to one’s judgements, subject to rational revision.’ (2001: 534-5).  Moreover, there is considerable debate about what other conditions are also necessary and/ or sufficient for forgiveness. Some authors include reconciliation and full restoration of relationships, the forgoing of punishment, and/ or a more positive attitude of good will (or even love) towards the wrongdoer (Garrard and McNaughton, 2002: 44). Others, however, are sceptic about the possibility of defining forgiveness and argue that forgiveness is a multi-form phenomenon which includes a broad and varied family of practices (Scarre, 2004: 26).

With respect to (ii), some authors argue that forgiveness cannot be forbidden or required because it has a gift-like nature, while others try to find conditions or even rules for its permissibility. Virtue ethics, Kantian and Utilitarian approaches provide competing understandings of the normativity of forgiveness. Authors often argue that the permissibility of forgiveness is conditional on repentance (Hieronymi, 2001; Govier, 1999). However, there is also disagreement in this area, as some have argued that ‘unconditional forgiveness is morally permissible, and that there are morally cogent reasons in its favour’ (Garrard and McNaughton, 2002: 39).

In political theory, forgiveness is invoked in debates about justice and reconciliation in post-conflict situations. Forgiveness is sometimes invoked as a route to amnesty and reconciliation. Most famously, in post-Apartheid South Africa, the African National Congress [ANC] appealed to forgiveness and amnesty as a tool to obtain the truth and achieve national reconciliation through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) under the motto ‘no future without forgiveness’ (Tutu, 1999). However, sometimes forgiveness plays the opposite role. For example, in Argentina, Mothers of Plaza de Mayo and other human rights associations, under the motto ‘no forgetting, no forgiving’ have made a link between  justice, memory,  truth and the refusal to forgive. Forgiveness is invoked as something to strive against in the struggle for justice.

The aim of the workshop is to discuss the normativity of forgiveness in both its moral and political dimensions. We invite papers that consider the nature of forgiveness, including, conceptual, normative, moral, applied, legal and political aspects. Papers that examine the intersection between the moral and political dimensions of forgiveness and papers that consider real case studies of countries in which the notion of forgiveness has played an important political role (in a positive or negative way) are particularly welcome.

Possible topics include:

–          The nature and definition of forgiveness

–          Forgiveness, reasons and feelings

–          The permissibility of forgiveness

–          Kantian, Utilitarian and Virtue ethics approaches to forgiveness

–          Forgiveness and moral development

–          Forgiveness and personal relationships

–          Forgiveness, dignity, respect and self-respect

–          Conditional, unconditional forgiveness and repentance

–          Forgiveness and amnesty

–          Forgiveness and political conflict

–          Forgiveness and transitional justice

–          Truth and Reconciliation Commissions

–          Restorative justice and forgiveness

–          Retributive justice and forgiveness



Butler, J. Fifteen Sermons, London, 1953.

Govier, T., “Forgiveness and the Unforgivable”, American Philosophical Quarterly, 36 (1) (1999), pp. 59-75.

Hieronymi, P., “Articulating an Uncompromising Forgiveness,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 63 (3) (2001), pp. 529-555.

Murphy, G., and J. Hampton, Forgiveness and Mercy, CUP, 1988.

Scarre, G., After Evil. Responding to Wrongdoing, Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2004.

Tutu, D., No Future without Forgiveness: A Personal Overview of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Random House South Africa Ltd, 1999.