Apology, Forgiveness, and Revenge
University of Kansas
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This dissertation makes a contribution to moral philosophy by inquiring into the nature, content, justification, and scope of apology and forgiveness. In doing so, I get a theoretical purchase on their ethical importance. I view apology and forgiveness as inescapable moral negotiations, which I understand to be ethical activities that mend human relationships after they have been compromised by wrongdoing by at least one party to the relationship. I argue that the concepts of apology and forgiveness, though analytically separable, form a nested whole in our practical lives such that the intelligibility and meaningfulness of either is dependent on the recognition and feasibility of the other. I argue that apology and forgiveness are speech acts with an important moral function. I first examine the kind of speech acts that apology and forgiveness are, thereby exhibiting their logical structure. Though they bear a prima facie resemblance to the performatives in J. L. Austin's account, they also differ. In arguing that Austin's account fails to accommodate the unique logical structure of apology and forgiveness, I offer a model that captures the form of their idiosyncratic logic. In short, I submit that a moral apology - an apology that ranges over a moral domain instead of the domain of etiquette and manners - always implies a request for forgiveness, and that an apology is successful only insofar as forgiveness is granted. In a complimentary vein, I argue that forgiveness in the absence of apology strains the very intelligibility and meaningfulness of forgiveness. I then consider the moral structure of apology, which I maintain has three necessary parts, one of which is a complete acknowledgement of wrongdoing. A complete acknowledgement satisfies the epistemic dimension of apology, and I propose a novel account of acknowledgement. I go on to identify the moral emotions of guilt, shame, regret and remorse as constitutive of the affective dimension of apology, while arguing that humility represents its attitudinal dimension. Lastly, I argue that moral apologies are a form of what Margaret Urban Walker calls moral repair: the process of migrating from the state of loss and damage to a state in which at least a modicum of security in moral relations is reestablished. I then examine the moral structure of forgiveness and some of the motivations for and anticipated outcomes of revenge. After considering a rival account of forgiveness, I argue that forgiveness has a threefold common core: forgiveness involves the suspension or overcoming of hostile feelings toward the wrongdoer; forgiveness involves restoring the relationship damaged by the wrong; and forgiveness involves the removal or suspension of the wrong. However, forgiveness has its limits. I argue that we cannot forgive in the absence of an apology, the dead, ourselves, or unforgivable actions. When confronted by the unforgivable evils of an atrocity, many throughout history have considered revenge as an alternative, retaliatory way to restore the moral balance between the offender and the victim when moral repair cannot. I conclude that, despite its intuitive appeal, revenge does not achieve such moral balance as it is ultimately self-defeating, exacerbating the very instability that the vengeful often wish to eliminate.
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- Philosophy Dissertations and Theses 
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