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A recognitive theory of forgiveness and its application to the formation of personal and social identity

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posted on 2022-10-26, 06:20 authored by Daniel John Anderson

Any observer of the kinds of things we call ‘forgiveness’ will notice that we include under this term a highly disparate range of motivations, attitudes, and activities. Philosophers working in on forgiveness regularly struggle to find a coherent conceptual centre to our practices. This thesis advances a new theory of forgiveness that embraces this variety and illuminates their conceptual core that holds them together. This theory is grounded in a model of intersubjective recognition. 

Part One establishes that there is a conceptual structure to forgiveness. It arises from the moral conditions we require a forgiveness-type practice to satisfy. The first chapter demonstrate this through contrasting forgiveness with related concepts and seeking to model the relationships. The second chapter develops the claim through an examination of the dominant contemporary account of forgiveness derived from Joseph Butler and Jeffrie Murphy. My argument is that this account correctly identifies moral respect as the primary conceptual condition of forgiveness. This lays the foundation for a richer account of moral respect in Part Two. 

Part Two contains four chapters that build out our argument about the centrality of moral conditions for thinking about forgiveness. I do this by beginning with the features of moral injury—the situation to which forgiveness is a response. Chapter Three investigates the moral conditions of moral injury. Chapter Four engages the phenomena of moral injury as seen through our practices of blame. Chapter Five seeks to resolve a core question from earlier chapters: why do we experience breaches of our normative expectations as harmful? Chapter Six gathers up the conceptual tools we have set out in the previous chapters and charts a way forward for thinking about moral injury as an experience of a loss or lack of shared moral alignment, whose features arise from the mediating role of normative expectations in intersubjective recognition.This is the basis for the explanation of forgiveness in Part Three.

The argument of Part Three is that intersubjective recognition supplies the framework that makes sense of why certain things count as forgiveness in certain situations and not in others. Chapter 7 revisits the basic conceptual structure of forgiveness in light of the framework developed throughout Part Two. I argue that forgiveness displays a pattern of reasoning which involves maintaining of the judgment of blameworthiness while revising the attitudes of blame. Chapter Eight seeks to describe the kinds of reasons that will count in revising attitudes of blame. 

Chapter Nine focuses on the types of attitudes consistant with forgiveness. Chapter Ten continues the exploration of forgiveness-type attitudes with closer examination of prototypical exemplars—what I’m calling forgiveness’ signature moves. Chapter Eleven broadens this analysis by examining the way in which recognition dynamics shape not only forgiveness-type reasons and attitudes but also structure them into a process. 

The thesis closes with a brief reflection on the prospects of developing this theory into a political theory of forgiveness. 

My aim throughout is to use the conceptual tools of intersubjective recognition to illuminate a tricky set of problems in the philosophy of forgiveness. My hope is that the effectiveness of these tools will turn out to supply good reasons for regarding intersubjective recognition as a foundational concept for moral philosophy beyond forgiveness—showing us the central role of these kinds of relationships in our becoming and being members of a moral community.  


Table of Contents

Introduction -- Chapter one: the struggle for definition -- Chapter two: the standard account -- Chapter three: injury and morality -- Chapter four: blame -- Chapter five: misrecognition -- Chapter six: what is moral injury? -- Chapter seven: the conceptual structure of forgiveness revisited -- Chapter eight: forgiveness’ reasons -- Chapter nine: forgiveness’ attitudes and morally adequate relations -- Chapter ten: the signature moves of forgiveness -- Chapter eleven: the prospects of forgiveness -- Conclusion -- Bibliography


A thesis submitted to fulfil requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


Thesis (PhD), Macquarie University, Department of Philosophy, 2021

Department, Centre or School

Department of Philosophy

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Mark Alfano


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