INTERNET Forgiveness removes the toxic called anger, argues Charles L. Grisworld Jr, a historian of philosophy. SUDAMAHI REGUNATHAN

D oes philosophy have a bearing on everyday life? Or is it too esoteric? Translating philosophical ideas in terms of day-to-day acts that are part of social interaction and assessing the lesson they bring with them is the website called “philosophyinpubliclife.” With this focus, philosophers are interviewed and the interviews made available on this website.

The interview under review is of Charles L. Grisworld Jr, a historian of philosophy who teaches at Boston University and has authored the book, “Forgiveness: A Philosophical Exploration.” He talks on what forgiveness is. Through this interview Grisworld tries to demystify the idea of forgiveness. Is it a purely religious idea and what is its validity in a society that takes recourse to law? Is there any scope for forgiveness?

“Forgiveness is essential I think for the life of a person who can be injured or can injure. It is a virtue without which we are stuck in toxic hatred both as owners thereof and objects thereof. It is a virtue essential for moral and spiritual growth,” says Grisworld and defends the usage of the word virtue by saying, “Virtue is an old fashioned word, but it helps to understand forgiveness in a secular framework…Virtue is excellence of the character of a person.”

Continues the philosopher that, “Forgiveness is to do with character…the disposition of a person…it connects classically with the emotions of a person.” Says Grisworld that on the one hand forgiveness means there is anger or hatred or both and on the other forgiveness also suggests the use of reason, practical wisdom and judgment. The latter three, that is the use of judgment, reason and wisdom have to come into play for forgiveness to happen.

“Forgiveness has its home in interpersonal relationships,” says Grisworld and so it has to come from within. There is no jury or judge. But that is also the reason why when it comes to the question of forgiving oneself, the philosopher is not comfortable. “Self forgiveness is a tricky notion,” he says. He argues that you forgive the one who attempts to do harm or when harm has been done to you. What sense does it make to say you are forgiving yourself for the wrongs you have done to yourself?

Akin to gratitude

There can be no right to forgiveness, in the sense you cannot demand it. It is similar to gratitude, you may deserve it but cannot compel it on demand. Are there unforgivable acts? “Yes, we do commonly talk of unforgivable acts, “says the philosopher and makes some differences between different acts which fall into this category. There are instances where some conditions are required to be fulfilled towards making a relationship meaningful or whatever else the context may be. In case the conditions are not met with, we may call this conditional forgiveness. You, as a victim, find it unforgivable until such and such conditions are met.

Second is the case where one does fulfil all conditions, but still remains unforgivable. In this case the enormity of act is such that one cannot forgive…the magnitude of the act does not allow forgiveness.

In some cases forgiveness and punishment may go hand in hand. You may forgive a person but if by law he is required to spend a few years in prison, he will still have to. To quickly enumerate the criteria for forgiveness, they are: acknowledge they were responsible agents, repudiate their deeds, express regrets to the injured, change who they are and understand the injured person's perspective of how they hurt.

The most useful and significant finding of Grisworld's research which does not rely on religious considerations, is that the victim is not be in the power of the offender: forgiveness is considered as a gift which brings maximum benefit to the one who forgives thus recalling to the mind the famous lines: “Mercy is twice blessed. It blesseth him who gives and him who receives.”