The Possibility of Amoral Forgiveness
Brandeis University Dept. of Philosophy
8th Annual Mini-Conference: "Forgiveness," April 13, 2019
In recent work, I argue that interpersonal hope—counting on people—is a genus of “participant” relation, including among its species both generous benefaction and trust. In this talk, I want to look at forgiveness in the context of interpersonal let-down or disappointment, or the betrayal of trust. I’ve argued that these interpersonal modes of relation are governed by externally by moral norms, rather than being constituted or otherwise internally constrained by them. Karen Jones has recently argued, in “‘But I was counting on you!’” (in Faulker, ed. 2018), that trust and trustworthiness are centrally governed by nonmoral norms. Here, I consider the implications of a view like Jones’s: namely that some significant portion of our forgiveness practices are amoral—that is, forgiving someone for the betrayal of trust is not a matter of responding to moral reasons, and does not serve a moral purpose. This is a surprising result, given the standard assumption by philosophers that forgiveness is a response to moral wrongdoing, and is a moral virtue, when done right. I thus consider the pros and cons of accepting this result versus moralizing trust relationships.