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Forgiveness and moral development© 2016, The Author(s). Forgiveness is clearly an important aspect of our moral lives, yet surprisingly Kant, one of the most important authors in the history of Western ethics, seems to have very little to say about it. Some authors explain this omission by noting that forgiveness sits uncomfortably in Kant’s moral thought: forgiveness seems to have an ineluctably ‘elective’ aspect which makes it to a certain extent arbitrary; thus it stands in tension with Kant’s claim that agents are autonomous beings, capable of determining their own moral status through rational reflection and choice. Other authors recognise that forgiveness plays a role in Kant’s philosophy but fail to appreciate the nature of this duty and misrepresent the Kantian argument in support of it. This paper argues that there is space in Kant’s philosophy for a genuine theory of forgiveness and hopes to lay the grounds for a correct interpretation of this theory. I argue that from a Kantian perspective, forgiveness is not ‘elective’ but, at least in some cases, morally required. I claim that, for Kant, we have an imperfect duty of virtue to forgive repentant wrongdoers that have embarked on a project of self-reflection and self-reform. I develop a novel argument in support of this duty by drawing on Kant’s theory of rational agency, the thesis of radical evil, Kant’s theory of moral development, and the formula of humanity. However, it must be noted that this is a conditional duty and Kant’s position also entails that absence of repentance on the part of the wrongdoer should be taken as evidence of a lack of commitment to a project of self-reflection and self-reform. In such cases, Kant claims, we have a perfect duty to ourselves not to forgive unrepentant wrongdoers. I argue that this duty should be understood as one of the duties of self-esteem, which involves the duty to respect and recognise our own dignity as rational beings.
Kantian forgiveness: fallibility, guilt and the need to become a better person: reply to BlöserIn ‘Human Fallibility and the Need for Forgiveness’, Claudia Blöser (Philosophia 47:1-19, 2019) has proposed a Kantian account of our reasons to forgive that situates our moral fallibility as their ultimate ground. Blöser argues that Kant’s duty to be forgiving is grounded on the need to be relieved from the burden of our moral failure (guilt), a need that we all have in virtue of our moral fallible nature, regardless of whether or not we have repented. Blöser claims that Kant’s proposal yields a plausible account of the normative status of forgiveness. Kant classifies the duty to be forgiving as a wide (imperfect) duty of virtue, and according to Blöser, this means that Kantian forgiveness is elective in the sense that forgiveness is good in general (i.e. an attitude that we have moral reason to adopt) but without being obligatory in each particular case. In the course of presenting her own reconstruction of Kant’s account, Blöser also objects to some aspects of an interpretation of Kant’s theory of forgiveness which I had previously defended in my paper ‘Forgiveness and Moral Development’ (Philosophia 44:1029–1055, 2016). Although there are a lot of points of agreement between our interpretations, the aim of this article is to highlight four key points of disagreement. These issues are worth discussing because they have implications not only for a plausible interpretation of a recognisable Kantian account of forgiveness but also for wider debates in the contemporary literature on forgiveness. First, I show that Kant is not committed to a form of weak situationism as suggested by Blöser and that Kant’s grounding of the duty to be forgiving does not appeal to moral luck. Second, I argue that although Kant’s duty to be forgiving is elective in one sense of the term, it is not elective in another important sense of the term, and that it is in fact better not to interpret Kantian imperfect duties as being elective. Third, I show that awareness of moral fallibility per se does not provide a morally appropriate ground for forgiveness and offer an alternative reconstruction of Kant’s account- in which fallibility plays a role, but it is not the main reason to forgive. Finally, I argue that Blöser’s account of the need to be forgiven is not recognisable Kantian because, from a Kantian perspective, repentance is a necessary condition for the desirability and, in fact, the very possibility of ameliorating our own guilt.