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For the discussion we will start by comparing two contrasting positions (other positions are welcome), the Unconditional Position vs the Conditional Position. Through these (and maybe other) accounts we can discuss what these positions say about our intuition on forgiving. And if these positions get something right about the concept/process of forgiving.

Conditional Forgiveness (Griswold's account).

Griswold outlines six conditions that need to be meet before forgiveness should be given. “The wrongdoer’s demonstration that she no longer wishes to stand by herself as the author of those wrongs.” The wrongdoer must repudiate their deeds (by acknowledging their wrongness) and thus disavow the idea that they would author those deeds again.” The wrongdoer “must experience and express regret at having caused that particular injury to that particular person.” The wrongdoer “must commit to becoming the sort of person who does not inflict injury, and that commitment must be shown through deeds as well as words.” The wrongdoer “must show that she understands, from the injured person’s perspective, the damage done by the injury.” The offender’s regretful address would offer some sort of narrative accounting for how she came to do wrong” (Cowley 2010, p[masked])

On Charles Griswold account, it is important that the victim forgives the wrongdoer only after certain conditions have been meet. The wrongdoer has to qualify for forgiveness before it is appropriate to forgive. If the victim forgives the offender before/without the wrongdoer fulfilling these conditions, then Griswold would say that the victim is doing something wrong. The Victim is not forgiving but excusing the wrongdoer, in the process possibly denigrating themselves and possibly condoning evil (Griswold, p. 63-64).

Unconditional Forgiveness

Some argue that genuine forgiveness should not involve the wrongdoer meeting a certain criteria before being forgiven by the victim. Nor does it necessarly require that the wrongdoer ask for forgiveness. For genuine forgiveness the victim has to be motivated by a sense of “human solidarity”, by the common vulnerability that they share with the wrongdoer. The victim should put themselves in the shoes of the wrongdoer, acknowledge that they might have committed the same offence given similar circumstance. Even if the victim cannot see themselves committing the offence given the circumstance, human solidarity involves the victim becoming the person who has committed the offence. (Cowley 2014, p 83-84)

Forgiveness to resolve personal Anger.

Some Christian and Buddhist teaching focus on the psychological aspect involved in forgiveness. Forgiveness is a process of letting go of anger. Holding onto resentment can be just as damaging as the original transgression. On this account forgiveness does not care if the wrongdoer has asked forgiveness, but that the victim should forgive for their own personal well being.


Cowley, Christopher 2010. “Why Genuine Forgiveness must be Elective and Unconditional”. Ethical Perspectives 17(4):[masked]

Cowley, C. 2014. Moral Responsibility. Durham: Acumen Publishing.

Griswold, Charles. 2007. Forgiveness: A Philosophical Exploration. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Other Discussions

Can a third party forgive? Or is it the prerogative of the victim to forgive?