"Who Should We Blame and Who Should We Forgive?" Why? Radio Episode with Guest Miranda Fricker
11:14AM Mar 12, 2020
Jack Russell Weinstein
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Why philosophical discussions about everyday life is produced by the Institute for philosophy and public life, a division of the University of North Dakota's College of Arts and Sciences. Visit us online at why Radio show.org Hi, I'm jack Russell Weinstein host of wide philosophical discussions about everyday life. On today's episode we will be asking about blame and forgiveness with our guest Miranda fricker.
This past week, Jews across the world celebrated young poor, our holiest day of the year. For 24 hours we fast while reflecting on what we did wrong where we fell short. We have to see ourselves as clearly as possible, but we also have to pay attention to the people around us. We ask questions, imagine responses and advocate for others. Unfortunately for everyone everywhere, truly seeing other people is something human beings are really really bad at. for Jews. There is no
Divine help with us. Yum. Kapoor forgives sins before God but not against people. We must look one another in the eyes and apologize directly. Whatever our limitations however difficult it might be. Our reconciliation must be unmediated. It is people who we have harmed. So it is people whom we must face. God does not stand between us, we must feel remorse.
What I find most powerful about this is that at the most sacred moment of the most sacred holiday, Judaism celebrates the secular, not the religious, it recognizes that people matter first, that their choices alone are the causes of their mistakes. Jews cannot look at God for human acceptance, nor can they defer to the unknowable is the cause of misdeeds, forgiveness and blame or bad human relationships. It's about the things we do, not what we feel or want. How should we atone that is unclear. When should we be forgiven? That too is ambiguous blame and
Forgiveness are wrapped up in time, place, circumstance and particularity. They require seeing things for how they are not just how we want them to be. If we are not truthful and candid, we can never be held accountable for our actions. We cannot feel remorse we cannot atone we cannot be absolved.
Any secular theory of forgiveness will have to invoke the same philosophical considerations that religious theory does. But without the metaphysical shortcuts, it must have a standard of truth without invoking an all powerful creator. It has to develop criteria for what it means to wrong someone what constitutes harm, and what forgiveness means in the first place. Do we wipe the act from our memories and never consider it again? Or can we forgive while still being cautious and skeptical when we meet the wrongdoer?
The secular theory also has to consider the nature and limits of humans human awareness without relying on an all knowing judge who arbitrates How do we know when someone is to blame? Can we determine themselves
Tensions are just the consequences of their acts and is being told we are forgiven is persuasive is feeling it. After all, how many times if someone told us not to worry about something, even when they seemed really, really mad, should we believe their words or their body language?
their moral considerations as well, we have to ask about the purpose of blame and forgiveness and whether there are some acts that only society can excuse. There are political concerns too, such as whether forgiveness negates the need for punishment, or if blame D legitimizes our leaders. These are all complicated judgments. But once we jettison the religious they become all the more powerful Christian doctrine seeks forgiveness as a consequence of grace. It describes blame as parceled out during the final judgment, but from the Jewish perspective and from the secular point of view. These concepts have no power, God's intervention and divine redemption have nothing to do with it. Today's guest is going to offer us a secular theme
of blame and forgiveness that is rooted in moral and political life. She does not come from the Jewish tradition. That's all me. That's just what I've been thinking about this week. But she will certainly be aware that for most people, forgiveness feels inherently religious, and for many, it seems essentially Christian. It need not be either of these two things. The most common secular approach to forgiveness is the one justified by psychological health. We've all been told that holding on to grudges makes us bitter, and that absolving others is a prerequisite for our own well being. But I've never found this approach to be particularly persuasive and lets people off the hook too easily. Why should some people avoid blame just because it makes the victim of wrongdoing feel better to move on. All of this is to say that forgiveness and blame are complicated ideals that mix the religious, the secular, the historical and the cultural. But just because these influences are hard to parse, doesn't mean we shouldn't try to make sense of them all. forgiveness and blame are
are necessary components of moral life dismissing them or calling them obsolete is to diminish who we are. Some may say that airiness human and forgiveness divine, but I think this is backwards. error is a concept rooted in the absolute goodness of God. Forgiveness, on the other hand, is the most human thing we do.
And now our guest, Miranda fricker is presidential Professor of Philosophy at CUNY Graduate Center and honorary professor at the University of Sheffield. She is the author and editor of numerous books on feminism epistemology, and moral and political philosophy. She is most well known for her work on epistemic injustice, exposing the ways marginalized people's knowledge and experiences are ignored. Miranda, welcome to why. Thank you, Jackson. Thanks for that very helpful introduction.
If you'd like to comment on the show, you can find us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook all as at wire radio show one word or email us at why Radio show.org you can listen to all of our previous episodes.
For free and find information about our future shows at why Radio show.org So, I'm Miranda,
especially in my monologue, I was using blame and forgiveness in the same sentence as if there are two sides of the same coin as the philosopher and he wants to know, am I right? Are they really tied together so tightly? Are they distinct enough that they really have to be treated as separate subjects?
Well, I tend to think of them as two sides of one same coin, which is the coin where we are responding to wrongdoing. So obviously, blaming and then forgiving, or normally serial experiences. Somebody wrongs me, I might blame them. And then with any luck, I managed to forgive them a little bit further down the line. Perhaps they've apologized, apologized, or perhaps I want to forgive them even though they haven't apologized. And so in a way thinking about blaming and forgiving together is to think about the person who's right wronged and what their responses towards the wrongdoer might be through time. And so that's one sort of coin. But in another way, of course, it's really very much just half the story because there's at least one other agent involved in all this, namely the wrongdoer who might apologize who might not feel sorry at all, who might disagree about the interpretation of what they've done. But for my particular project, I got interested in thinking about blaming and forgiving as two sides of the same coin because I wanted to focus on the rationality and the experience and also the functionality of these responses to a wrongdoer.
Does this blame and forgiveness require? I guess what in legal circles would be called standing as in? If I'm an observer, and I don't have skin in the game, and I'm not wrong, I'm just seeing other people or even reading about him. History or things like that? Can I still use these terms in the same way? Or do they have different meanings when I am the one who is either wronged or doing wrong?
Yes, that's a great question. And a lot of people are very exercised about this business of standing, you know, who has the right to blame? Who has the right to forgive? And people disagree quite a lot about it, I find myself well, having views that probably are a bit controversial in a way and let me just explain them in it depends a lot what one takes blaming to be, of course, whether you think the question of standing is a very big deal. I take blaming someone, in its most minimal form to be just a matter of judging them to be blameworthy for what they've done judging them to be at fault, if you like for what they've done. And that's something anyone might register about any agent in the world. And indeed, if we're going to understand what's going on ethically in the world around us, we better be able to read Just this natural the other agent, whether it's an individual, a government, a jury, a police force, is at fault for acting the way they act. And in that sense, given that rather minimal conception of blame, which I like and find natural, everyone has standing to blame because blaming a bad actor is just a way of registering the fact that they've committed a wrongdoing. And we might modify our blame if we think there are mitigating circumstances or excuses that apply. But that has nothing to do with standing, we all can register the fact that someone is at fault for what they've done. And in that sense, we will have standing to blame. But the people who would hold back from saying we will have standing to blame or probably thinking about blame a bit differently from the way I do. They tend to be thinking about blaming as something different and special in relation to the judgment of blame within so they might say, Well, look, we can all blame a bad actor in the sense of judging them to be blameworthy, but that That's not blame proper blame proper is like being angry or being hostile or telling them they shouldn't have done what they've done and intervening in some way. Now, that's something I quite agree with. For me I would distinguish blaming, which I think of is just the judgment of being at fault, from what I call communicative blame, which is to as it were intervene, one might communicate to the wrongdoer themselves that you find fault with them for how they've behaved. Or you might chat with a third party and say, wasn't that terrible what they did? I really can't believe they did it and what were they thinking? These are all ways in which we express our moral attitudes and try and make sense of each other's agency. But it's that communication that presuming one is entitled to intervene if you like communicatively, especially if one's talking to the wrong wrongdoer themselves. That's something I think the question of standing does apply to, but in my personal view, I don't think there's anything terribly special about blaming have other kinds of, you know, in not being none of my business. So I think it's not my business to intervene if I know that a couple that I'm acquainted with are going to divorce and they haven't told any of their adult children yet. And I think it's appalling that they haven't explained to the family what's going on, it's still not in my business to go in there and start telling people what's going on is just, I don't have standing to do that. It's not a my business. And so I think blaming is a bit like that it falls under these other norms.
There's, there's so much in what you just said, and I want to put a couple things aside like communicative blame for a minute, because that's a little more technical, and I want to spend a lot of time on it. But I'm curious about this, this issue of standing because what you were talking about is is is the emotional element, which is you know, blame for for folks who have a more robust conception than you're suggesting. They have this emotional place. They have these deep seated feelings. And we can of course, understand what what why people have these passions. Is there a knowledge element about a two and a pistol logic element? And what I mean by that is, you, of course, are super familiar with what gets called feminist standpoint theory, this idea that there are people because of where they find themselves in life, because where they find themselves in the social order, have certain awarenesses and certain understandings that give their perspective, a certain kind of priority that we should privilege them in the sense that we should attend to them first, this is a vast oversimplification is does this apply to blame to are there people who have the moral authority to blame in a way that other people don't?
Well, again, for me, I think that can be the case if we're talking about blame that is being communicated or acting on in some way. So I might well feel that it's not my Place to express or communicate that some party is blameworthy for what they've done. If I ought to be respecting the possibility that I probably only know half the story or like one side of the story, and that's a general normal kind of rule of thumb about, if you like epistemic humility and not presuming, you know, everything, which I think does govern our kind of common sense, feeling about who has standing to communicate about these things. But again, I wouldn't say that it undermines a person standing to register a judgment of blame. I think it only affects public acts of blame, like communication of blame.
So one of the things that we're dealing with, and I guess one of the reasons why I've sort of dancing around these things with reluctance is that for lots of people, blame is a negative right for lots of people. Blame is something you shouldn't necessarily Do you should do with tremendous caution you blame is harmful and eats away at the soul and all of this sort of stuff? Do you think that blame is inherently negative? Or are there positive aspects of it as well?
I think that blame can take incredibly negative and toxic forms. But I also think that it can take very everyday light, non toxic forms. And I think sometimes when people quite rightly, express concern about a blame culture and emphasize how destructive blaming can be, they can sometimes forget that we find fault with each other all the time in small ways. You know, my bad Sorry, I shouldn't have done that. This isn't a good acknowledgement of my blameworthiness for doing something but I don't think anyone suggests those sorts of occasions where you just feel like saying, oops, sorry, quick apology, that there's anything toxic about that. These things can apply to genuinely moral situations like, you know, you're a bit economical with the truth to a friend because it's more convenient not to tell them the whole thing. And they find out and you're really sorry, but they kind of understand why and it, it's a quick exchange of finding fault apology, and then letting it go, which is what I would call blame. But of course, habits of blame where we really think of blame as a kind of condemnation of the soul or a condemnation of your whole character. And if that's the style and the tenor that it comes out with, as its expressed, then of course, that is very toxic. And I think one of the things I hope to do in writing about blame is to say, look, let's have this really minimal idea of what it is to find someone blameworthy for something might be oneself or it might be another, we find fault with them for what they've done. Then it's an open question how we whether we express it at all, how we express it, whether we do so in a very kind of high handed conduct. Nature tone, whether we do so in a way that makes explicit we think it's just a kind of slip up on their part or whether we express it in a way that makes it seem like we think that they're really kind of damaged character deep down. These are all questions of style, and they are cultural and personal choices as to how we frame blame and how we express it. And that's why I like to think so hard about the social and moral functionality of blame, or what do we want to achieve by blaming each other for things if it just makes us all feel terrible about ourselves, and it's not really doing anything morally or socially useful, but if it can aim at educating each other, so that if you're wronged, and you if I wronged you, and you blame me in a way that is actually conducive to my beginning to realize what it was like for you to be on the receiving end of that little lie I told you or whatever it might be, then you'll kind of educating me and you're bringing me to a better moral understanding of my own actions and not just making me feel defensive or feel terrible about myself for the hell of it so i i feel that blame really should be communicative and as they were mutually educative that's that's the good kind of blame it seems to me
I want to come back in a minute to this this notion that it's mutually educative. I think that's really interesting. But before we do that, does this sort of spectrum of blame going from the the sort of the micro actions to the massive things does it work that way for forgiveness as well that you know, when someone kicks you in? By accident, you're walking down the street, you're like, Oh, don't worry about it. It's not a big deal. Is that the same kind of forgiveness? Because we, when we talk about forgiveness, we talk about forgiving our parents for you know, a horrible childhood or forgiving a society for slavery and, and it seems like when when people talk about these things, They that that the kind of forgiveness that that is is moderate everyday that we don't think twice about is so qualitatively difficult quantitatively different, that it's qualitatively different that it's a different concept. Is it all the same form of forgiveness? Or are they really two different things?
Well, it's a good question. I tend to think if if the two different things you have in mind are particularly trivial wrongs, and so with their example of someone kicking you, as you go past them in the street, we have to imagine that they kind of did it on purpose. If it's just an accident, then it's not a wrong and so forgiveness isn't really an order, but supposing they do out of anger, kick you in the shins and then apologize. That's sort of one on one wrong and then at the other end of the continuum, you mentioned, you know, forgiving a whole nation for some grave historical wrongs. Maybe these things can be theorized so that they're sensibly thought of as being on a continuum. I don't think that's obvious. But I think it might be the case. And part of what governs whether we think of them as basically the same sort of attitude is kind of depends on how much you think that big collectives, like governments and nations can be moral agents, some people will be a bit skeptical about that. And they think the whole business of countries nation states making apologies for things or the whole citizen citizenry of a nation bearing collective guilt for something some people are skeptical about that whole idea. I'm not I actually think it makes a great deal of sense. I think that there can be collective agents. I think that governments and juries and universities and neighborhoods can do things and it probably makes sense to think of these things as also able to have beliefs. commitments and values and a shared ethos. And if so, then, you know, then they can do stuff in the world which might be wrong. And then another agent, whether an individual or another section of a population may or may not choose to forgive. So I think is I think there's nothing unintelligible about thinking that these aspects of individual moral psychology might find an analog at the collective level. So in that sense, I think one can make sense of them being on a continuum, but I'm not deeply committed to that. I just think that it's possible to elaborate a little bit of theory that makes sense of the idea of collective agents and therefore can make sense of the idea of collective blaming and forgiving.
Okay, so you said something in the beginning of that, in passing, that that I really want to get back to you keep saying these little things are keeping me on my toes that I just I'm writing down I'm like, Oh, no, we have to talk about these things. You said in passing that if you're if it was an accident, kicked you by accident. It's not a wrong and therefore you need not to be forgiven. But we say I'm sorry for accidents all the time we we spill some water on someone totally accidentally we asked for forgiveness we were late for a a an appointment through no fault of our own. We asked for forgiveness. So is it radical to say that forgiveness does not apply to unintentional wrongs or things that are that are not wronged and and if it's not, I mean, if this is how forgiveness wrong works is apologizing just sort of performative utterances, this is just shortcuts we use in our language to get past something. Is there no real substance to it?
Yes. I think there are probably different ways of carving this up but let me just share with you the way I think about it. I, I hear, blaming and especially forgiving Well, especially forgiving as distinctive of the moral actually, I think there can be all kinds of non moral blame, like, you know, you're playing football and one of the members of the team bungles a pass, you might blame them for bundling it. So that's a kind of non moral blame. But forgiveness to me has a much more sort of distinctively moral ring to it. And apology is very broad. I mean, you know, I'm British We apologize the whole time for everything. I think we always like Oh, I'm so sorry. So sorry about this so sorry about the other thing. But even I would find it slightly weird change of register someone in accepting my apology told me they forgave me for accidentally spilling the water on them. So maybe this is you know, depends on the individual and the culture a little bit but I think of apology is something very, very generic and not special to the moral. rather like blame I think isn't very special to the moral but forgiveness. I hear as much more limited to the domain of wrongs rather than accidental harm. So one way to remind myself about this territory is to say that there's lots of harms, which are not wrongs, for instance, my spilling the water accidentally on my colleague. And there could be wrongs to which are not harmed. So it may be that I could wrong someone by let's use the example of telling a lie again, I might tell a lie about someone that accidentally is a great advantage to them. So I haven't harmed them by doing it, but I did still wronged them because I was telling a lie about them. So harms and wrongs come apart. And I think that helps one see that. Blame ranges over both harms and wrongs. Apology ranges over both harms and wrongs, but in my ear, and I acknowledge others might be different, but for my ear forgiveness is really much more special to the category of wrongs, which is why I would find it so odd if someone forgave me for for a little accident for which I'd apologized.
So when we get back from the break, we'll get to the heart of your theory, we'll ask what the purpose of blame and forgiveness are and then talk about what you've been calling this the communicative aspects and the educative aspects and see if we can make sense of this in just the way that you are hoping to do in your writing. But first, you're listening to Miranda fricker and jack Russell Weinstein on why philosophical discussions about everyday life. We'll be back right after this.
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You're back with why philosophical discussions with everyday life. I'm your host, jack Russell, one student, we're talking with Miranda fricker, about forgiveness and blame and trying to theorize it and put it in a philosophical context that allows us to understand all of the related issues. I turned 50 last week, and it hasn't been as monumental as I thought it would be. But it has been a moment of reflection. And when I think about my life, I think a lot about the mistakes I made when I was younger, the mistakes I made for other people, and this isn't been enhanced by the whole meat to discussion of the last couple years and the fact that I teach and teach moral and political philosophy and I have to take these things seriously and My students asked me for advice, and I have to be a role model. And I think about the ways that I wronged the people I dated either intentionally or unintentionally. And I think about the ways that I frankly, mistreated people because I was young because I was naive because times were different because the conversation took different forms. And I beat myself up a little bit over it. And I asked myself, What can I blame myself for and what can I forgive myself for but the one thing that I don't expect to do is what you see in a lot of movies where the the older person, particularly a man, the older man, who is going through some life crisis, decides to call up his old relationships and apologize and and I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to find every person I dated and apologize for things that maybe they think I did. Maybe they think I didn't that feel self indulgent. And so I have to ask myself, what is the purpose of all of this reflection, am I Just having this conversation with myself, am I being a narcissist? Am I just wallowing in my age? Or am I really trying to learn something? And so, Miranda with With that in mind, what is the purpose of all this? Why do we blame and why do we forgive? is this? Is this question itself part of the philosophical investigation that you're engaged in?
Yes, I, I think asking ourselves what the purpose or purposes of our various moral practices and in this case responses to wrongdoing is is really important. I mean, for me, being able to stand back from the contingent forms of responses to wrongdoing and ask, Is this a good way to live? Is this a good way a useful way a morally progressive way to respond to people when they wronged us or to respond to others who we see are doing wrongs? If we couldn't ask that question? It would, then I don't know really what much of the point of moral philosophy is because as it were, I like to think of moral philosophy is able and not not this is not as only task but is able to help us be more critically reflective and therefore more autonomous and more self determining in how we carve up our mortal world, how we live together. And so if we look around at our various practices of blaming that we've inherited, as you said, at the beginning, from all sorts of different traditions, and when I think of, you know, where, where we are, whoever we are many different groups already just thinking about where I'm sitting here in New York City, and then expanding out to the US and elsewhere in the world are many different moral communities. And an individual person might themselves be a member of more than one moral community. There's already such a multiplicity of styles, and sets of meanings that are associated with say, blaming someone or forgiving someone. We really need to be able to sit back and think well, you Which ones are useful? Which ones do I actually want to continue with and live by? And people may come up with rather different answers to that question. And that says it, we're there, right? But I really like the idea that we might be at least capable in principle of shaking off some of the more toxic forms of blaming. I certainly feel that in my own life that I, I suppose I, when I started thinking about blame. I was at first just sort of keen to defend this, what I think of the functional idea of blame that we communicate that it hurt us that we were treated this way. And that might help the wrongdoer see what they've done and bring them to their senses. But I also felt that I wasn't quite sure what I thought about retribution. And lots of people find the idea that blame is essentially retributive a very natural idea. So just because that person did a wrong they deserve to suffer. Maybe that's not everyone's idea of retribution, but it is the core of the idea that I work with and that's an idea that's The heart of, you know, the penal system and ideas about punishment in general. And I've gradually realized that I don't believe in it. I don't think there's anything there. I think that the idea that someone deserves to suffer because they've done wrong, is a sort of botched version of a good idea, which is that if I've done wrong, it's good that I should be brought to feel a certain particular kind of pain in relation to the wrong that I've done, namely, the pain of remorse. Because when I'm brought by the person I've wronged to realize the seriousness of what I've done to realize how it was wrong to lie or wrong to betray or whatever it might be. That is very painful. I mean, the the pain of real remorse and realizing this is what I did is a very painful thing. That's useful. That's not a retributive idea. That's a partly backward looking because it looks to the wrong that I've done, but importantly, forward looking because it's hoping to educate me and get me to To see so that I won't do it again. And that's a very valuable practice, which I think is is really not retributive in kind but can easily be mistaken for a general retributive model. So something that I feel I've learned for myself is just that I do not believe in retribution. I don't believe in it between individuals, when it's just our own interpersonal ethical behavior. And I personally don't believe in it as visa V, the prison system either.
So, in the second paper of the later paper that you wrote that that you sent me, you quote in the process, Adam Smith, and his Theory of Moral Sentiments and you use that to show that there is a history of this approach of blame and this this response to educate people to remorse, but you also have something else in common, which is you think that remorse is painful? What purpose does the pain serve? If it's not retributive? Why would we want someone To be unhappy with themselves in this way, if the goal is not punishment,
I would say the purpose is
to become directly acquainted with the moral significance of what one has done to actually see the moral reality of what one has done. And that's what's painful because it was me that did it. I did this, I can't believe I did this very often when people
are brought to a moment of moral honesty to really confront what they've done.
They feel the pain of that, but it's just the confrontation of the moral reality. And I think the, I suppose I secretly sort of think there's an intrinsic value in being in reality and not being deluded. I like the idea of our critical thinking with each other and our practices of of blaming and forgiving is helping to put us all in direct contact with the morality, moral reality we are living in So, but I wouldn't really need to defend that idea to defend this notion of blame, because one could just think, well, it's more forward looking. Because if someone really grasped the moral significance of what they've done, they're much less likely to do it again in the future. And so you could take a much more sort of practical view and just say, look, the value is forward looking, the value is all about how they're not going to think like that. Again, they'll think twice before they lie to a friend or betray a partner or, you know, make assumptions that are stereotypical or whatever it is. So you could just take that practical view and say, the point of blame is all about educating each other so that we do better in the future. But I suppose as I say, I sneakily perhaps it's the philosopher and I kind of also value something else on the side, which is I value the idea that we succeed in living in a shared reality, including the reality of the moral truth about what we've done.
I want to ask a question. I'm not entirely sure how to frame it. And I think it's a little more complicated than I want it to be. But but but I'll try. Our third episode of the show 10 years ago was with Charles Griswold who wrote a book on forgiveness, which I know you've cited Charles, for those who are playing at home was my dissertation advisor on Adam Smith. And, and his approach to forgiveness was to look at a lot of historical figures and sort of parse out a theory that comes from the history of philosophy very consistent with his other work. And then a few years later, we had a philosopher by the name of Fein Rosenbaum on who made for an argue an argument for revenge arguing for the retributive aspect that you're talking about. And he told a lot of stories, and he really appeal to people's emotions but also appealed to certain narratives. If people were to look at your articles on forgiveness and blame, they would see something a bit more technical, a bit more conceptual, something that many people would would interpret as coming out of what gets called the analytic tradition of philosophy. And you quote Bernard Williams, a very famous analytic philosopher, you seem to be looking at the concept of blame and forgiveness and trying to deduce within the language and within the use, standards and limitations of the idea, whereas these other folks, were looking at the history of philosophy and stories
to come up with a theory
what do we get, what do we gain from looking at the concept how do we what does the the again I'm stereotyping here, but what is the analytic approach this this linguistic conceptional conceptual technical approach to philosophy? Bring to the discussion that you think is important. And, and and what does that add that maybe we weren't able to do with a more historical approach that at least the predecessors on this show have have engaged in?
Is that a fair question?
I think it is. It's interesting to hear you describe, I see that my approach is in a certain way more obviously, analytical philosophical than, say Charles griswolds, wonderful treatment of forgiveness, which has a more
somewhat, as you say, looks,
looks at other philosophical treatments for forgiveness and so on. But in another way, I don't think of myself as really concerned with the concepts I think of myself as concerned with our practices, above all. So I do say something about our concepts of blaming and forgiving, but mainly in order to sort of set it aside because I think one of the interesting things about analytic philosophy is Its characteristic method is to take a word or a concept and to try and define that concept. And sometimes that might be a kind of interesting method that takes you a long way and gets you into a really interesting, interesting discussion. But other times, and this is what I suggest might happen with both blaming and forgiving, it might be a kind of a dead end conversation because if you're interested in the aspects of a practice, which are helpful in explaining what they do for us their function in our moral life, then the might be the most interesting philosophical aspects of the practices. So for instance, with blaming, that if you communicate it, then you you aim to educate the wrongdoer. That might just fall away because obviously, it's not a feature of every single possible moment of blaming. It's not going to be what philosophers call a necessary condition. There's lots of kinds of blame which don't contain that educative And yet I want to look at social functionality. And therefore I don't want to get stuck into the business of defining, because any definition of blame is going to have lost the features I'm most interested in. So in that sense, I'm not doing the analytic, philosophical thing. But you're absolutely right that I'm sort of trying to build a little theoretical model out of certain observations about our practices. And so I tried to build a little model that shows how blaming and forgiving might fit together in terms of they're slightly different functions. And so I suggest that the best function of blaming someone is that it brings them to a full awareness of the moral significance of what they've done. And then that explains what forgiveness is primarily for what its primary function is, which is that once blame has done that job, there's no further job for blame feeling to do because the wrongdoer is now remorseful for what she's done and she fully gets the moral significance so why carry on with the blame feelings. That's where forgiveness swoops in to make sense of our efforts to relinquish those blame feelings because they've already done their job. And so forgiveness I argue, though I'm sure people might disagree, but I argue that the primary functional value of forgiveness is to free me the wronged party of my blame feelings when those blame feelings can no longer play any morally useful role because they've already done their job of bringing the person to be sorry for what they've done. I don't say that's the only role of forgiveness but I just mentioned those two because they they share how I'm trying to show that blaming and forgiving, have moral social functions which fit together.
Okay, so, to sort of summarize, what you're suggesting is, blame is useful because it forces people to improve their morality to encounter what they've done. It has this educative function and that when we blame people this is only useful for a certain period of time, so we don't want to blame perpetually both for others and for ourselves. And what forgiveness does is give us the ability to stop blaming and to move on. Now part of what my question was hinting at, although I wasn't aware of it, I have it in my notes, but it wasn't worth it until you mentioned was that there is this distinction between creating definitions of these concepts and looking at these things as moral practices. And I wonder if you would talk a little bit about what this phrase moral practice means and why it's so useful in leading to the things that you just described the sort of functionality? What do we mean by a moral practice? And how is the moral practice different than just saying, Okay, I'm going to define what blame is, I'm going to define what forgiveness is.
Well, if you focus on moral practices, you're focusing on the things that we do the kinds of responses As we actually tend to make towards people who wronged us. And it seems to me that that's an amazingly diverse set of practices, same with forgiveness, all sorts of different ways of forgiving people, different meanings that different cultures and individuals will associate with what forgiving really amounts to. And so you've got diversity, both in practice of blaming, and in practice of forgiving now, diversity doesn't fit very well with the analytic ambition of coming up with a set of necessary and sufficient conditions, as we say, is strict definition, a list of features that absolutely all cases of blaming will have, and which if anything, has all of those features, it must count as a case of blaming. Now, what you're going to end up with, if you try and defined say, blame is some very, very cool, minimal notion. In fact, I think we have got one I think finding fault with someone for an act or omission is a perfectly workable definition of blaming, but it does And get us anywhere in terms of thinking about which practices of blaming are good ones for us to carry on with. It doesn't get us anywhere near contrasting retributive blame from with forward looking educative blame at all. And so for me, the whole business of analyzing and coming up with definitions, this just doesn't get us very far doesn't get get us to the interesting good critical stuff that I think moral philosophy should be capable of, of helping us thinking about which sorts of practices of these things do we want to carry on with, it also doesn't get us to, on any understanding of how the different practices of say forgiving relate to each other. So you mentioned Charles griswolds book, which I love He, he really gives a very, I would say, narrow I mean on deliberately narrow definition or characterization of forgiving, whereby it always involves something like remorseful apology on the part of the wrongdoer. And that's a very recognizable moral model of forgiving, we might call it conditional forgiveness, as it's often called in the literature you don't forgive, except on condition that they apologize for what they've done. But of course, religious and secular traditions give us a completely different kind of forgiving to which is something more like associated with the idea of grace, which is a in part a Christian notion, but it's also a pre Christian notion Seneca use the notion of something like grace. And that's where you forgive unconditionally, someone has wronged you, and you just forgive anyway, even though they're not remorseful or apologetic and perhaps never will be, but you elect to forgive anyway, for whatever reason. Now, that's an interesting question. What's the rationality of that kind of forgiveness when there's no apology? And how is that kind of forgiveness related to the conditional kind of forgiveness? You know, do they do they both really deserve to be called the same thing given how different they are? And that's where a practice, orient Approach couldn't come in and be useful, I think because, well, maybe this is going to be a bit sort of tedious. But I, I think that the unconditional kind of forgiving is a kind of re rearrangement in time of its of the elements of the conditional kind of forgiving. And I don't know if this is the moment to explain what I mean by that. But I'm, I'm very happy to or would that be a good idea right now?
Well, let us get there because because that's a lot and you've said a lot and you call it and I think this is a really useful way of describing you call this distinction in your writing gifted forgiveness versus moral justice, forgiveness. And so by gifted forgiveness, you mean the sort of grace tradition of I am going to forgive you regardless of whether you're remorseful regardless of whether you've atone, because I'm giving you the gift of forgiveness, the way that God has given us the ability forgive through grace or other things. Whereas moral justice forgiveness says, I'm forgiving you for a purpose I'm forgiving you for you used the phrase progressive morality earlier on. And so this distinction of giving forgiveness versus forgiveness for a purpose is part of it. And also I keep thinking about, I don't know how much television you watch, but I think a lot of our listeners will be watching a show called The Good Place. And the good place has a character who's a moral philosopher, who, if you have not seen is the best written moral philosopher on television ever. His name is cheeky, he is incredibly funny. And someone whoever wrote him knows philosophers because it's, it's He's so funny. It's embarrassing to me. And God is very, very narrow and very, very pedagogical and pedantic and he wants to give people lessons and what the show is about is people learning and engaging in practices and trying to negate this idea. That you learn things just by reading about them, you have to experience them. And so in anticipation of what you're trying to say, I guess, would you talk a little bit more about this idea of forgiveness as I lost the thread of the question, but forgiveness as a gift that is independent of our lives and independent of our consequences, and just something we're supposed to do, because love because God because we have to be whole human beings, as opposed to forgiveness, which serves this purpose. That then, as you said, reorders time in order to not just acknowledge things, but actually make things better and move things forward. That was that was a fairly long winded summary, but just Is that a fair account of what you're trying to do and can you talk a little bit about the terms you use and then how This relates to reordering time.
if our thinking about forgiveness starts from the initial puzzle of look, we have these two apparently really different practices responses to wrongdoing which are both called forgiveness. One is the conditional kind of forgiveness, which I call moral justice, forgiveness. So I wronged someone, and they blame me and they wait to forgive me until I am properly sorry. And I've grasped the moral significance of what I've done and I've expressed an apology in order to forgive me so we might say that their forgiveness towards me is conditional upon my expressing an attitude of remorse towards what I've done that displays I really get how bad it was. By contrast, the unconditional kind, which as you say, I called gifted forgiveness can seem really baffling because I've wronged someone and they just upset Forgive me before I've really you know, even thought about how wrong it was what I did. And sometimes this can be a really baffling kind of act of moral generosity which people find it hard to make sense of. And indeed, sometimes, in public circumstances when people publicly forgive wrongdoers for terrible things they might have done. Sometimes people are really angry about it, and they say, Oh, they shouldn't have just forgiven that person they should have, you know, waited for some proper punishment to happen, etc. So it can be very controversial. This is idea of gifted, forgiving, as I call it. But if we step back and take this more functional moral practice view that I'm keen on, I think you can help us solve the puzzle. Both of How come these two apparently very different practices really do both belong to the same species, and how they are both modes of they both belong to the family of practices through which we hold people accountable. We're not just letting someone off the hook when we gift forgive them, or at least not necessarily Here's why. So if we look at the moral justice, forgiveness, the conditional kind of forgiveness, and we observe that the condition of forgiveness is the remorseful expression of apology. That's the the grasping of moral moral reality that I've been saying is so a valuable the educative moment if you like, now, that has to be that has to happen before prior to the forgiveness in this case. But where does it fit in, if at all on the gifted forgiveness case? Well, many people have observed that if you give forgive people and you you, as it will shock them morally, by this great act of generosity upfront, even before they've really acknowledged the reality of what they've done. You can thereby often cause them to feel remorseful just because they're in a certain way, made sort of humbled by the act of generosity. So they're surprised I
have to interrupt for a second I I see no evidence of that. That's the skeptic in me. And and and maybe this is right one of the many reasons why I did not you know, I'm not a Christian I this what you're describing now is the theme of many many many movies especially movies from the 1940s where this this figure of evil and awfulness is is forgiven and they see the kindness and the joy and the love and the divine in the forgiveness and that alone causes them to see remorse. I don't I don't I know you're not defending gift gifted forgiveness and I know that your argument ultimately is that gifted forgiveness is you say I think you say parasitical. But but is is a deviation from from the other kind of forgiveness. But is this really believable is is there evidence To suggest that showing love and kindness to bad people, makes them become loving and kind because my experience with humanity is that this is not the case.
I think, well, it's an empirical question. So I can't pretend to you know, have done lots and lots of research. There is apparently some empirical research about it in some context, Glen Pecha Grove in his book on love and forgiveness. He cites quite a lot of empirical evidence, but you know, there may be empirical evidence against as well, so I can't I obviously, I shouldn't just cherry pick the occasional scientific paper, which seems to support it. I would be with you. I mean, when when people's badness is very deeply entrenched, you know, that can just be a sort of silly fantasy to think they're going to be changed by a great act of generosity. Although I think Surely it's sometimes possible.
if I feel much more convinced by this, when I think of how good you are basically good People wrong each other quite often, you know, good people do bad things that's life. And blaming. The communication of blame can often set up barriers set up more hostility make people more defensive, and therefore much less likely that they come to a moment of honesty with themselves about what they really know they did in their heart of hearts anyway. And I really do believe that when you just decide to let something go forgive up front. I mean, this probably wouldn't work. If at some great self indulgent performance of forgiveness, that's always going to be irritating, but if in fact, you've wronged someone, your heart of hearts, you kind of really know you treated them a bit badly, but you're kind of setting that aside for the moment and then instead of fighting you about it, they come to you and they basically behave in a way that shows you that is letting it go. It's okay. That is much more likely to have that have the wrongdoer sort of put their guard down and come to a moment of honesty. About what they've done than continuing blaming hostility. So that I do believe and I do think there is a great power of generosity between good people who mistreat each other, which is a very, very common thing.
So when you use the word communicative, in in the role of we have to communicate blame to another person, it brings with it, the sort of the network of ideas, including the rhetoric of it, and the pedagogy, the teaching aspect. And so what you're, what you're saying, if I understand you correctly, is that when people are blamed, they can be really defensive, and if they're defensive, they're not going to learn. And if you respond with this gift of forgiveness, if there's unconditional forgiveness, it allows them to avoid being defensive, and therefore they're more capable of of learning and growing, because they're not on the they're more open to their own change in their own self awareness. As opposed to just fighting Against accusation.
Exactly, exactly. I think it, it opens up a channel of sort of honesty, which can be blocked by the defensiveness that of blame can sometimes bring about. So, you know, a lot of this as a matter of style, as I say, I mean, I think I,
become less if I'd done something wrong, and somebody gives an annoying, self indulgent moralistic performance of how they forgive me up front, I'm less likely to have noticed what I've done wrong than I would if they just direct blame me directly. It's
like come on,
because one of the one of the dysfunctional forms of forgiveness that I'm very interested in is all all the sort of grandiose or self indulgent or basically passive aggressive forms of forgiveness. So I'm very interested in how you know, like many of our most interesting moral practices forgiveness is not just that forgiveness can go wrong in the way that any practice can go wrong because of things from the outside. I think there are certain features of the very effort of forgiving someone which makes it intrinsically likely that it starts taking slightly corrupted or deteriorated forms. So for instance, if I'm someone's wronged me, and I'm trying to forgive them upfront, because I'm thinking, say, I don't want to jeopardize our friendship over this, they're not really sorry. But you know, never mind. It's just not worth addressing the issue. So I'm just going to try and let it go as it is. I'm busy trying to sort of suppress my blame feelings towards them in what should be and what I genuinely intend to be a kind of magnanimous act for the sake of our friendship. I'm just trying to be bigger, be the bigger person on this occasion and rise above it. But of course, that very effort of me trying to kind of not pay attention to my own continuing blame feelings is a kind of recipe for self deception. Sometimes it might work and sometimes it won't. And I might be, as we say, the last person in the room to realize I still haven't forgiven them, everyone else might be able to read it off the surface. My behavior, I'm just busy not looking at my blame feelings because I'm trying to suppress them for the sake of forgiving, but the possibility of self self deception, and a kind of passive aggressive behavior towards the person who's wronged me. It's just built into my efforts of repressing my own blame feelings for the sake of trying to forgive up front in this gifted way. And so I'm fascinated by how our very best efforts at forgiving are intrinsically fragile and prone to go wrong. And I think that makes human beings rather beautiful and fragile and, and flawed.
Okay, so then let me ask a question that has been nagging at me for a bit. It's more about the moral justice forgiveness, but it directly relates to something that you've said here, which is, you describe moral justice forgiveness as withholding forgiveness until someone feels genuine remorse and then you can forgive them and it allows for the growth is After the the the the Act, the gifted act, but it's before and so there's this check if that's the case. If if the forgiver is withholding until someone is has remorse, who has the power in the situation? Does the forgiver withhold the power? Or have the power? Or does the person who refuses or is unable to feel remorse have the power and I asked this because so much of our public political discourse is about power. And let's use the idea of of marginalization of marginalized people wanting to be recognized, wanting their history to be acknowledged, and the people who have the power the majority or the minority who has manipulated things, refusing to acknowledge and so part of our public political discourse is is a fight of power over how to give people who are powerless, more power? How do people who have more power either they maintain that power or have their power diminished by other things? And if at some central element This is about forgiveness and blame? Isn't the power relation of forgiveness and blame an essential component? So who has the power? The forgiver? Or the forgive v?
Yes, I think there are so many different dimensions of power that can be a work in a given context. That it's hard to answer that question. But if if I can confine myself to the idea that there's a particular exchange of power, we might call it moral power in our local exchange of moral power in a wrong being done. An expression of blame being forthcoming, perhaps, or perhaps not an apology and then a forgiving if we think of ourselves is confined to those powers just for the moment before opening it out to other kinds of social power, which might lie behind the wrongdoing and its prevalence and all the rest of it, then I believe that there is a kind of power exerted by or there can be a kind of power exerted by a blamer, who communicates their blame to the wrongdoer, namely, the power to change the mind of the wrongdoer, the power to educate them to get them to see the reality of what they've done, then that that can be a kind of power. And it's very distinctively, and obviously a kind of power. If the wrongdoer doesn't yet see things that way. So supposing is a case where there's a real changing of minds that's required to get someone to see the wrongs that they've done? Supposing they you mentioned, me too, and you know, fast, I suppose over the last decades, fairly fast changing norms around dating and sexual mores and what counts as perfect. rational behavior and all the rest of it. Supposing in a moment of social transition over what's appropriate behavior in a workplace, a blamer, who's been treated in a really sexist way, perhaps, you know, kind of having her word overlooked around the boardroom table, or maybe sort of sexual jokes being made or something like that. Supposing she sucks, she may be someone a very little power in general in that office situation or less power than the men around her. But she might succeed in exerting some moral power if she succeeds in making her complaint, casting blame towards the wrongdoer in question and actually getting him to change his mind. That's the kind of moral power which you might exert even in a context of relative social powerlessness. And then a different sort of example with a forgiver. It's hard to know how to talk about forgiveness in relation to power because one, especially when it's gifted forgiveness or unconditional forgiveness, sometimes people worry that that looks like you're just having letting someone off and handing all the power over to them. But the Holocaust survivor, Eva Kor writes about forgiveness in a way, which casts the forgiver as reclaiming a kind of power that was taken away from her when she was persecuted. So she teaches others to address write a letter to their wrongdoer persecutor, and then never post it, keep it keep it to themselves because it's a kind of communicative statement with which they actively withhold from the wrongdoer. So the forgiveness is not communicated. But it does achieve it's what I think of as its primary point then not only point which is to relieve the wronged party of blame feelings, which can no longer do any good. And that gave a core characterized as a as a reclaiming of power from the person who took it away from you by treating you badly and I think that's a really interesting idea and helps me understand one of the moral power dynamic that's involved in forgiving. And it helped me stop thinking about forgiving as something that's necessarily meek and mild as it were, it's actually a very empowering, it can be a very empowering thing to do.
So one of the things that's happened in the course of this conversation, is that we've acknowledged in a way that at least I didn't in the beginning, how abstract these ideas are, when we first started talking, I was thinking about forgiveness as blame and blame as really concrete instances of interpersonal relations of arguments between people of, again, dealing with psychological health, very practical, possibly even empirical instances of human behavior. But when you talk about moral power, it really helped me see that what we're engaged in is a very abstract enterprise, because political power has real consequences that we can identify in terms of public policy and other things. But moral power is more about and I'm not 100% comfortable with this example, but the balancing scales of the universe, right? This is one of the reasons why I suppose forgiveness has such religious connotations. So this is also abstract and, and so I Okay, I'm gonna ask a question again, probably an unfair question and particularly and those people who are fans of Harry Potter book seven will know the answer to this but but if it's so abstract, what makes it real? Why is this so substantive? Why is this so meaningful? Why is this so real? If the ideas that we're talking about like writing a letter to perpetrators but keeping it to yourself, so no one knows and has is aware of that that moral power change but yourself if it's also abstract. Why is it so powerful? Why is it so real?
Yes, I know what you mean about the abstraction I rather like that's one of the things I like about philosophy is you start with something that's a very, no real concrete interpersonal interaction, and you think about it enough so that you start thinking of it in these various a transcendent ways. But for me, I find them all real. I mean, one of the things about, particularly forgiveness, I mean, when you blame someone, you're really kind of, you're kind of in their face, whether you're really in their face or just in your own head or in their face, but you're like directly responding to what they've done and finding fault with it and judging it. That's pretty concrete. And then forgiving, is a little different, in a way forgiving is essentially a transcendent idea. And it's something to do with you know, there are forms of forgiving and these are the ones I'm interested in that really are part of our practices through which we hold people accountable. And part of the defense I tried to give of gifted, forgiving the unconditional kind of forgiving is that it's not just letting people off the hook. It does belong to the family of ways we hold each other accountable in so far as gifted, forgiving, has a connection, a non accidental connection with the wrongdoer coming to see the error of their ways, just as blame does. And it's much more sort of indirect in the case of forgiving, but then there's, there's another kind of forgiving, which is much more kind of transcendent you can imagine. You know, the metaphor of rising above it becomes almost part of the phenomenology of forgiveness when it gets like this, you sort of rise above the sea. You look at us all with all our in the fray of human moral engagements and weenus we, we wrote each other we react, we try to get each other to see things differently. It's all all a big buzzing exchange of energies and then sometimes you rise So far above or step so far back from that fray, that you're just kind of looking at all our human interactions, not from a God's eye point of view, but you know, from halfway up a mountain, and you just don't engage anymore, and you kind of have a much more general feeling of forgiveness towards those who've wronged you, which isn't a way of trying to get them to see anything. It's just a kind of letting go. And I think sometimes religious forms of forgiveness particularly have that in mind, and I, I think I'm fascinated by it, because I, I do think that that kind of forgiveness, let's call it transcendent forgiveness, where there really isn't any connection with getting anyone to see the error of their ways. That is the kind of forgiveness which does not belong to the family of practices through which we hold each other accountable. And in that sense, really is a rather different sort of thing. And is much more abstract because it's not aiming at anything in the world. It's it's exited the norm. More causal fray, I think it might be a very useful resource, a good place to be able to go sometimes. But it's not a responsible place. It's not a it's not a place where you're holding anyone responsible or being responsible yourself. It's just a way of transcending the fray and leaving it and finding a place of calm. And I think for one's mental and spiritual health, that might be very important. But it's, it's categorically different for me from any of the kinds of forgiveness that I would wish to defend, because they're part of what it is to hold each other responsible. And so I, I find that a kind of interesting distinction to make between the modes of forgiveness that are morally engaged, and a mode of forgiveness, which is precisely disengaged. And that is a very abstract place to be and it's a useful place to be able to go when it's all too much, or when nothing can be achieved through further moral engagement, or you're just too tired to bother. But so mental health Yes, but it's not part of holding each other accountable and I, I kind of like that distinction.
So, I'm going to ask another question that I'm really formulating as I'm speaking. Because as you talked about this transcendent forgiveness, the the example that came to mind is starts no exit. For those who haven't read it. They're three people trapped in a room in an afterlife. And they could leave at any time, but they choose not to because of their own personal foibles. And they could leave at least in theory in any time, and so transcendent. Forgiveness seems like a manifestation of human freedom. We can do it if we choose, but we choose not to, or we choose to depending on ourselves, and so the question I'm trying to get at is, does gifted forgiveness and moral justice forgiveness? Does it have the same relationship with human freedom or because it is a part of moral practices Those questions, we have to bracket those questions, we have to put them aside. And really, it's about social and political and moral interactions as opposed to the questions of what it means to be a free human being who has choice. Does I'm not sure that I've articulated the question. Well, that's just the question makes sense?
Yes, it does. And I think it's very helpful to think of different kinds of forgiveness in relation to freedom and one way to get into the relationship is thinking about our reasons to forgive. So a kind of natural first off thought about the difference between moral justice forgiveness where you wait for the apology, and gifted forgiveness where you go ahead and forgive up front is that you know, when you get the apology, then you kind of have to forgive because that's the deal. That's the condition has been met. So you have to forgive whereas gifted forgiveness is always Yeah, a gift. It's up to me. I don't That would be quite right. Because even in the case of moral justice, forgiveness, I wouldn't say that the reasons to forgive including the apology, etcetera, etcetera, ever amount to directed obligation to the wrongdoer to forgive them. In a sense, it's always, there's always something gift like an elective about forgiveness. However, I do think there's such a thing as being, you know, at fault for being unforgiving. So supposing someone had lied to me about something that was important, and they're terribly remorseful and maybe they're a friend of mine, and they just can't believe they did it and they're saying how sorry they are and they're trying to make amends, but I'm just not forgiving them. I'm just not letting it go. And other friends might say to me, come on you. What do you want from him? I mean, he said he's sorry. And you know, he didn't mean it. He won't do it again. You know, I'm being really unforgiving. So I think I can be at fault for failing to forgive But I don't think even in those circumstances that I owe him the liar and apology, I think I've got lots and lots and lots of reasons to forgive, which are stacking up and meaning it amounting to the situation where I really ought to forgive, but I'm failing to forgive. But it's not like I owe him something in a directed way that I'm failing to give him. And that shows up in the fact that we're here to claim his right to forgiveness from me, that would be weird. I mean, that would be like, you know, claiming my right to a birthday present from someone who normally gives me a birthday present. So I might, they might be at fault for forgetting my birthday this year when we have a practice of always remembering each other's birthdays, but I couldn't claim my right to my birthday present from that's just not in the spirit of the thing. So I think that reveals that forgiving even when it's of the moral justice kind is always kind of a gift.
And in that sense,
the particular sort of freedom, the freedom that goes with it Doing things electively rather than being obliged by reason or any other thing that is common to both kinds of forgiveness. But another another connection with freedom is, is really this more much more general thing which we started with, which is the idea that we should be able to step back from any particular form of a practice of forgiving that we've grown up with and ask ourselves, do I like this kind of forgiving? Is this a helpful way to carry on? And it could be that one was brought up in a particular environment where forgiving was closely meshed with a really censorious retributive kind of blaming and forgiving is only ever done after the most, you know,
sort of acts
of acts of self blame and self harm that were very extreme, then we want to be able to stand back from that and say, No, I want to live a different way. I don't like these moral practices. I think that they're harmful and we need to reinvent our moral practices. That is an act of moral freedom. Have a spectacular Cultural kinds that we can say no to the practices we inherit and insist on trying to modify them for the better. So there's two connections with freedom with both of which I think are very important in understanding our relation to these responses to moral wrongdoing.
All right, so So for our sort of last interaction are as we're winding down, I want to go back to something you said in the in your answer. And in a certain sense, what I'm asking you to do is is the teacher thing was, could you repeat your answer in different words? Right. But but but you said something in passing that is profoundly both important. It's an important question. And also it is the question that will be on a lot of people's minds. And so I want to revisit it. And the question is, do we have a moral obligation to forgive? And so I want to ask that very directly, which again, may involve you repeating certain things you said, but also, if we don't have have a moral obligation to forgive, then how can we be at fault for not forgiving in the example that you gave? So So is there a moral obligation to forgive? And if there isn't, how do we make sense of the fact that even though we don't have a moral obligation, there are times when we probably really should, and we're kind of being jerky? If we don't, how do you reconcile those two things?
If the notion of moral obligation that you're working with there is this sort of directed or dyadic one that I would actually owe the wrongdoer, that I forgive them, then I don't think we have a moral obligation to forgive. But if the notion of obligation one works with is a, all things considered having really strong moral reasons to forgive that person, then yes, we can often be in that situation. In a way, it's the ordinary situation when someone has apologized.
it a lot of a lot of the answer to the question turns on what whether one thinks the notion of moral obligation is the special, magical sort of directed thing that overrides all other kinds of reasons, or whether one is happy with the idea that actually there's quite heterogeneous reasons to forgive. So you see, I think that in a lot of the philosophy literature, you have people saying, well, this is a good thing to forgive, but it's only really proper forgiveness if you're forgiving for exactly the right kinds of reasons. So someone might think the only right kinds of reasons are if the person's apologized or something like that. I really don't agree with that. I think that when you read a more generalist literature on forgiveness that the normal central cases of forgiving and especially as it were morally spectacular, Giving after very grave wrongdoing are rarely about the wrongdoer and how apologetic they've been. They are usually about the person who's been wronged and people say things like, I just had to forgive because I couldn't bear to go on being this angry. I didn't want to be this person anymore. It's a it's the often reasons that are about the wronged party's own healing. And that's why that's part of what I take from Ava cause writings on these things that you know, first and foremost, not only but first and foremost, or primarily, the most basic reasons to forgive are about getting rid of blame feelings that can do no good. So it's for me, the person who's been wronged. Then one step down the line, it might be just as important could even be more morally important, but the be a secondary reason to forgive, which is that it'll make the wrongdoer feel better. I want to let them know that I don't consider them on the hook anymore, we will I want to move on. That's another excellent reason to forgive. But it's not as I see it, the primary reason is sort of mean because one can choose to forgive, even though the person who's wronged you is dead or long gone or as an ever cause on mailed letters, you're not going to communicate it even though you could. So I think that reveals that one's one's basic thing that one is doing in forgiving is recovering from wrongdoing when the continued blame feeling would do no good. And then thereafter, you can have all all sorts of other sorts of reasons. And so there are self directed ethical reasons of self care, and then the other directed ethical reasons relating to the fact that they've apologized and you want them to not feel so bad anymore. And maybe other reasons you could decide if you're in the middle of a hideous divorce and the kids are really suffering you can think I've got to forgive them. Because look what's happening to the kids. That's about them. That's about others and you think I've got to make this effort. That too is a rather different Sort of third party related reason of care. So I think all these rather different sorts of reasons, some of which sound a bit more Prudential almost others sound more squarely moral, all stack up to be excellent reasons to forgive. And none of them ever again to create a kind of dyadic obligation in some magic sense of moral obligation. But they can create a situation where I'm really at fault for failing to forgive someone because look at all the damage that's being caused by my not forgiving them.
So what we have, again, is something akin to a legal framework, which is a person doesn't have a moral obligation to forgive in the sense that you have to no question you are punished if you don't, but if there's a preponderance of evidence, if there's all of these reasons to forgive and you don't, we can say you're not acting in your own best interest. You're not doing the thing that is going to be the healthiest. You're not going to do it. Do the thing that is going to move the conversation society the wrong thing. forward, and he'll learn educate and all that sort of stuff. And so, in the end, one of the central questions of forgiveness is not other oriented but internal, which is, blame carries with it tremendous weight for both the blamer and the blame either blamed, but forgiveness is weightless. And even if you forgive wrongly, it's still not a wrong that you carry with you for the rest of your life because it releases you, and it makes you free.
I think that's a very fair summary. I mean, I think we can make sense of the idea that you can forgive someone prematurely you can forgive when you shouldn't have forgiven them. And I think most of the time, that's a question of letting go of blame feelings when those blame feelings still had a job to do. They stood a chance of persuading him that he was wrong and how was he was treating you and you let it go too soon. Who said But on the whole, I mean, so maybe that means that it's not quite weightless, but letting go of blame feelings when they really are redundant either because they've done their job or because they never can do that job. You know, supposing someone really wrongs you badly, who is never going to change, and you've tried to persuade them, you know, you cannot treat me like this, but they're just never going to change. I think that could be a situation where you can forgive, I don't, I don't say you should forgive but you have reason to forgive. Because your continued blame feelings are going to do no good. But you also have reason to move away from that person to take yourself out of the line of fire if you see what I mean. So I think we have to be very careful to distinguish as it were, immoral, emotional acts of forgiving from dis practical decisions about whether to stay in a relationship with someone or to stay in the line of fire as I've put it, because one can decide to leave someone divorce them or move away or cut them out on social life, whatever it might be, even while one chooses to forgive because one does doesn't want to carry that baggage anymore. And I think that can be an excellent reason to forgive.
Well, at that note, you have given us so much to think about, and given us a range of understanding of forgiveness from the gift to the moral justice to the transcendent. And I think that a lot of us found our own experiences in the conversation, not just the philosophical ideas, which are intriguing, but also helping us make sense of our own choices. So Miranda, thank you so much for joining us on why.
Thank you so much, jack. It's been a great pleasure talking with you.
You have been listening to Miranda fricker and jack Russell Weinstein on why philosophical discussions about everyday life. I'll be back with a few more thoughts right after this.
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You're back with wide philosophical discussions with everyday life. We were talking with Miranda fricker, about forgiveness and blame and what they mean. Philosophers like to ask what questions What is forgiveness? What is blame in the history we have asked what is justice and what is love and what is truth and What is beauty? The what question what is x is the central question of philosophy. But in this instance, what is forgiveness? And what is blame? are really stand ins for a deeper, more emotional question. Why should we forgive? And why should we blame? The reason why we want to clarify the concepts is to ask about their propriety. Are there times when we should forgive? Are there times when we shouldn't? Are there people who we should blame? And are there people who we should just let go? These are very complicated and very difficult questions, because they're cultural, but also because they're emotional because they have a certain kind of weight. This idea of justice that I mentioned a moment ago, part of what justice is, is people admitting what they've done. And other people acknowledging that and fixing it and moving on. Why should we forgive? Why should we blame and Miranda has given us three basic answers right. We Blame because we want people to feel remorse because we want people to move their moral education forward to move the morality of the world forward to make the world a better place, so to speak. But we forgive a to do that be to inspire them to get past their defensiveness and see themselves. Or see we do it for ourselves to transcend, to be free of the burdens of blame. Whether we choose one or the other, is a personal decision. Whether we choose to hold out until someone shows remorse, to inspire them through our actions to be better people or just to find peace for ourselves. This has a lot to do with who we are as people where we come from and what we want out of life. And so as Miranda points out, no simple definition of freedom. giveness in blame are going to solve our problem, because we have to ask why we're doing it and what motivates us, there will always be a balance between the individual and the community. One of the best things about this show is I get to ask the most profound questions with the most meaningful consequences. And I know that in my own life, I have anger, and I have bitterness. And there are things that I won't let go of. And there are other things that I just have. Now, again, I mentioned I was 50. Now at 50, maybe this conversation will help me understand why. And if I can understand why and what I gained from it, and what other people gained from my blame and my forgiveness, maybe then I'll be clearer on when and why I have to do it again. And maybe that'll make my next 50 years a little easier. You've been listening to jack Russell Weinstein on why philosophical discussions about everyday life. Thank you for listening as always, it's an honor to be with u.
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