Joshua Brandt


Forgiveness has traditionally been characterized an affective response to a wrongdoing, i.e. a psychological process that involves ridding oneself of resentment or other negative reactive attitudes. In contrast to the prevailing model, this paper advocates for the emerging position that forgiveness should be understood as a normative power akin to a promise. In particular, I argue that forgiveness involves surrendering the right to discount the interests of a perpetrator (a special permission the victim acquires in virtue of having been wronged). I argue that this model fits and/or explains important features of forgiveness, such as the idea that forgiveness is a personal response to a blameworthy wrong, that forgiveness re-establishes a relation of equality, and that forgiveness is ‘normatively significant’. I further develop the position by showing how it can provide a unified case of paradigmatic forgiveness, self-forgiveness, and third-party forgiveness—this explanatory power distinguishes the view from previous articulations of the idea that forgiveness is a normative power. The final section further explores these distinctions by delimiting the scope of forgiveness to exclude powers related to apologies, compensation, or ‘redemption’.