Forgiveness and the Holocaust

Garrard, Eve
June 2002
Ethical Theory & Moral Practice;Jun2002, Vol. 5 Issue 2, p147
Academic Journal
This paper considers whether we have any reason to forgive the perpetrators of the most terrible atrocities, such as the Holocaust. On the face of it, we do not have reason to forgive in such cases. But on examination, the principal arguments against forgiveness do not turn out to be persuasive. Two considerations in favour of forgiveness are canvassed: the presence of rational agency in the perpetrators, and the common human nature which they share with us. It is argued that the presence of rational agency does not generate a reason to forgive. However, our common human nature may be sufficient to provide such a reason, and evidence for its general reason-giving power can be seen in phenomena such as vicarious shame, and the moral significance which we attach to the notion of crimes against humanity. A reason for forgiveness based on common human nature will not be a strong one, but a weak reason still has some force.


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