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Eamon Arasbard

Forgiveness

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This is one I've been struggling with lately. In AS, during the first scene where Rearden first meets Francisco, there's a point where Rearden -- at the time believing that Francisco is the bad guy -- makes the following comment to Francisco:

 

 

I can forgive all those others... But you -- You're the kind who can't be forgiven.

 

And Francisco's response:

 

 

It is against the sin of forgiveness that I wanted to warn you.

 

Now, I do agree that there are certain contexts in which forgiveness is inappropriate. If I confront someone about an offense they've committed, and they don't own up to it, then of course I shouldn't just let it go. And of course this particular excerpt is a reference a comment that's to the world AS is taking place in, where people like Rearden are being forced to sacrifice themselves for everyone else, while the rest of the world feeds off them. I do not believe that life in the world today is this way for most people.

 

But at what point should you forgive someone? I don't think it's fair to hold a grudge against someone forever, or that it's in your own self-interest -- especially if it's someone close to you. Everyone screws up sometimes, so if you hold everything against everyone forever, then you're going to end up alienating everyone in your life.

 

And if it's when they take responsibility for their actions after being confronted, what about before you confront them? I guess the answer would be that you should judge their actions objectively, and make an appropriate judgment of the degree to which you should hold it against them, until you've talked to them. But anyway, what does everyone else think?

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Some have criticized Oism saying that Ms. Rand has left out of her ethical theory the possibility of redemption. Its a topic I've been spending some time contemplating. The claim is that in her novels are examples of errors of knowledge being forgiven-suffered, but not moral errors. I have only begun to evaluate this claim.

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... ... at what point should you forgive someone?

If someone has genuinely recognized an earlier wrong-doing, and has also changed and tried to compensate for it, it makes sense to judge him now for what he is now. I suppose that's what we mean by forgiveness.

There's a related action where one can "let go of the past"... giving up anger about the past that is debilitating in your present; but, that's different from forgiveness. If someone did me an injury from evil motives or from negligence, I will be angry at him. Anger is a good thing, because it is an emotion that flows from some value held (a value that has been threatened or damaged). However, if one has done whatever one could do about the situation, then residual anger is pointless. Far easier said than done, and it's probably worse to repress it, but one really has to find a way to move on.

With true forgiveness, one is probably willing to have some type of ongoing relationship with the person. In some cases, one might do this even if the other person does not understand or acknowledge that they did something wrong... as long as you judge that they thought they were not doing something wrong.

 

Of course, the notion of forgiving people willy-nilly, because "who am I to judge" is wrong. You could call that flavor the Objectivist "sin of forgiveness". 

 

In the paragraph quoted, Rearden is correct in his method: he can more easily forgive people who did not know better than someone who clearly did. When I first read it, I thought Rand might be making a statement against all forgiveness. It is the wording that does it. She takes something that is considered a virtue in an ideology that glorifies "turning the other cheek", and she labels it: "sin". The shock value is a bit similar to taking the hero Robin Hood and saying you want to "destroy" him "until the last trace of him is wiped out of men's minds". 

 

There comes a point when Rearden's wife asks for forgiveness. Now, we see a situation where it is inappropriate to forgive, and Rand shows Rearden recalling Fransico's warning about the "sin" of forgiveness.

Consider some other instances, where forgiveness passes by the reader with scant notice, but much more positively:

 

 

"Hello, Dagny," he said.

In a single shock of emotion, she knew everything the two words were intended to tell her. It was forgiveness, understanding, acknowledgment. It was a salute.

I say there might be forgiveness for a man who kills himself quietly. Who can pass judgment on another man's suffering...

But by the time he raised his head—and before he saw the look of admiration in her eyes, the open look he had begged for, the look of forgiveness—he destroyed his single moment's atonement by adding in a voice of drawing-room sarcasm...

"For twelve years," she said softly, "I would have thought it inconceivable that there might come a day when I would have to beg your forgiveness on my knees. Now I think it's possible. If I come to see that you're right, I will. But not until then."

Edited by softwareNerd

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I've reviewed those passages and I suggest caution in interpreting them. For example, the one who said "who can pass judgment" is not one of her heroes, its the Chief of Police from Durance.

 

The question remains, in any of the scenarios where forgiveness is granted, has the character committed moral error as opposed to errors of knowledge? One might consider the similar question in the history of philosophy of "to know the good, is to do it?"....The Last quote suggests obviously that Dagny wouldn't ask for forgiveness unless she understood she was acting from an error in knowledge.

Edited by Plasmatic

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I'm not sure exactly what Francisco means that quote, but I would apply it to how it is very common for "forgiveness" to be placed on such a high pedestal.

Hastening to forgive others without context seems to be a trait resulting from altruism. Perhaps that's why Francisco would warn Rearden about forgiveness?

 

Another point I like about forgiveness is something I used to hear a lot on the Dr. Laura radio show. People would often call in and ask if they should forgive so-in-so, and she would very often inquire whether the person even asked for forgiveness, pointing out that if someone hasn't asked you for forgiveness, how can you give it to them?

 

Thought provoking, but it was also just funny to hear the caller scramble to explain why they "felt" they should forgive.  :D 

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When somebody wrongs you, they owe you a moral debt. Forgiveness occurs when you absolve them of the debt they owe you.

 

Recognition of the debt, or repayment to the best of their ability, may encourage you to forgive the debt. However, these are not necessary conditions. You can absolve someone of their debt for any number of reasons and you can do it unilaterally.

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Robert said:
 
 

You can absolve someone of their debt for any number of reasons and you can do it unilaterally.

 

 

 

Yes, but why should one forgive? "When is forgiveness immorral?" seems to be the relevant question.

Edited by Plasmatic

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I think it is too fact-dependent and there are too many variables to boil it down to a single rule. It mostly has do with personal feelings and what your relationship is or could be with the person who wronged you. However, there could be an infinite number of factors affecting whether forgiveness is appropriate.

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I think it is too fact-dependent and there are too many variables to boil it down to a single rule. It mostly has do with personal feelings and what your relationship is or could be with the person who wronged you. However, there could be an infinite number of factors affecting whether forgiveness is appropriate.

 

And it definitely would not be in my self-interest to refuse to forgive anyone, ever, any more than it's in my self-interest to forgive everyone who commits a transgression.

 

I was just looking over SoftwareNerd's first reply, and I was wondering if he could elaborate on some of his points.

 

 

If someone has genuinely recognized an earlier wrong-doing, and has also changed and tried to compensate for it, it makes sense to judge him now for what he is now. I suppose that's what we mean by forgiveness.

 

There's a related action where one can "let go of the past"... giving up anger about the past that is debilitating in your present; but, that's different from forgiveness. If someone did me an injury from evil motives or from negligence, I will be angry at him. Anger is a good thing, because it is an emotion that flows from some value held (a value that has been threatened or damaged). However, if one has done whatever one could do about the situation, then residual anger is pointless. Far easier said than done, and it's probably worse to repress it, but one really has to find a way to move on.

 

Would this mean continuing the relationship if one believes that the other person recognizes their error and is taking steps to correct it, even if it is yet clear if the offender genuinely intends to change his or her behavior?

 

 

With true forgiveness, one is probably willing to have some type of ongoing relationship with the person. In some cases, one might do this even if the other person does not understand or acknowledge that they did something wrong... as long as you judge that they thought they were not doing something wrong.

 

In what cases would this be appropriate?

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If someone has genuinely recognized an earlier wrong-doing, and has also changed and tried to compensate for it, it makes sense to judge him now for what he is now. I suppose that's what we mean by forgiveness.

Well, it's not what the Bible means by it. At most, what is asked of people is to repent, before forgiveness (aside from verbally repenting, it's just mystical mumbo jumbo about the sacred healing power of God, faith, etc. that magically change people who embrace religion). None of htat means actual, observable, provable change.

Change is a difficult process, and proving that you have changed, again, takes time and a lot of interaction with the person who's supposed to re-evaluate you.

And it's the Bible that informs what most people mean by forgiveness, not a rational, well thought out definition of the concept, so it's safe to assume that forgiveness, as it is used today, is a "sin".

(P.S. I've read the rest of your post, so I realize you already said this. Just wanted to add the thing about the Bible)

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If someone has genuinely recognized an earlier wrong-doing, and has also changed and tried to compensate for it, it makes sense to judge him now for what he is now. I suppose that's what we mean by forgiveness.

Would this mean continuing the relationship if one believes that the other person recognizes their error and is taking steps to correct it, even if it is yet clear if the offender genuinely intends to change his or her behavior?

Yes, I'd say so... if the question is asked in the abstract. However, people do not often change behaviors easily, even if they mean to. (As evidence, see all the broken New Year's resolutions.) They often revert to older behavior. So, it might be appropriate to take a break from a relationship until the evidence is clear.

Before all this, the key question is: what positive do you get from the relationship? Take the stereo-typical example of a woman being beaten by her husband, but who keeps forgiving him. One ought to be getting some rational positive values from the other person, before beginning the analyse if you should forgive the negatives. 

 

In some cases, one might do this even if the other person does not understand or acknowledge that they did something wrong... as long as you judge that they thought they were not doing something wrong.

In what cases would this be appropriate?

Once again the starting point has to be the benefits / values that one gets from such a relationship. Though people's beliefs and actions are chosen and man-made, they're often not going to change. Therefore from your perspective, and within the limited context of whether you should deal with them, you have to accept the fact that they are who they are (like a metaphysical fact). Then, you have to decide how the positives and negatives balance each other.

Edited by softwareNerd

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Yes, I'd say so... if the question is asked in the abstract. However, people do not often change behaviors easily, even if they mean to.

 

It still seems like it would be to my benefit to give them the chance to change. Simply ending the relationship would mean throwing away something which could be positive. And even ending it temporarily could do a lot of damage, and make it harder to resume our friendship later on. Plus I dislike the idea of punishing someone unnecessarily to start with.

 

 

Before all this, the key question is: what positive do you get from the relationship? Take the stereo-typical example of a woman being beaten by her husband, but who keeps forgiving him. One ought to be getting some rational positive values from the other person, before beginning the analyse if you should forgive the negatives.

 

I would say that if someone is capable of resorting to physical violence simply out of anger, then it is probably a toxic relationship and should be immediately discarded. At best, the other person has acted in a way which requires serious atonement before the relationship can be resumed. I have a personally made the choice that if a woman ever slaps me, that will be end of our relationship, unless she makes a major commitment to changing her behavior.

 

I also think that, regardless of the positive benefits from a relationship, if someone is unwilling to change behavior which they know I find unacceptable, then the relationship should not continue. Continuing the relationship in this case means that I am giving someone else the right to treat my needs as unimportant, and any relationship constructed on that basis is toxic. (In fact, I did recently end a relationship with a female friend after she blatantly insulted me, then refused to take responsibility for it.)

 

On the other hand, I would say that any relationship is positive if the other person conducts himself in a respectful manner. I believe that everyone has some virtues, even if most people are flawed as well, and it is worth having a relationship with them in order to experience their virtues, as long as their flaws do not affect the way they treat me.

 

 

Therefore from your perspective, and within the limited context of whether you should deal with them, you have to accept the fact that they are who they are (like a metaphysical fact). Then, you have to decide how the positives and negatives balance each other.

 

Again, I would say that if the negatives include disrespecting me, and if they are unwilling to correct their behavior, then the relationship should end. On the other hand, I think it is rational to continue the relationship, and continue to forgive them, if they are making a legitimate effort to change their behavior.

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Here's another thing I've been thinking about on a related topic, which is making a distinction between someone who is flawed, but fundamentally moral, and someone who is fundamentally immoral, and in particular how this applies to someone's personal beliefs.

 

I think that there are a few basic moral principles that every civilized person must agree on, even if they disagree with each other on how they should be applied. These are the beliefs that human life and livelihood are important, that all human beings have the same basic rights, and that freedom should be protected, and should only be restrained based on justifiable moral principles. Of couse, not everyone applies these principles appropriately, but any decent human being must accept them, and anyone who fundamentally denies any of these principles is inherently evil.

 

To give a few examples, someone might believe that government-run health care is necessary to protect people's right to life, and if this is the sincere basis for their belief, then they are not fundamentally evil. However, someone who believes in a government monopoly health care for no reason except to "keep private business out of health care," and disregards the fact that this is an infringement on the rights of individuals to make a decision affecting their right to live, is inherently evil. Some people support welfare programs because they sincerely believe that it is impossible for the poor to survive without them. But there are some people who actually believe that private charity is bad solely because only people who make the choice to contribute are contributing, and I've even heard someone make the argument that "the poor shouldn't have to beg" for the right to someone else's property. Anyone who believes the latter is fundamentally anti-freedom, and therefore fundamentally evil.

 

On the topic of equality, someone might be against gay marriage because they see it as a threat to their personal moral choice to reject homosexuality. Or -- to bring up a personal pet peeve of mine -- some people think that male victims of domestic violence should be categorized differently than female victims because they believe that there are social factors which influence male-on-female violence differently from female-on-male violence. Someone who believes either of these things in good faith is not fundamentally evil. However, someone who thinks that gay marriage should be outlawed solely to impose Biblical morality on everyone, without their consent, is inherently evil. Same with feminists who openly attack people who try to address female-on-male violence for "derailing" their efforts to "stop violence against women."

 

I do not believe that it is possible for a relationship between a rational person and someone who is fundamentally immoral to last very long.

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Well, it's not what the Bible means by it. At most, what is asked of people is to repent, before forgiveness (aside from verbally repenting, it's just mystical mumbo jumbo about the sacred healing power of God, faith, etc. that magically change people who embrace religion). None of htat means actual, observable, provable change.

Just to add a little weight behind that point, I came across a relevant quote from Thomas Jefferson recently:

"it is not to be understood that I am with him [Jesus] in all his doctrines. I am a Materialist; he takes the side of Spiritualism; he preaches the efficacy of repentance toward forgiveness of sin; I require a counterpoise of good works to redeem it."

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Robert said:

 

 

 

 

Yes, but why should one forgive? "When is forgiveness immorral?" seems to be the relevant question.

 

 

I think Robert's answer covers it.

 

"Forgiveness" is in a sense something given to the person who was the "perpetrator" of the act in question.  Specifically it is the reestablishment of voluntary dealings at a certain level of trust, friendliness etc.

 

The question is what is given in exchange for the "forgiveness", I may be restating Robert but think it comes to 3 things: 

 

1. Recognition of the error/immorality including, taking the conceptual "blame", understanding why it was "wrong".

2. Offering restitution or compensation for the wrong in a rationally measured manner, thereby taking responsibility in action.

3. Undertaking not to commit the same error or wrong in the future, i.e. showing a change of character and thus showing there is no further threat to the self-interest of the "victim".

 

Depending upon the context of the action taken, the "level" of these three may vary and hence so varies the overall "price" for forgiveness.

 

In the end these can only ever be indications of facts of reality which the "forgiver" must judge are such that forgiveness, reestablishment of a relationship, is in the forgiver's self interest.

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If you cant live with the consequences of someone's actions and you still question forgiveness ask yourself "did they disregard other people in their thought process?" If so no forgiveness is required. Without having your neighbor on your radar and think about potential impact, The world as we want it doesnt work.

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I think the morality of forgiveness is closely entwined with judging whether someone is fundamentally moral or not.

Most people seem to have already figured this out but it's selfish (hence moral) to forgive someone if and only if their errors will not continue.

Guilt is about the past; forgiveness is about the future.

As for fundamental immorality:

Morality is about introspective values; things you value (or disvalue) about yourself. Values are what one acts to gain and keep.

So whether someone is fundamentally moral or not depends on what sort of person they want to be, and the extent of their interest in that.

---

James Taggart was fundamentally immoral because he did not want to be anyone in particular; in fact, he did not want to be at all.

Cheryl Brooks, despite her flaws, was fundamentally moral for the same reason (and notice how quickly Dagny forgave her).

---

As you pointed out, people frequently choose the wrong things to love about themselves (much like Cheryl's love of James), but so long as they do value themselves they can change.

Every mind which you identified as fundamentally anti-freedom was also rooted in self-hatred.

---

I don't know any surefire way to tell the difference, but I do know that people who are fundamentally moral are capable of deliberate self-improvement; others are not (and are frequently found "refuting" volition).

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I would agree that someone's fundamental morality or immorality ultimately stems from their personal values. But it is extremely difficult to judge that for someone else, and it is much easier to determine this based on the external effects of what they believe -- which is also what ends up playing a role in a relationship with them.

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I've always seen Rand's characters as being relatively forgiving - they don't really hold grudges. Dagny immediately forgives Cheryl for everything she had previously said to her. Her heroes judge people in the moment - their associates are judged by whatever virtues they may posses at that particular time, and not by their past. 

 

A little off topic: Unfortunately, Rand doesn't even touch on the idea of personal growth in her novels - all of her characters are righteous from beginning to end - from childhood until death. Odd for an artist who is such a strong advocate of man's free will and the ability to improve one's life. 

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I've always seen Rand's characters as being relatively forgiving - they don't really hold grudges. Dagny immediately forgives Cheryl for everything she had previously said to her. Her heroes judge people in the moment - their associates are judged by whatever virtues they may posses at that particular time, and not by their past. 

 

A little off topic: Unfortunately, Rand doesn't even touch on the idea of personal growth in her novels - all of her characters are righteous from beginning to end - from childhood until death. Odd for an artist who is such a strong advocate of man's free will and the ability to improve one's life. 

 

Righteous yes, but not quite there yet. We see Dagny, and Hank struggle and learn, even Frisco had a few things to come to terms with... Galt is the only "static" character.

 

In Fountainhead Roark is the only static protagonist, Dominique had a long way to go... and she did grow, Wynand... he "could have been" and in the end... failed.

 

I suppose she could have shown characters who reform themselves in a more fundamental way but I think there was enough personal development going on in her novels generally.

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