Sin, Sorrow, and Suffering:
A Graceful Response to the Deeper Tragedies of Life
Discussion Paper Submission
Eligible for the Greenlee Award
Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy
Most pragmatists would guess that an essay titled such as this one must be a Roycean project, and they would be right. In this essay I grapple with a variation of the question that so frequently drove Royce’s reflection. Instead of the problem of evil, I focus here on the specific problems of sin and tragedy, and the suffering and sorrow that exist in their wakes. In particular, I take as my starting point Royce’s claims that meaning is only found and created in a community, that interpretation and a shared dedication to common goals unite persons into a community, and that humans beings all crave meaningful lives, which Royce discusses in terms of salvation. Given this framework, I argue that sins and tragic events are ontologically if not experientially similar in Royce’s philosophy, and that, if persons are to recover in any meaningful way from the given tragedy, the response to the tragic event must be structurally similar to the atonement Royce develops in The Problem of Christianity.
Royce argues that all human beings crave meaning in their lives, and discusses this meaning in terms of salvation. For Royce, the longing for and need of salvation arises from recognizing both that there is some end or aim of human life that we currently cannot attain or grasp, as well as the experience that individuals are incapable of attaining this higher aim by themselves. To uncover the higher aim or end of humanity is simply to understand what humans are meant (or ought) to do, and why, in relation to the big picture – be it the big picture the universe, Nature, or the Divine. Royce explains, “You cannot rationally conceive what human experience is, and means, except by regarding it as the fragment of an experience that is infinitely richer than ours, and that possesses a world-embracing unity and completeness of constitution” (Sources 137, emphasis added). To be “saved,” then, requires that one grasp the meaning of life and be able to carry out the dictates or act upon the demands of this meaning.
That we do not already grasp the higher aim of humanity is a result of a fallibility and finitude inherent to human beings, as well as a “narrowness of view”. Our capacity to think is, while powerful, at the same time rather limited. We are unable to process or analyze all of the information presented to us at any one time. Consequently, we are forced to select which information will be reasoned about in any given moment, and persons often choose poorly, unwisely, or in a manner contrary to their own freely chosen ideals. Consider the person dedicated to non-violent protest who in anger physically lashes out at an arresting officer, or the would-be vegetarian who in a moment of weakness relishes a steak, or the scientist who believes so surely in her work that she fabricates or falsifies data to support her claims for publication. All of these instances are examples of betrayal of a cause or ideal, although perhaps more or less reflectively. The non-violent protestor’s punch may be understood as occurring relatively unreflectively and in the heat of the moment, and betrays his dedication to non-violent protest for social change. The vegetarian’s lapse into carnivorism may or may not be reflective, but in the instance I’ve presented it here seems to be simply a weakness of will. The scientist’s ruse seems both a reflective and intentional betrayal of her loyalty to science as method of inquiry and truth-seeking in general, and exhibits a more significant weakness of will than that which troubled the vegetarian.
Insofar as all three of these persons, in a moment of weakness, acted against their own freely chosen moral codes, they “sinned.” Royce argues that sin is simply the conscious forgetfulness of “an Ought that one already recognizes” (World 2, 359). This Ought may be understood as simply the moral order and associated community to which one has pledged allegiance through conscious devotion and loyalty, either secular or theological. A belief in hellfire and damnation is not prerequisite for understanding one’s actions as sinful. In the examples above, the sins are against the community that shares the same moral order. Sin is, as is suffering, grief, guilt, and error, a mark of human finitude and imperfection. Sin results from a lack of omniscience and omnipotence, be they embodied in the personal God of Christian tradition or an infinite community dedicated to the scientific method as means of truth-seeking. Humans lack the infinite foresight required to know beforehand the enumerable consequences of one’s actions as well as the actions of others (including nature’s actions). Further, humans are rather limited in their ability to actually change either the action or course of the consequences even when predicted. Weakness, after all, is simply a lack of power. Consequently, we are prone to error, but also sin.
Let me now focus on the case of the scientist, insofar as her betrayal is perhaps the most devastating and severe. I have presented the example as one where the scientist believes her theory to be true, but lacks the data to sufficiently support her claim. She then either alters or fabricates data. It is possible that she never was looking for the “truth” and was instead only concerned with promoting her career in the short term. If this was the case, she wasn’t a very good scientist to begin with. But let’s assume that she was devoted to the scientific method as the most effective means of finding empirical truth and was sincerely seeking this truth. Her betrayal – the alteration of data – does not make sense within the framework of the scientific method to which she is committed. A dedication to the scientific method as an accurate mode of inquiry requires a belief that humans are capable of knowing things about some real world, this knowledge can be represented in true statements, and these true statements are approached or found through empirical research that is repeatable and subjected to peer review. The alteration of data does not fit within the scientific method. Consequently, any empirical conclusion reached when relying upon fabricated data does not have the same claim to truth as do conclusions reached by following the scientific method. The scientist wanted the truth, but undermined the best method to find it when she falsified her data.
Her action and conclusion are consequently not meaningful in the way she hoped or intended them to be. We do not know if her claims are “true” or in any way match the real world because she did not follow the method that purports to provide this assurance. Her conclusion may be later verified by other scientists, and at that point become “true,” but it is not “true” when the traitorous scientist publishes or announces it. Consequently, her conclusions are meaningless with respect to empirical truth. Just as one can reach either a true or false conclusion from a false premise, the scientist’s conclusion may be either true or false, but we cannot know reliably either way insofar as her “premise” (her research data) was falsified. While her conclusion is meaningless in this particular sense, her action in general is not without meaning, although its meaning is an undermining one – the action is a betrayal. She sinned.
If the traitorous scientist is at all self-reflective, she will suffer anxiety and guilt in the wake of her betrayal, regardless of whether her betrayal is discovered. She experiences guilt because she has not only betrayed a cause that others held dear, but one that she herself had deemed worthy of her devotion and loyalty. Her life plan, as well as the moral and epistemological order of the community sharing her devotion and ideal, is fractured by her betrayal. The scientist acted individually in her sin and her guilt is hers to bear, but her betrayal fractures the scientific community as a whole insofar all members of the scientific community were devoted to the ideals she attacked (truth and the scientific method). She undermined the intellectual and moral code of an entire community in acting against her own cause. Her sin weakens the structure of “meaning-making” provided by the community for many persons, not just herself. Consequently, “The problem of reconciliation, then, – if reconciliation there is to be, – concerns not only the traitor, but the wounded or shattered community” (Problem 175).
Insofar as she severs her tie to the scientific community and in so doing ruptures her life plan, the disloyal scientist may question the meaning or purpose of her life as well as her action. If she is not a “scientist,” if she is not a person who adheres to the scientific method in her search for empirical truth, then what is she? How is she to make sense of her career, her pursuits, her beliefs? By acting contrarily to her own life plan, she suffers a guilt “as enduring as time” (Problem 161) and is condemned to the “hell of the irrevocable” (Problem 162) since her actions cannot be recalled. She may attempt to hide her deception, or if discovered, rationalize it, but she cannot undo it. Royce explains:
The simple fact is that each deed is ipso facto irrevocable; that our hypothetical traitor, in his own deed, has been false to whatever light he then and there had and to whatever ideal he then viewed as this highest good. Hereupon no new deed, however good or however faithful, and however much of worthy consequences it introduces into the future life of the traitor or of his world, can annul the fact that the one traitorous deed was actually done. (Problem 161)
My scientist seems to be in an untenable situation. She is faced with both the irrevocability of her deed and the inability to make sense of her treason given that the treason itself undermined her framework of understanding. She has “damned” herself and she cannot go back. The two options open to her are to remain where she is, condemned to the depths of her own hell, or move onwards and forwards. For her to move forward would imply that she had somehow come to grips with her actions and regained some understanding or meaning of her world. This, in turn, requires a (re)connection with a meaning-making community (if not the one she wounded, then some other community). But her treason affects not just her own search for meaning; as mentioned earlier it also undermines the community’s ability to provide meaning for any of its members (both the traitor and others). Consequently, any act of melioration must both reconnect sinner and community and mend the cracks in the “meaning-making” structure found in the community. The community is bound up with and has a role to play in this reconciliation, even thought the fissure was caused by the individual sinner. The community must both extend itself to the traitor if she is to be reconnected with it and somehow overcome the injuries to its meaning-making structure. The remainder of this essay is dedicated to the explication of the actions necessary if my scientist or any other sinner is to find redemption and salvation.
Communities must have a means by which to evaluate their causes and actions just as individual humans do. For Royce, loyalty (the willing devotion to a cause or ideal) is both universal good and a norm. Consequently, communities must align their loyalties to causes such that the ability to devote oneself itself is fostered insofar as these devotions are prerequisite for any evaluation at all. Loyalties provide the standards and the means of evaluation; they provide the background conditions as well as the method. If a community is genuinely loyal to loyalty or the ability to devote oneself, it cannot make the evaluation that this particular person is worthy of developing his or her loyalties, but that person is not, because all persons (and all communities) need loyalty to lead meaningful lives. To so choose, that is, to conclude that some loyalties are good and others are not, is to call into question the very thing upon which the community’s ability to evaluate anything at all, good or bad, rests. A community can certainly critique the cause to which one is loyal, or the form and actions through which loyalties are manifest. For example, one can most certainly critique the cause of White Nationalism, and one most definitely should disallow racist acts, but one cannot critique the loyalty itself of the persons devoted to this racist organization. But we cannot critique one’s loyalty without undermining our own evaluative capacity. When a community is loyal to loyalty, it must work to engender loyalty in all persons, including those who have betrayed it (or other communities). In the case of persons devoted to White Nationalism, a community’s loyalty to loyalty may be manifest as critique, protest or censure to the White Nationalist. The community that is loyal to loyalty does not execute the White Nationalist, nor does the loyal community force the White Nationalist to adhere to a fascist but “politically correct” agenda. The loyal community argues with the White Nationalist, protects the loyalties of those whom the White Nationalist would harm, and suggest alternative causes to which the White Nationalist may direct his energies. When a community acts in this manner, it acts morally.
If and when a community is able to truly and genuinely maintain a loyalty to loyalty, its loyalty is revealed as love of its individual members and is referred to as grace by Royce. The community cares about its individual members, hopes for their prosperity and works to enable their loyalties to grow; it works to provide them meaning. A community’s grace, when it exists, exists despite human imperfection, despite the fact that the community’s love will not always be returned by the individual in the form of genuine loyalty. Consequently, it is experienced by individual members of the community as an unconditional love in some respects. It is not unconditional in the sense that the community universally condones the actions of its members (recall the censure of racist actions discussed earlier). Rather, it is unconditional in the sense that it loves loyalty and endeavors to cultivate and foster it, regardless of previous and future breaches and betrayals. The graceful community must welcome the sinner back, not without sanction, and not without critique, but lovingly, if it is to remain true to loyalty itself as a cause. Consequently, grace is felt as forgiveness (but not pardon) by the sinner, as a re-calling to the cause, the Ought, she forgot and betrayed. It is felt as call, inspiration or welcome by those persons not yet members of the community. So it is that the community must extend itself, must love and forgive the sinner if the sinner is to reconcile herself to her sin. And so it is that, often, the community does not extend itself, the sinner is not forgiven, and the first of the two requisites for reconciliation of sinner to sin and community is not met.
It is thus possible that the sinner may reconnect with the community, although this connection by means of grace says nothing of the second requisite for reconciliation – the way in which (if at all) the community might be healed after the betrayal. The healing is never complete, nor is it ever perfect. Just as the sinful deed cannot be recalled or erased, the damage done to the community will leave a scar. The best that can be hoped for is that the sinner and her community can move forward in a meaningful way. Grace is not baptism; sins cannot be washed away. They can only be atoned for. Royce explains:
Plainly, if any such reconciliation [between sinner and wounded community] is possible, it will be at best but an imperfect and tragic reconciliation. It cannot be simply and perfectly destructive of guilt…
This atonement would not mean, could not mean, a clearing away of the traitor’s guilt as if it never had been guilt. It would still remain true that the traitor could never rationally forgive himself for his deed. But he might in some measure, and in some genuine sense, become, not simply, but tragically, – sternly, – yet really, reconciled, not only to himself, but to his deed of treason, and to its meaning in his moral world.” (Problem 169)
Reconciliation, or melioration, or atonement, if it occurs at all (for it by no means necessary or given in a finite amount of time) is not about restoring a perfect order, but rather acknowledging, addressing and moving forward through the imperfections of humanity. Atonement is necessary if the meaning-making capacity of the community is to be mended. Meaningful experiences are those experiences that the participants can place and understand in a larger context or whole. The goal of atonement, then, is to repair the fractured meaning-making framework by making sense of the sin and placing it in the context of a larger whole beyond the context of the damaged community. Though atonement may save, it cannot remove the sin; it hopes only to account for and transform the sin such that the community continues to provide meaning to its members.
Atonement is more than forgiveness on behalf of the community (recall forgiveness is a result of grace), and more than penance on behalf of the traitor. Penance cannot undo the traitorous act, and forgiveness alone cannot transform the sin such that the broken communal structure is healed or restored. Royce explains:
Whenever [atonement] occurs at all, this is a triumph, not merely of stoical endurance, nor yet of kindly forgiveness, nor of the mystical mood which, in seeing all things in God, feels them to be good. It is a triumph of the creative will…
…First, this creative work shall include a deed, or various deeds, for which only just this treason furnishes the opportunity. Not treason in general, but just this individual treason shall give the occasion, and supply the condition of the creative deed which I am in ideal describing. Without just that treason, this new deed (so I am supposing) could not have been done at all…[and] secondly, The world, as transformed by this creative deed, is better than it would have been had all else remained the same, but had that deed of treason not been done at all. That is, the new creative deed has made the new world better than it was before the blow of treason fell. (Problem 179-80)
Atonement requires a creative act on behalf of the community such that the community and its members are able to move across the fissure caused by the sin and reclaim their devotions and ideals. Through the atoning act, the community tells a story about the sin in light of some context larger than the community itself – it locates the sin historically and provides direction into the future. To do so, the community must provide an account of their devotions and ideals (their moral or epistemological or metaphysical order), explain the action as sinful in light of this order (which requires that it acknowledge the action), and explain the consequences of and fractures caused by the action. The account the community provides of its history and the sin necessarily includes relations with others (individuals and communities) and consequently locates the wounded community in a larger framework. It tries to explain what the sin means. To provide direction into the community’s future, it must propose a subsequent action or set of actions in response to the sin that will not just mend but strengthen the moral order and loyalties damaged by the sin. This act is creative, and cannot be prescribed in advance of the particular sin for which the atonement occurs and answers the question of how to proceed, even if imperfectly.
Evils and Tragedies
Sin is only one of several kinds or types of events or experiences where human imperfection is illuminated, personified, or embodied. “Evil” is the most general category of these kinds and types of events and acts. Evil names instances of finitude, of a separation from that which gives individuals meaning (the interpreting community to which an individual is loyal). Royce explains:
In the most general sense of the word evil, all finite facts…are indeed evil, precisely in so far as, when taken in themselves, they have no complete meaning, and leave us in disquietude, searching still for the Other, i.e. for true Being in its wholeness…In the more special sense of the word, however, we apply the term evil to facts which are so disquieting that they especially emphasize, as it were, their own finitude and ours, in so far as our experience is confined to them. (World 2, 362 – 363)
Evil exists in our world precisely because it is our human, finite, temporal, imperfect and incomplete world. An evil event personifies our imperfection and subsequent incompleteness insofar as an evil event is one that is beyond the control of the individual and disconnects him or her from the larger picture or meaning-making community. The experience of evil is an experience lacking reference or connection to anything beyond the immediate (evil) experience. Evils confuse, they undermine order, and they seem, in the instance they occur, to be meaningless. The do not fit in our understanding of our world – they cannot be explained or justified in the moment. Consider, for example, the victims of violent crime. They do not understand why this event has occurred, nor do they understand why it has befallen them. Further, they often feel disconnected from their communities, and may feel that no one will understand their experience and response. Victims of rape and sexual abuse often suffer this isolation so deeply that they cannot report the crime. Or consider the survivors of a massive natural disaster such as the Indonesian tsunami or Hurricane Katrina. In the days and weeks and months after these disasters, the survivors grieved the loss of loved ones as well as the lives they had known. They were displaced, disconnected, and at times directionless. Both victims and survivors will quite literally feel confined to and by the evil (crime or disaster as mark of finitude) if they are unable to find a way from their isolation back to a community.
One of the differences between violent crime and natural disaster lies in the blame that can be attached to one but not the other. Violent crime such as rape, which is experienced as evil by the victim, remains the perpetrator’s sin. The criminal is culpable for his actions. And while there has been much discussion in the wake of Katrina as to “who is to blame” for the preparedness and response to the storm, no person is responsible for the storm itself. We can blame no individual or community for creating or directing the storm, and there is no responsibility attached to the storm. I will call evil events lacking culpability “tragic,” and consider “tragedy” to be a subset of the category “evil,” just as “sin” is the subset of evil events for which persons are culpable.
Tragedies have the same effect on communities and individuals as do sins. Tragedies and sins both render impotent and possibly destroy loyal and loving relations. Consequently, they both damage the meaning-making process. Ontologically, these events are similar – they are permanent insofar as they cannot be undone, and they are destructive. The sinner is confined to her enduring guilt and the victim is consumed by the tragic event. I have argued that without acts of grace and atonement by the community, the sinner cannot move beyond her guilt such that she understands her existence and action in an organizing framework. Similarly, the person encountering tragedy is confined to the event and cannot make sense of or fully explain the event or experience in isolation without some effort on behalf of his or her community. The communal response must include grace and an action structurally similar to atonement if the suffering individual is to overcome the tragic event.
The Idealization of Suffering and Sorrow
Just as atonement cannot erase the sin, but instead attempts an imperfect but ameliorative reconciliation of sinner to wounded community and betterment of both, we may find the seeds of a better world in the wreckage of tragic and evil events. This is not a naively optimistic view, for the scars acquired due to tragedy are real and permanent, and shape whatever future is to come. But the future is in part determined by our deliberate and directed response to the tragedy, and Royce urges us to utilize the darkest moments as sources of insight. He understands that suffering is real, and in no way suggests a Pollyannaish response that denies the existence of evil and tragedy. Instead, he suggests that we open ourselves to that which suffering may reveal to us and choose our path from there.
When tragedy befalls one, and one truly suffers, one may at the same time catch glimpses of something larger than oneself. The event that one finds tragic is experienced as tragic precisely because the event is experienced as disruptive of a larger framework (one’s devotions, life plan, and attending communities). Consequently, while the tragedy may serve to initially blind one to and disconnect one from community, it may, upon reflection, also reveal the framework against which the particular event is felt to be tragic. That one loses may engender recognition of what was lost. If one loses a home due to a natural disaster, the importance of that home may be more apparent in its absence than it was in its presence. It is not the case that the object lost was not important prior to the tragedy – it most certainly was, hence the tragedy. But the tragedy and subsequent grief and suffering may reveal the complexities or the depths of the dedication to and appreciation of the lost object that were previously unrecognized or unacknowledged. The felt sense of loss may illuminate the level of devotion to the object grieved. Royce explains, “The depth of despair shows the grandeur of what has been missed” (Sources 67). Tragedy and the suffering that attends the tragic may provide new opportunities to find meaning. This does not mean that we can make all tragedies meaningful; rather, we can reclaim or create meaning in the ashes of disaster.
It should go without saying that not all ills, ailments or accidents are of the sort that they reveal to us our devotions or that we cannot wish the incident removed. The events that do reveal one’s loyalties are events that are truly experienced as tragic, evil, and devastating. These events, sorrows according to Royce, are devastating because they cut to the core of our loyalties and in so doing reveal them to us: “By sorrow, then, I here mean an experience of ill which is not wholly an experience of that which as you then and there believe ought to be simply driven out of existence” (Sources 240).
I have argued (using Royce) that loyalty and grace are necessary relations for understanding and meaning. I have made the empirical claim (following Royce), that human nature includes fallibility and finitude. I have also shown the need for atonement (both individual and community need atonement if they are to move through the sin and return to a meaningful state of affairs). I have shown sin and tragedy to be at least ontologically, if not experientially, similar insofar as they are both markers of human imperfection and tend to sever the individual from the meaning-making capacities of the community (recall the definition of evil provided earlier). And while tragedy may provide insight into one’s loyalties and life plan, this insight in itself does not necessarily provide direction since it cannot reconnect individual and community. So, as was the case of the sinner, the community must extend its grace to the person suffering tragedy. In the case of tragedy, the grace is not experienced as forgiveness, for there is no act requiring it. Rather, the grace is felt to be love, welcome and acceptance. Further, we need some ameliorative action that can mend the meaning-making structure of the community that the tragedy seems to fracture. Just as the community must act to mend itself as a community in the face of sin, its response is also crucial in recovery from tragedy. Royce explains:
As our knowledge of such [tragic] ills grows clearer, we commonly find that there is, indeed, something about them, as they at any one moment appear to us, which ought, indeed, to be annulled, set aside, destroyed. But this annulling of one momentary or at least transient aspect of the ill is but part, in such cases, of a constructive process, which involves growth rather than destruction – a passage to a new life rather than a casting wholly out of life. Such ills we remove only in so far as we assimilate them, idealise them, take them up into the plan of our lives, give them meaning, set them in their place in the whole. (Sources 235, emphasis added)
Notice that in both the instance of sin and tragedy, the community must extend itself and act even though it is not to blame for the state of affairs in which it finds itself. We may blame sinner or circumstance, but the community must act for its own sake and well being, as well as the vitality of its members. The issue is not whether the community may hold an individual responsible, but what the community must do to mend itself and ensure its own continued existence as a meaningful community. The individual remains impotent in this regard. As was the case in coping with sin, if the individual and community are to reconcile themselves to a particular tragedy and suffering experienced due to it, the community must both extend its grace to the suffering individual and creatively idealize the event. Because the tragedy is not the result of conscious forgetting, there is no need for “atonement.” But idealization plays the same role as atonement – it is an account of the tragedy as well as a situating of the tragedy in a larger framework such that a meaningful story can be told about it. Further, the idealization of tragedy and suffering must, as in atonement, be a creative, imaginative act and cannot therefore be prescribed in advance of the particular tragedy to which the community is responding.
Atonement and idealization are both require genius. Sometimes the required creative act can’t be found and the community remains damaged or estranged. Nonetheless, the idealization of tragedy is an ideal we pursue, an event that must occur if we are to be saved.
I have explicated Royce’s doctrines of grace and atonement, and have built upon this framework to develop a prescriptive claim about the ways in which we must act when faced with tragedy rather than sin. Specifically, I have argued that the idealization of suffering and sorrow (that is, the creative placement of a particular sorrow in a larger communal framework) serves the same function as atonement – it rebuilds the ties between community and individual that are damaged in the tragedy. In other words, such idealization is what allows persons to find meaning amidst evils. This does not remove the evil event; I have chosen the word “scar” to describe the mark left by the evil or tragic or sinful event because it implies the imperfect healing of a wound, but a healing nonetheless, which is the best we can hope for in our imperfect and troubled world.
Royce, Josiah. The Sources of Religious Insight. 1912. Washington D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2001.
Royce, Josiah. The World and the Individual: Nature, Man, and the Moral Order. Vol. 2. New York: The MacMillan Company, 1904.
Smith, John E. Royce's Social Infinite. Archon Books, 1969.
Kegley, Jacquelyn Ann K. "Grace, the Moral Gap, and Royce's Beloved Community." Journal of Speculative Philosophy 18.3 (2004): 171-83.
Royce, Josiah. The Problem of Christianity. 1913. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2001.
 “The deeper tragedies of life largely result from this our narrowness of view” (Sources 49).
 Smith claims, “Sin, for Royce as well as for classical Christianity, means the separation of the sinner from the ideal which is both his guide in life (ethical) and that which gives his life meaning and purpose (religious)” (Smith 149). This seems to me a forced bifurcation of the ideal. Royce’s project can be read as an attempt to show that ethics and religion are simply different ways of framing the (one) pursuit of salvation.
 Kegley claims that there are two kinds of sin for Royce: the first is the forgetfulness I have characterized here, and the second is “the sin of pride, the lack of humility about our limited grasp of truth and reality” (Kegley 174). This second type of sin, however, seems just a specific instance of the first: the Ought that is forgotten in the sin of pride is an awareness and understanding of our limitation.
 Kegley characterizes Christian sin as an action that “negates one’s status as a child of God. Thus to act in an immoral or nonspiritual manner is to negate or act against one’s essential nature” (Kegley 171). Royce would disagree with this characterization. Human nature is a finite one, although at the same time both savable and worth saving. Royce might actually say that to sin is to act in accordance with one’s nature, not against it.
 Kegley reads treason as a particular and the worst kind of sin (Kegley 179). If sin is conscious forgetfulness or intentional ignorance, however, all sins, as I have argued, are instances of treason.
 It seems that for an act to be understood as one of betrayal there is a certain amount of reflection involved necessarily. Naming something as treasonous requires one recognize relation between the action and ideal betrayed, which is a reflective act. If this relation is not apparent (or does not exist), then we say the act was misguided or in error. This does not mean, however, that every person recognizes his or her betrayal as such immediately or individually. Sometimes it will only be recognized as betrayal when the loyal but broken relation of is pointed out or illuminated by another (community or person).
 See Smith, 154: “Sin destroys the community” (emphasis in the original).
 If one wishes to find an “absolute” in Royce that does not change through time, this may be it: the irrevocability of deeds. They remain always and in this sense are absolute (although of course interpretations of the event may vary).
 I do not mean to introduce or imply a fixed and rigid distinction between these categories. As Hurricane Katrina has shown, culpability may coincide with tragedy such that the suffering of the victims/survivors is drastically intensified. Circumstances may turn a mistake into criminal liability, and actions exist in a complex web such that we may not recognize or be able to assign blame when it does, in fact exist (perhaps defrayed across many persons, or simply hidden for a few). I introduce the distinction for purposes of analysis and recognize the blurred boundary existing between them.