Senior Literature Review Fall 2018

Bay’s Research Presentation


Bay presented her research on forgiveness. She plans to organize her literature review by topic rather than by author. Specifically, there are two main questions:

  1. What is forgiveness?

  2. When should we forgive?

The second question leads naturally to the question that originally motivated the project: when, if ever, are we obliged to forgive?

Another question that she had started with, namely, who has the standing to forgive, will fall by the wayside because it was not discussed in the literature she reviewed.

Our discussion

I made special note of two points in our discussion. (There were many more that are all worthy; these are just the ones in my notes.)

Coleman made a case for thinking about less dramatic cases than the ones that typically appear in the literature. You can forgive someone for a minor fault, for instance. In fact, that’s the way we most often use forgiveness, as he sees it. If he’s right, analyses of forgiveness that put a lot of weight on giving up feelings of resentment may be misplaced. I can say “it’s quite all right” when you accidentally step in front of me in the cafeteria line without ever having felt any resentment about it.

James noted that forgiveness does not completely wipe the slate clean. You don’t want the person you are forgiving to think that everything is OK and things are back to the way they were before the wrong was done. Whatever is accomplished by forgiving someone, it doesn’t erase the original wrong or all of the guilt that the wrongdoer should feel.

I said that one thing that I think is missing from the literature is a discussion of what forgiveness accomplishes for the person being forgiven. I think James is right to say that it doesn’t completely clear the slate. But it is supposed to relieve the person being forgiven of something. What that is seems to me to be pertinent to the questions that the authors Bay is reviewing are asking. If I’m trying to decide whether I should forgive someone, I would think that I would need to know the effects of doing so (or not doing so).