Colloquium de l’IJN

How Is Forgiveness Always A Gift ?

Informations pratiques
20 mai 2022

ENS, Pavillon Jardin, 29 rue d'Ulm, 75005 Paris


Many sense something gift-like at the heart of all forgiveness, and this seems right. It is clearly so of unconditional forms of forgiveness, where we forgive even in the absence of apology, for in such cases our forgiveness is fully elective or discretionary—a piece of extraordinary moral generosity. However, it is deeply puzzling to think how it might be true of conditional forms of forgiveness. In conditional cases a sufficient apology is seen to generate some sort of obligation to forgive, and there is a natural tension between the idea of obligation and the idea of a gift. I will dispel this tension, however, by showing that the obligation to forgive is an instance of the general Normativity of the Gift, according to which it is entirely ordinary to have an obligation to give a gift, and yet that gift can never be demanded as of right—not without radical pragmatic self-defeat. I thus explain our starting intuition, that all forgiveness is basically gift-like, not in terms of its never being obligatory (we often owe each other gifts), but rather in terms of its never being demandable as of right. There is no right to be forgiven, even when you are owed forgiveness, and this, I contend, is what explains our deep sense of the gift at the heart of all forgiveness.


Most talks will be online. We’ll have a limited number of slots for external participants. If you’d like to attend a session, please send an email about one week before that session to Denis Buehler.

See the 2021-2022 program.