AAA/CASCA Executive Program Committee
Executive Session - Oral Presentation Session
Debates over reconciliation, atonement, forgiveness and forgetting involve both political and personal elements, investments and commitments. I contrast two viewpoints on the questions of forgiveness: one stresses unconditional forgiveness not requiring repentance or atonement (Derrida); the other reflects on the kind of moral responsibility that is important in the formation of the person (Ricoeur). Being held accountable, in Ricoeur’s perspective, matters for the development of the self. To the aims of reconciliation and reparation must be added the need to return people’s humanity. By contrast, Derrida sees pure forgiveness as a defining aspect of being human. Attaching conditions to forgiveness debases it by making it a legal form of justice, subject to the conditional logic of exchange as a political-economic transaction based on negotiation and calculation. Thus Derrida’s call for unconditional forgiveness is concerned with the humanity of the one forgiving, while Ricoeur’s expectation of an admission of guilt reveals a concern with the humanity of the guilty person. Reconciliation is not the beginning of the debate for either philosopher, but rather the requirements of humanity. For Ricoeur there are two issues: the fault that paralyses action, and the forgiveness that lifts this paralysis or ‘existential incapacity’. Forgiveness should release the agent from her/his act, allowing them to imagine new futures. How helpful are these philosophical perspectives in real life situations? What if we do not forgive, choose not to reconcile?