FORGIVENESS AND TRUST
Richard H. Toenjes
I have always enjoyed working with wood because it is so forgiving. If you make a mistake with wood you can glue it back or sand it out; wood forgives in ways that glass, metal, or concrete do not. Some people are forgiving, others merciless and unforgiving. Without thinking about it much, most of us will prefer the forgiving to the unforgiving, finding comfort and intimacy with the forgiving, coldness and estrangement from the unforgiving. But is forgiveness a virtue and a character trait to admire? In what follows I want to argue that (a) our common sense admiration of forgiveness as a virtue comes largely from confusing forgiveness with other phenomena, such as tolerance or mercy; (b) forgiveness understood in terms of rational moral principles (perhaps not in terms of an ethics of care) is often not so much a virtue as it is a weakness or even a vice, because it involves condoning moral evil; and (c) the phenomenon of virtuous forgiveness involves a particular mode of transcending the limits of reason and morality, something ordinarily discussed in terms of an existentialist "self-overcoming" (Nietzsche) or a "suspension of the ethical" (Kierkegaard).
In the investigation of forgiveness we will discover the centrality of trust between persons. It is through the focal point of trust in forgiveness, that applications to human relations (including personal and societal relationships) can be made.
II. WHAT FORGIVENESS IS AND IS NOT
According to Bishop Butler, forgiveness is the forswearing of resentment, the resolute overcoming of the anger and hatred that are naturally directed toward a person who has done one an unjustified and non-excused moral injury." Let us note three essential components of the arena in which forgiveness operates: there is (a) a moral injury I have suffered, (b) my anger, hatred, and resentment in reaction to the injury, and (c) the object of the anger hatred or resentment, the agent responsible for the injury (who might be me myself, in cases where I forgive myself). When I forgive, I make a choice or engage in a process of forswearing the resentment and overcoming the anger directed toward the person who has done me a moral injury.
This initial characterization allows us to distinguish forgiveness from other phenomena with which it is commonly confused. I will do this by sorting through the conventional wisdom on forgiveness, analyzing a number of common maxims and injunctions.
1. "Forgive and forget" (Forget)
We often hear the injunction to "forgive and forget" others for the wrong they do to us. The injunction is not redundant, it clearly distinguishes forgetting from forgiving; and it clearly puts forgiveness before forgetting. It is instructive to elaborate the wisdom in this distinction and the serial ordering which puts forgiveness before forgetting. Forgiveness is not amnesia.
To begin with, forgetting is largely a passive process which happens to us when some event in the past slips out of our memory. Forgiveness is an active process, a choice we make. (The complex ways in which forgetting might be a semi-conscious decision will not alter the lessons we can draw from the injunction "forgive and forget."). Furthermore, if the event or the harm is forgotten, it cannot function in the intentional structure of the act of forgiveness: I cannot forswear the resentment or overcome the anger directed at the person who harms me if I don't remember the harm. Nor can I forgive you if I don't recall that it was you who caused the injury. In fact, I suspect that the force or strength in the resolution to overcome the anger and resentment will be directly proportional, not inversely proportional to, the vividness of the memory of the harm. The more vividly I remember, the stronger is my resolve to overcome the anger and resentment in forgiveness. And forgetting is sometimes a virtue in itself. After a loss it is often good advice to simply "forget it and move on." Whatever virtue is here, however, it is not forgiveness.
2. "Forgive her, she didn't know what she was doing." Forgive him, he
couldn't help himself. (Excuse)
Forgiveness operates only in the arena of moral injury. We can't forgive nature or the world for storms and earthquakes unless we think these are "acts of god." (It is interesting to note that the western theological problem of the existence of evil can be expressed subjectively as the question whether we can forgive god.) Because forgiveness presupposes moral injury, moral excuses make forgiveness inoperative.
Ordinarily moral excuse is based on either ignorance or inability: "She didn't know what she was doing," or "He couldn't help himself."
Why do we sometimes confuse excuse with forgiveness? Let's look at a typical and simple case: In my haste to finish grocery shopping I accidentally bump my cart into your ankle causing you a sharp pain. Is "Excuse me" in order, or is "Forgive me" called for? The question turns on moral responsibility or culpability. Did I intend to harm you with malevolence? No, but didn't I fail to exercise proper regard for your ankles as I did my shopping? Did I know your ankle was in my way? No, but shouldn't I have checked first? And so forth. We commonly confuse excuse with forgiveness in such cases because we cannot and need not sharply distinguish the culpable form the inculpable ignorance, we cannot sharply distinguish innocent unawareness of other's needs from a culpable callousness or undue selfishness. But more importantly, from the perspective of the injured victim now being asked to excuse or forgive, the choice and resolve are nearly identical. Whether you choose to excuse my ignorance or forgive my injury, you'll have to set aside and overcome the reactions you're having to being struck in the ankle. And you will have to change your attitude toward me, from seeing me as the source of your sore ankle, to seeing me as something other than or more than merely the cause of your pain.
The reason we so easily equate forgiveness and excuse is because the effort needed to overcome the reaction to the injury and to embrace the agent in a larger view (as not morally responsible) can be so great as to make the distinction between excusing and forgiving insignificant. Consider the story of Jesus when he says about his executioners, "Forgive them, they know not what they do." If they truly don't know, they can't be forgiven, only excused. But the effort needed to either forgive or to excuse someone torturing you makes the technical distinction not worth pressing. Or consider the victims of crime involving drugs and alcohol (a recent report claims that 80% of all prisoners were involved in alcohol or drugs). To some extent it is true that addicts do not choose their addiction; nor do they deliberately choose the results of addiction, at least not in a deliberate premeditated way. But their victims are just as dead or disfigured. To excuse the criminal on grounds of diminished capacity is as difficult as forgiving, when the heart of the matter is the harm done.
3. "I'm sorry it hurt, but it had to be done." (Justification)
Sometimes we hurt others in ways that appear to be morally wrong, but upon analysis turn out to be justified. Corporal punishment of children, if it is justified, would be a case where we might confuse forgiveness with justification. The child being punished cannot properly forgive the parent if the punishment is justified. Justification is similar to excuse because in order to recognize the justification of what appeared to be a moral injury, one with have to overcome the immediate reaction and take the larger perspective in which (as in the case of excuse) the action is understood as not merely one of moral injury.
4. "I'm sorry, don't hurt me, forgive me and have mercy." (Mercy)
"President Ford forgives Nixon"
"Holocaust survivors forgive Nazis"
"Parents and citizen in Paducah forgive Michael Carneal"
Can Ford forgive Nixon, can holocaust survivors or the relatives of those killed in Oklahoma City forgive, can the parents of the girls shot this Christmas at a prayer meeting in the Paducah high-school forgive Michael Carneal who killed them? (Many in the town say they do forgive Carneal.) I am reminded of Dostoyevsky's account narrated by Ivan in The Brothers Karamatzov of a General whose hound was injured by a young boy. The General ordered the boy to be torn to pieces by his dogs in front of the boy's mother. Ivan says, "I do not want a mother to embrace the torturer who had her child torn to pieces by his dogs! She has no right to forgive him! If she likes, she can forgive him for herself, she can forgive the torturer for the immeasurable suffering he has inflicted upon her as a
mother; but she has no right to forgive him for the sufferings of her
tortured child. She has no right to forgive the torturer for that, even if her child were to forgive him!"
I want to call attention to two points in these examples. First, it seems Dostoyevsky is right that only the injured party can forgive the agent. Among the arguments and considerations supporting this piece of conventional wisdom is the fact that forgiveness is a choice or process of overcoming the resentment and anger at moral injury. A third party is not the victim, except to the extent empathy with the suffering of others is itself a harm. The general who tortured the boy, also tortured the mother. (While I think these claims are correct, it is worth noting that there will be unforgiven and unforgivable crimes, whenever the victim dies without forgiving the criminal. Can anyone, then, ever forgive the criminal? Can he ever forgive himself?)
So Ford can't forgive Nixon. By and large, holocaust survivors cannot forgive the Nazis. And by and large the good citizens of Paducah cannot forgive Michael Corneal. When we speak of forgiveness in such cases, it is probably mercy that we actually have (or should have) in mind.
Mercy differs from forgiveness in that mercy is a mode of behavior, forgiveness a mode of feeling toward a person. Mercy is a way I treat you; I refrain from imposing rightful demands which I am in a rightful position to impose. While Ford can't forgive Nixon, as empowered by the constitution, Ford can decide to show mercy, to refrain from imposing consequences he's authorized to impose. The distinction between forgiveness and mercy illuminates the fact that forgiveness isn't a matter of action, but a matter of an attitude or a feeling toward the agent. Mercy is the opposite, it is action with or without any particular feeling toward the agent. I can show mercy and not forgive, I can forgive but not show mercy.
5. "Stop making yourself miserable. Put the past behind you, and move on to a happier tomorrow." (Therapy)
People who live with positive attitudes toward others and the future are obviously happier on balance than those who live with negative attitudes toward others and the past. Without exception, the psychological literature advocates that victims put the past hurt behind them and get on with their lives. "There's no use crying over spilled milk." Anger and resentment will not repair the past nor make for a brighter future. In fact, in anger and resentment over past injury a person can easily fail in other moral responsibilities, to friends and family, for example. It is clear, however, that in getting over anger and resentment for the sake of personal happiness or even for the sake of the good of others, one is not forgiving the person who did the injury. In the process of such healing there is no forswearing of resentment or overcoming of anger toward the agent; as was the case with forgetting, therapy lacks the intentional structure of forgiveness.
III. FORGIVENESS AS WEAKNESS AND VICE
If we separate forgiveness from admirable phenomena, stripping it away from some of the ordinary virtues with which it is sometimes mixed up (forgetting, excuse, justification, mercy, therapeutic healing), we can ask whether forgiveness itself really is admirable as a virtue. It seems not to be because:
When I forgive you, I overcome the resentment and anger at you for the moral injury you caused me, and I overcome this in a re-definition or re-apprehension of the agent, in which the negative attitude shifts to positive or at least neutral feelings.
It appears (1) that the change of attitude from resentment and anger to the acceptance or affirmation involved in forgiveness is a matter of condoning evil. I am apparently saying something like, "The injury you did to me (the action) or you who did it (the agent) are now acceptable to me--no longer objects for anger and resentment." To say that is to condone the evil. Furthermore (2) in forgiving, I may be failing to respect myself as worthy of decent treatment. Victims of domestic violence as a class probably illustrate this problem. Telling the battered wife to forgive and turn the other cheek is outrageous. In addition (3) forgiveness might involve disrespect for the agent. In forgiving you I might be saying something like, "My forgiveness will show you what a noble person I am whom you have harmed. You'll be humbled at my virtue, or you'll be brought to repent injuring such a fine person." Forgiveness, in other words, might involve a belittling of the agent, or an attempt at manipulating the agent into repentance. If so, forgiveness is as vicious as other forms of denigration or manipulation. I must confess my suspicion of the good people in Paducah. In their instantaneous forgiveness of Michael Carneal they are refuting any hope he had of making them angry or making them suffer. If he intended to hurt the righteous prayer-group supporters, they frustrate him in their choice not to react in anger and hatred. Is it clear there is any virtue in any of this?
IV. JUSTIFICATIONS OF FORGIVENESS
Can forgiveness ever be virtuous? The answer can be "yes" only if we can forgive without condoning evil, without failing to respect ourselves and others as free and equal persons. And forgiveness can be a virtue only if it is forgiveness (and not something else, such as mercy or therapeutic healing). There are a number of ways in which these moral constraints can be satisfied.
1. "Hate the sin, love the sinner" (Separate the agent from the action)
Apparently we can avoid vice in forgiveness if we can isolate and locate the appropriate moral blame on the past action, or on the agent in a previous role, while apprehending the present situation and the agent before us now as distinct from the blameworthy past.
(a) Repentance: This is exactly what happens when the agent confesses and repents of a crime. In repentance one is saying, "I who stand before you now, join with you in condemning the action and the agent (me) who morally injured you." The repentant will ordinarily exhibit a range of emotions and behaviors to confirm the separation of the present and the past. In the present feelings of guilt and remorse there is a separation of present negative feelings with the past intent to do the evil deed. The penitent might seek to make restitution and thus repair the past damage, behavior clearly distinct from the behavior of causing the original damage.
And in a contrite resolution the repentant says "I promise I'll not do it
again." Here the person before us affirms a plan for the future which contradicts the course of the past when the injury was done.
We will come back repentance as the clearest case in which the agent present is separated from the act and agent past. But there are other cases where a similar differentiation exists.
(b) Suffering and humiliation: Sometimes wrongdoers suffer greatly as a consequence of their actions. Public humiliation, loss of stature or money and power might be sever. The suffering or humiliation might be so great that those injured might see the present humiliated and suffering person as quite different from the one who harmed them. The agent's pain might guarantee that past action is no longer endorsed.
But this separation of the present agent from the past is necessary, not sufficient. In repentance, humiliation and suffering, it may be possible to forgive (the necessary conditions being met), but should I forgive? Is forgiveness a virtue (in addition to other virtues such as mercy and forgetting).
2. Necessary Conditions are not Sufficient Reasons to forgive
We might be tempted to think if all conditions are clearly met we owe forgiveness. If the agent repents, suffers, and makes full restitution and compensation, surely we ought to forgive. But this would reduce forgiveness to justice. More seriously, it would assume that the moral injury really has been repaired, in which case it no longer exists. If the injury no longer exists, there can be no resentment or anger at it, and hence no overcoming and forgoing. Conventional wisdom seems correct, then, in seeing forgiveness as a gift, an act of supererogation and not as a duty.
But this is not all. If the necessary conditions of forgiveness are met, and if there is no duty to forgive, is there any reason at all to forgive? Again, healing, health and happiness are reasons; but since therapy or forgetfulness (and even condoning the original evil) can accomplish these ends as well, is there any distinctive reason for forgiveness itself? One answer is that forgiveness is the only rational response, at least in cases of genuine remorse and repentance.
(a) Forgiveness as the rational and appropriate response: If the person before me is contritely begging for forgiveness, sincerely expressing remorse for what was done, making reparations, and resolving to change his ways, then it seems irrational to treat that person as if none of this is relevant--to treat the person the same as when there is no remorse or reparation. But this isn't as obvious as it might seem. First, there is a risk in forgiving others their injuries, because in forswearing the anger and hatred I am giving up a defense shield against future harm. Obviously one who is too quick to forgive will become easy prey in the future. In forgiving the repentant, therefore, we must make the judgment that not only is the harm and the evil agent in the past, but that the rational definition of the situation is to apprehend the agent present before me promising to mend his ways as the correct apprehension. It is here, for the first time in this analysis, that the centrality of trust in forgiveness appears. For it is precisely trust in the agent-future, and not historical judgment of the agent-past which forgiveness involves. Even the attempt to claim that reason requires treating the present agent-repentant as the appropriate apprehension of the situation is to smuggle in trust in the agent-future rather than dwelling on the agent's past history as the appropriate apprehension.
(b) Forgiveness as a law in Kant's kingdom of ends: There may be more reason to forgive and trust the future (i.e., not to persist in anger and resentment at the past) than appears when looking only at pairs of individuals, the victim and the agent. Knowing as we do that we have and will harm others (none of us is "in-nocent"), reason itself will show us that a community in which harm can be forgiven (under careful limits) is better than one in which injury results in inexpiable anger and resentment. Unfortunately, this attempt to make forgiveness the rational choice and continued resentment the less rational alternative fares the same as it does with pairs of individuals. To think the world which includes forgiveness is better than one without it, is to trust in the promise and resolve people make in repentance, and it is to discount or hold irrelevant the past record of injury. Whether we advocate forgiving a repentant individual or a community which forgives transgression, we necessarily emphasize trust in the future over anger at the past when we advocate forgiveness as a virtue.
V. FORGIVENESS AS TRUST
My goal in the foregoing has been to zero in on and illuminate the centrality of trust in forgiveness. I now want to examine trust itself. We will find that the way trust functions in forgiveness confirms a point about human nature which existentialists have made for some time: human nature is capable of "self-overcoming," a particular mode of transcending the limits of reason and morality itself.
Let us return to the least problematic case of virtuous forgiveness--a case of genuine repentance. Let's say I am your spouse. I have intentionally harmed you by betraying your trust and confidence in an adulterous affair which lead to several years of lies and deceptions, financial losses, etc. But now I have confessed, have made all the amends conceivable, and have resolved never to be unfaithful again. I don't dissemble or waffle telling you things like "I don't know how I could have become so involved." I own up fully, saying "I did become so involved, I knew it was wrong and would hurt you, but I chose myself over you and our marriage, and so forth. But I now humbly beg for your forgiveness; I don't say I deserve it, but I'm doing all I can to repay or repair the harm; and I totally renounce the person who did that.
For you to forgive me, given this confession, repentance, and resolution, is for you to trust me to continue in this new path, to continue putting the past behind me, to continue to make repairs or amends where appropriate, and most importantly to continue the resolution to be a faithful spouse in the future. Thus, when you overcome the resentment and anger at the moral injury I caused you, you reserve moral blame for my past actions and my past self, but affirm in benevolence my present and resolute future actions and person. The past moral injury is not condoned but remains condemned. The present and future person, who is not ultimately or completely defined by its past, is embraced in a new way, one in which the relationship can be repaired and recreated.
We are now in the center of the investigation: What is the nature of the trust involved in forgiveness here?
1. "Believing that I will do what you expect" and "Believing in me as a person." (Believing that and Believing in)
When we trust, we obviously believe that the object of trust will perform or behave in ways we predict and expect. The cowboy's trusty rifle and horse, like "Old Faithful" in Yellowstone Park, receive our trust because their past records provide reliable bases for predicting future performance. It is very important to note the difference between trusting objects such as a rifle, a geyser, and even a horse to perform as expected, (call this "object trust") and trusting a person to keep a promise or to maintain the contrite resolve involved in repentance and forgiveness. The essence of object trust is the rational prediction that the horse or the geyser will continue to perform as they have in the past. The value of the trust is the truth value of the proposition I believe, "that the geyser will spout at noon." One of the biggest mistakes we make in understanding human trust relationships is the tendency to reduce human trust to "object trust," the tendency to reduce, for example, the trust involved in forgiveness, to object trust. This reduction happens when we understand the trust you have when forgiving me to be essentially a belief and prediction that I will continue my contrite attitude and my resolve to mend my ways. What is the difference between such object trust and trust in a person? Let me build toward that answer through a series of reflections.
(a) Disappointment and Betrayal: Objects disappoint us, people let us down (even betray us) when the propositions believed true prove false. The distinction here is not one of degree or intensity, it is a difference in kind. Imagine we are shipwrecked at sea, floating in the water holding a piece of driftwood to keep us up, We trust the float, we hope and believe that it will continue to support us, we do all we can to ensure our safety, and we are gravely disappointed if the piece of driftwood sinks. You would also say the driftwood let us down; but this is different entirely from being let down in betrayal. Imagine instead that we are in life raft and it springs a leak. We are objectively "let down" as before, but to the extent the promise of safety built into a life raft is broken, we are betrayed and "let down" in a personal or existential sense.
The point is that with objects there are predictions, true and false beliefs. Our vulnerability to being "let down" by an object is an objective fact, but not a matter of personal betrayal. There is no promise or covenant between persons and objects. In particular, you do not open yourself and make yourself vulnerable to objects the way you do when you rely on my concern and benevolence toward you in maintaining the trust, promises and commitments between us. Even if your physical life depends on the object, your conscious, personal existence do not depend on objects in the same way (except as physically necessary conditions). I don't know how further to identify this difference between object trust (involving belief that such or so will happen) and trust in persons (involving a belief in her or him as a person, not an object.) But one further reflection might help to point to, if not define, the difference.
I can become so dependent as a person on some future objective fact, that indeed nature or the world can seem to betray me just as a person can betray me. Imagine I am invalid with some debilitating and painful disease; I have pinned all my hopes on recovery which is promised by a certain medical treatment. I might have a range of "object trust" constituted by a number objective beliefs such as "The pain will subside in three days," and "I will be able to walk next week." We pin our hopes on all kinds of object trust, believing that the future will bring such and so. The world or nature can let me down and betray me, to the extent that I have integrated portions of these objective beliefs into the fabric of my identity and personal existence. For the invalid, three days have past and the pain is still there; a week has passed and I'm still confined to bed. I can easily feel the bitterness of betrayal, beyond any degree of disappointment that certain propositions I entertained about the future have turned out to be false. Despair, suicide, or re-construction of personal existence without dependence on the false objective beliefs become issues for the invalid. But I use this reflection to point to and perhaps characterize a bit more the distinction I am making between object trust involving propositional beliefs (believing that such and so with happen) and trust in persons, believing in a person, such that you are vulnerable or dependent on the care and benevolence of the other to keep the promises on which your existence significantly depends.
In the example of marital infidelity. When you forgive me, you will have to move beyond the limits of rational beliefs and predictions of my future behavior, as you decide to discount the value of truths about my past record and trust me to keep my promises. This was the conclusion of Part IV. Here I have distinguished between object trust (believing that something will happen, which can end in disappointment) and trust in persons (a choice, as in forgiveness, to discount the past and to rely on another's benevolence in keeping promises, a choice which moves beyond rational predictions, and which makes one vulnerable to being let down or betrayed).
(b) Contracts and other artifacts: When the cowboy trusts his rifle he predicts it will work, based on past performance. The rancher also trusts the cowboy's rifle, as the rifle enforces sales contracts and agreements they make. Contracts with people seem to make it rational to discount or go beyond the confines of past history in the expectation of future benevolent and beneficent behavior. The contract does this not merely by predicting the future based on the past, but by influencing the future through actions taken in the present. When I sign on the dotted line, I tell you exactly what you can expect me to do, and what you can do against me if I fail to perform. My past performance might figure in, of course; I might have a record of keeping my promises and paying my debts. And if I don't, the contract can be strengthened to make it rational to discount my bad credit history. My past performance also figures in as you predict that I will take measures to avoid the penalties I will suffer for breach of contract.
Contracts cannot, however, make it rational for you to discount my past infidelity and to trust my promise to remain faithful. That is, the notion of a contractual agreement will not succeed in making it rational to trust me in forgiveness. This is because contracts actually rationalize human relationships too much.
I beg your forgiveness and promise fidelity. You say, "How can I trust you?" Most of the available answers here will beg the critical question. Most answers will ask you to trust my word, or my honor, or to trust my care for your happiness, and so forth. The past record makes it less than rational to choose the future resolution as if there is no past. You might continue, "Prove it." Now I'll have to select something from my past record on the basis of which I can create a guarantee of future performance. I respond: "You know how I love my mountain resort and how I plan to retire and end my days there. I'll sign a contract that should I ever betray you, you will become exclusive owner of the resort." It seems now that it is rational for you to discount my past and to trust me in forgiveness.
(c) The Dark side of contracts: Notice what we have lost in our relationship, as we demand in reason a guarantee of future performance as a condition of trust and forgiveness. First, we have made forgiveness impossible. Justice is now the ruling moral principle. We entered an agreement which we have a duty to comply with. You are not forgiving me at all, you are not forgoing any of resentment or overcoming any kind of anger. Rather, you are substituting guaranteed results (either fidelity or a mountain resort) for anger and resentment. The degree to which this is reasonable is the degree to which your choice has nothing at all to do with forgiveness and trust. You believe that I'll keep my word, but you do not believe in me as a person.
Furthermore, our relationship has become constrained and manipulative, to the extent that it is essentially a contractual tit-for-tat business of guarantees. We cannot properly "give" each other anything; there are no gifts because everything is a down-payment or a re-payment.
Each of us will feel bound up in a network of obligations set down in our past agreements. We will properly feel we are like slaves or inanimate objects, precisely because in fact all beliefs between us are object beliefs, believing that such and such will happen. This is not a picture of trust, but of its opposite, distrust.
(d) The social contract: The discussion of contracts in (b) and (c) above suggest the need to examine the supposed virtue of society based on contract. Our understanding of liberal democracy since Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Kant, and Rawls involves a fundamentally contractualist conception of our basic social relations. But if contracts function to make explicit exactly what we can count on other people to do, in return for what, and what damages can be extracted if they fail, what kind of human community do we have? On its face it looks like a system for cooperation between mutually suspicious, risk-averse strangers of roughly equal power to extract damages. Described that way, liberal contractualist social arrangements invite a wide range of critique. These will have to wait for another day.
VI. SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION
Forgiveness will not work or be recognizable as such without trust. Trust will not work or be recognizable as such if it is limited by rationality--if the only times I can trust are times when I have a reason or justification. Therefore, forgiveness will not work if the only times I can forgive (myself or others) are times when there is reason or justification to do so. Even in repentance, forgiveness must go beyond the predictable behavior in the repentant. If limited to the predictable, there's no resolve, no change of heart. At most there would be an objective change--like getting your untrusty rifle repaired. To get beyond the predictable, we see forgiveness as operating in the arena of a promise or a resolve. Even here, the resolve cannot be trusted on the basis of past actions, because this would reduce it to just another prediction. If we think the contract binds us as a rational agents, we fail to see the dark side of contracts--the way contracts reduce us to slave or object status.
The existentialist tradition has a view of human nature which the phenomenon of forgiveness as trust illustrates and confirms. This is the capacity of "self-overcoming" (Nietzsche), a choice akin to a "suspension of the ethical" (Kierkegaard). In forgiveness as trust, after all confusion and unclarity is stripped away, we find a choice to convert (in Nietzsche's phrase) "thus it was" (i.e.,the injury) into "thus I would have it" (i.e., a part of my life which I affirm). This is to transcend the limits of morality andrationality itself.
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Murphy, Jeffery G., and Hampton, Jean. 1988. Forgiveness and Mercy. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Smedes, Lewis B. 1984. Forgive and Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don't Deserve. New York, NY. Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc.