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BLAME, REMORSE, MERCY, FORGIVENESS
catch his eye, hold it. You say, “That was my ﬂat, you know.” Why do you say
that? Perhaps because you want an explanation, you can’t understand why this
should have happened to you. Before he can help himself he says, “Look – I’m
sorry. It wasn’t anything to do with you. I needed the money.” We can see that
if that was all that he thought was necessary then it would be an inadequate
response. But it is at least an acknowledgment and might be the start of something more signiﬁcant.
With the coincidence of your meeting the wrongdoer (and having the courage
to address him), my tale may be taking on a slightly artiﬁcial shape. But the signiﬁcance of your coming face-to-face with the wrongdoer is that it throws you
into some sort of relationship with him. You have to decide on which terms that
relationship is able to proceed (cf. Wiesenthal 1998). And thinking about how
we might make this decision is a good way to address some of the fundamental
questions about how wrongdoing aﬀects the way we think we ought to treat
wrongdoers and what we should expect of them. For instance, are you a better
person if you are able to be forgiving rather than vengeful – or is it sometimes
necessary to take a stand against wrongdoing? How ought oﬀenders to react to
what they have done? Do oﬀenders have duties to their victims or to others
because of their wrongs? What attitude should third parties adopt towards the
oﬀender? Even if you have no knowledge of anyone involved, would it be adequate to be entirely unaﬀected by the news of the incident? Related to the question of how unconnected bystanders ought to react is the question of how the
state should react to such wrongdoing. One inﬂuential recent tradition in theory
of punishment has taken it that an important role of punishment is the state’s
expression of condemnation of the oﬀense (Feinberg 1974; von Hirsch 1993;
Duﬀ 2001; Bennett 2008).
Moral philosophy and the emotions
In this chapter I will look at the way in which philosophers have tried to address
these questions by looking at the emotions that are characteristically engaged by
situations of wrongdoing: fear, anger, outrage, etc. Contrary to the role they
sometimes play in the popular imagination, emotions are not mere psychic disturbances that drive us to act in mysterious and irrational ways. Unlike itches,
pains, pangs and so on – but like beliefs – we have emotions in a directed way
about things. In other words, there is usually something in a situation that brings
the emotion about and to which we can recognize it as an intelligent response
(I am afraid of … , angry about … , aggrieved that … ). For instance, fear is
appropriate in our scenario because there is the risk of danger. Anger is appropriate because one’s property has been intruded upon without one’s say-so. It
makes sense to have these emotions only because one understands one’s situation in such a way.
BLAME, REMORSE, MERCY, FORGIVENESS
Recently Martha Nussbaum has contrasted what she calls an evaluative conception of the emotions – according to which emotions are ways in which we evaluate
situations – with a mechanical conception according to which emotions are brute
psychic forces (see e.g. Nussbaum and Kahan 1996). She regards the latter as
inadequate to our experience of emotions. Emotions, on the evaluative conception,
are partly cognitive states (that is, they involve beliefs about what matters). They involve
judgements of value: evaluations of our situation as good or bad in certain
respects. So rather than being just brute forces that sweep over us, emotions on the
evaluative conception embody certain claims about what is important. If we accept
this model it means that we can ask whether the judgements that seem to be
embodied in our emotions really are justiﬁed. It is important to make this point,
because the issue of responding to wrongdoing is a personal one, involving us in the
vagaries of all sorts of awkward emotions. The evaluative conception of the emotions
explains why we should still expect to be able to say something philosophically
interesting about it. These general claims about assessing the emotions will be
more comprehensible once we have looked at some emotions as examples.
The problem of forgiveness
First of all, let’s return to our question: How should one respond to wrongdoing? Would one be a better person if one was forgiving rather than holding a
grudge against the oﬀender? Forgiveness tends to be regarded in our culture as a
virtue, and those who are able to forgive after suﬀering grave wrongs admired.
But is the disposition to forgive always a virtue? Or is it a virtue in some situations but not in others? Forgiving someone for something seems to involve in
some way coming to terms with what she has done: “letting the wrong go,”
stopping it dominating one’s life or one’s relation with the wrongdoer. The
problem of forgiveness is that sometimes this “letting go” might be a refusal to
take the wrong fully seriously, a denial of its reality or signiﬁcance. Forgiveness
would represent a refusal to deal with the wrong rather than an admirable state
of wider moral understanding.
What is forgiveness? Philosophers have pointed to a number of features that
are involved in forgiveness. First of all, forgiving someone seems diﬀerent from
merely saying that you forgive. You can say that you forgive but not really forgive. So what goes on in real forgiveness? Fundamentally, it seems to involve a
change of heart towards the wrongdoer (Calhoun 1992). Jeﬀrie Murphy (Murphy
and Hampton 1988: 14–34), following Bishop Butler (Butler 1967: 120–48),
understands forgiveness as “overcoming resentment.” Forgiveness involves
expunging negative emotions that one might have towards the wrongdoer as a
result of the wrong. However, these emotions can be expunged in various ways
that wouldn’t involve forgiving. One might just forget about the oﬀense (e.g.
through suﬀering amnesia). Or one might realize that the action was not really a
wrong (that the agent had some justiﬁcation) or that in some way it was not really
the agent’s fault (that the agent had a good excuse) and hence that she was not
really deserving of resentment in the ﬁrst place. But in this case you don’t need
to forgive her. When you forgive, it might be said, you stop feeling resentment
towards the wrongdoer and yet you continue to regard her as fully responsible
for the wrong action. Furthermore – though it might be more debatable whether
this is genuine forgiveness or not – many writers take it that you have not really
forgiven if the reason you bring your negative emotions to an end is therapeutic
(that is, for your own good) rather than as a result of something about the
wrongdoer. Forgiveness seems to involve some manner of reconciliation with the
wrongdoer despite the full recognition that what they did was wrong.
In the light of this we can see “the problem of forgiveness.” The problem is
that (1) forgiveness involves overcoming emotions of condemnation towards the
wrongdoer; (2) these emotions might themselves have some value as responses to
wrongdoing; therefore (3) we should bring these emotions to an end – and hence
forgive – only when it is no longer appropriate to condemn. This conclusion is
signiﬁcant because it would mean that if the emotions of condemnation are
themselves valuable (and of course that might be disputed) then forgiveness
would be only conditionally valuable (though for an opposing view see Garrard
and MacNaughton 2002). In short, it would be wrong to forgive when one ought
to condemn. And we would need to investigate the emotions of condemnation
in order to understand when it is good to bring these emotions to an end, that is,
when it is good and right to forgive (though for the view that this would make
forgiveness redundant, see Kolnai 1973–4).
Let me put the problem another way. In an attempt to explain what is going
on in forgiveness, writers often quote St Augustine: “hate the sin; love the
sinner.” In forgiveness we seem to separate the agent from her wrongful action,
holding that we can end our negative emotions towards the agent even while
keeping it in view that the act was wrong. The problem with this is that it is hard
to see how one can do this if the agent was responsible for the action. In general
an agent is responsible for an act only if she expresses or reveals herself in that
act: the act sheds some light on her character, attitudes, motivations, etc. But if
this is the case then it can be no simple matter to separate the agent from her
responsible acts. If we ought to condemn responsible wrongdoing then forgiveness will look morally suspect until the agent responds in such a way as to make
the condemnation no longer appropriate.
Emotions of condemnation: resentment, indignation, blame
The previous section raises the question of what value these emotions of condemnation have. We will now have a look at a range of such emotions, beginning with resentment. While some philosophers see victims’ desire to “get even”
BLAME, REMORSE, MERCY, FORGIVENESS
as an understandable but regrettable part of our psychology, some admire and
applaud it. To investigate whether these emotions can be justiﬁed we should ask
ﬁrst of all what it is about wrongdoing that arouses these emotions. Jeﬀrie
Murphy argues that as well as causing material harm, wrongdoing involves a
“symbolic communication” – like an insult – that the victim is an inferior whom
the wrongdoer can use for his own purposes (Murphy 1988: 25). For Murphy we
can understand resentment (or even vindictiveness: see Murphy 2003) as a reaction that serves to defend our rights to equal treatment against those who would
relegate us to inferiority. As long as one has enough self-respect to think that one
has such rights, one ought to react with resentment whenever one’s rights have
been violated. Murphy’s emphasis on resentment as the paradigm emotion of a
victim’s reaction to wrongdoing echoes P. F. Strawson’s classic paper, “Freedom
and Resentment” (P. Strawson 1982), which itself harked back to eighteenthcentury philosophers such as Butler and Adam Smith (Smith 2002).
Although Murphy’s view has some intuitive plausibility he doesn’t make it
clear why it is good or right to retaliate after wrongdoing (and hence why
resentment is justiﬁed). Perhaps the justiﬁcation on Murphy’s view (as on Butler’s) is that when we react vengefully in defense of our rights then others are less
likely to mess with us in the future. This would be an indirect or instrumental
justiﬁcation of the emotion rather than one that showed the emotion to be
intrinsically right or ﬁtting. It would show that, if a policy of retaliating would
tend to deter people from wronging us then, out of self-interest, we ought to
adopt this policy. A problem with this type of instrumental justiﬁcation is that it
seems like changing the subject to ask about the eﬀects of having a certain emotion rather than whether the emotion is justiﬁed in its own right. Think of a case
in which you are deliberating about whether to continue to hold a grudge against
your friend for sleeping with your partner behind your back. Murphy tells you
that if you have a general policy of holding grudges and retaliating then this will
make people less likely to cross you. However, you might think that this doesn’t
fully answer your question: you want to know, not whether to have an eﬀective
policy of self-defense but whether, in this particular case, the person deserves
begrudging and retaliation for having abused your friendship. The indirect or
instrumental justiﬁcation is silent on this point.
The urge to get even has been given a less ﬂattering diagnosis by Jean Hampton
(Murphy and Hampton 1988: 35–87). Hampton makes a distinction between
resentment and indignation. She thinks that it is only the former that prompts us
to “get even” but that it is tied to a dubious view of human value. Hampton
argues that resentment occurs when a victim experiences a wrong as an insult (as
on Murphy’s view, above), but where the “insult” raises some doubt in her own
mind about her true value. In other words, the victim who experiences resentment fears that it may have been permissible to treat her in that way – but
deﬁantly (as if through an act of will) rejects this possibility. Resentment on
Hampton’s account is therefore a deﬁant but slightly insecure reaﬃrmation of
one’s value in the face of some act that has called one’s value into question, not
just in the mind of the perpetrator, but in one’s own mind. Resentment leads to
retaliation because if the victim believes that she can be diminished by wrongdoing then she probably believes that she can be raised in status by getting even
(where she herself defeats the wrongdoer). However, for Hampton, resentment
and these retaliatory strategies are always unjustiﬁed. This is because they are
based on the belief that human value can vary and is the outcome of competitive
struggle. If one is a Kantian as one ought to be, she thinks, and regards human
value as egalitarian and intrinsic, one will not think that one’s value can be put
into question in the way the resentful person fears.
Hampton oﬀers a fascinating and unsettling diagnosis of our urge to get even.
She thinks that when we want to get even we are really motivated by a false view
of human value, a groundless fear that we may really be the wrongdoer’s inferior.
However, she does not think that we should do nothing in the face of wrongdoing. As I said above, she contrasts resentment with indignation. Indignation is
in her eyes a more justiﬁable emotion: it is a protest against the action whose
function is to prevent further abuses in the future. The crucial diﬀerence
between resentment and indignation, for Hampton, is that the latter is compatible with full conﬁdence in one’s value, whereas resentment betrays an insecure
uncertainty about whether one really ought to be treated as an equal. Indignation
prompts us to defend our values, but not to get even for the sake of it (for discussion see Walker 2006; Hieronymi 2001).
Whether or not resentment and its retaliatory strategies are justiﬁed, they
cannot be the only emotions of condemnation, or even perhaps the central ones.
To see this, try to feel resentment towards oneself. Turning resentment on oneself does not seem altogether intelligible. However, when one has oneself done
wrong one does turn some form of condemnation on oneself: one accepts
the condemnation that might be made of you by others. It seems plausible that
there should be an emotion that wrongdoers and others share when assessing the
signiﬁcance of what has been done.
In the search for such an emotion we can look at what has been written about
blame (Skorupski 1999). Sometimes blaming is thought of as an action (Smart
1961); at other times an evaluation, as when we judge someone to be blameworthy (for something). However, to blame is to condemn, and to condemn is to
feel a certain way about something, or at least to regard such feelings as appropriate. So what is blame? We might start with the idea that blaming involves a
withdrawal of goodwill (P. Strawson 1982; Skorupski 1999). Why do we feel that
such withdrawal is apt when someone has committed a wrong? Sometimes it is
said that such withdrawal is a recognition that the wrongdoing has damaged the
relationship (Duﬀ 2001). But what does this mean? One answer might be that the
damage to the relationship makes it prudent to terminate or modify it, since
such relationships ought to be based on mutual care and respect (Scanlon 2008:
Ch. 4). But while this would explain why we have some reason to engage in
BLAME, REMORSE, MERCY, FORGIVENESS
blaming, it would not explain what can be wrong with failing to blame. A more
retributivist account would insist that essential to blame is the recognition that
one cannot properly treat the wrongdoer as if nothing has happened – that if one
did one would be ignoring, condoning, perhaps even acquiescing in the oﬀense.
One cannot properly proceed as if you are “on good terms” with the wrongdoer,
so blaming expresses some recognition that what the wrongdoer has done changes the terms of your relationship with her (or if you had no relationship with
her previously – as in our example with the thief above – then the relationship
you begin is one that is conditioned by the wrong, it is a relationship with a
wrongdoer, and this has to be diﬀerent from the relationship that you can have
with anyone else). Blaming is sometimes thought of as in some way a punitive
emotion. Perhaps the right way to understand this thought is that blaming
involves, not just a negative evaluation of a person, but the thought that one has
to impose a certain kind of (normally negative) treatment on that person in order
to mark her out as a wrongdoer. Blame involves, not just judging a person, but
holding her accountable (cf. Watson 1996).
Regret, shame and guilt
Blame could be a candidate for the emotion of condemnation that is shared by
condemnors and condemned. So what is self-blame? Self-blame belongs to the
same family of emotions as regret. But one can regret all sorts of unfortunate
events that have no particular connection with oneself, and are certainly not
cause for blame. Bernard Williams has argued that as well as this general regret
we have in our range of emotions a particular form of regret that he terms agentregret (Williams 1981). Agent-regret is something we can feel when we have some
special connection with an unfortunate event in virtue of its having come about
through our agency. However, Williams stresses that we can appropriately feel
agent-regret about an event we have caused quite innocently (say, by accident,
unknowingly, with good justiﬁcation, etc.). Thus a lorry driver who was driving
carefully in a safe and well-maintained vehicle may unavoidably knock over a
child who runs out in front of him. Williams’s point is that, while the lorry
driver can rightly console himself with the thought that it was not his fault, he
still should be particularly pained by the fact that it was his action that caused
it – and he should acknowledge a special responsibility to say sorry and make
some amends that a mere spectator to the event would not have.
Williams discusses agent-regret in the course of addressing a wider concern
that, if we assume that we are morally responsible only for what is under our
control, moral judgement might be swallowed up by luck – for (as Williams
believes) very little if anything about us is ultimately under our control (cf. Nagel
1979; G. Strawson 1994). Williams argues that at least some of our moral
judgements are still in order, since many of our moral emotions about agents
(and the judgements they embody) do not assume such control. Developing this
argument, Williams has recommended expunging the Kantian elements of our
conception of morality and moral assessment and returning to those moral ideas
that we share with the ancient Greeks (Williams 1993; cf. Anscombe 1958).
However, agent-regret cannot be the whole story about what we feel when we
blame ourselves. Even if Williams is correct that modern moral philosophy (and
modern moral thinking in general) has a tendency to overplay the importance of
fault in our moral judgements, we should not overlook the important diﬀerence
between agent-regret and emotions of self-condemnation (Baron 1988). The thing
about the case of the innocent lorry driver is that he ultimately has nothing to
reproach himself for. However, there is a range of emotions of self-reproach that
we take to be ﬁtting in cases in which our actions do show some moral failing.
The central case of such an emotion is perhaps shame. Shame is an emotion one
experiences when one has failed to live up to some standard one has set for
oneself, or an aspiration one has (Taylor 1985). One has failed to be as good (at
something) as one wishes one could be (or thinks it important that one should
be). One can feel shame about many things that have nothing to do with morality: for instance, I can feel shame that I wasn’t a good enough singer to make it
into the choir. But there is such a thing as moral shame, where one has come to
see the importance of the things one harmed or violated, and one’s act as wrong.
Such awareness is painful because it is an awareness of the distance between
where one is and where one would have oneself be.
One can feel shame about failings that one cannot change. In these cases shame
disposes us to conceal the fault – or to hide ourselves away when the fault can no
longer be hidden (Williams 1993). However, shame can have a more constructive role
when the failing is something that is amenable to change. In these cases shame
can motivate us to reform and self-improvement (Kekes 1988). Many cases of moral
shame might be like this, where the failing is some kind of insensitivity, and
where one could learn (e.g. to take people’s feelings into better account, etc.).
With this typography of regret and shame we can now say something about
what self-blame might be. Self-blame seems to be a type of moral shame, in that
it involves accepting the blame that says one has revealed some moral failing in
one’s action. However, if blame involves some withdrawal of goodwill, or at any
rate some determination to treat the person as a wrongdoer, then self-blame will
also involve imposing such punitive treatment on oneself. We can call this
emotion of self-blame guilt. (There are competing ways of distinguishing shame
and guilt. For instance, it is sometimes said that shame involves the way one is
perceived by others while guilt has to do with how one evaluates oneself – e.g. in
one’s conscience. The problem with this is that one can clearly feel shame when
one is making one’s own judgement of one’s failings. Alternatively, it is sometimes said that shame is about who one is while guilt is about what one has done.
The problem with this interpretation is that when one is responsible for an
action it can be hard to separate who one is and what one has done: one reveals
BLAME, REMORSE, MERCY, FORGIVENESS
who one is in what one does.) If one withdraws goodwill from oneself when one is
feeling guilty then it might also explain why guilt disposes us to atonement or
penance. If you feel bad about yourself then the way in which it might make
sense to express this is through undertaking some action that you would normally regard as “beneath” you, or as too onerous to be reasonably undertaken.
Feeling guilty in this way is an unpleasant, if sometimes necessary, place to be.
But there is a way out (one that doesn’t involve simply denying or ignoring what
one has done). Philosophers (and sociologist and psychologists) have increasingly
been paying attention to what goes on in apologizing. Apology, it has been
claimed, has an almost magical quality about it (Tavuchis 1991). The passing of a
few words can rebuild relationships and allow people to go on together after
wrongdoing. Without some such social mechanism for bringing about reconciliation it is perhaps hard to imagine how social life would be possible.
Some writers take apologies to have an instrumental signiﬁcance: they are ways
in which we announce to others that we are ready to cooperate again, or that we
can be trusted again. The thought is that we demonstrate our commitment to
cooperation by showing that we are prepared to go through something diﬃcult
(like loss of face in apologizing) in order to get the chance to rejoin the cooperative activity. The problem with such instrumental interpretations is that they
do not connect (or connect only contingently) with our reasons for feeling bad
when we do wrong. For instance, when I give a sincere apology it seems to be an
expression of my self-reproach. However, on the instrumental interpretation my
reason for thinking that I should make amends is a desire to regain trust and
cooperation that I could have without in any way feeling guilty.
By contrast an expressive or intrinsic interpretation of the value of apology might
start with the idea of atonement. Richard Swinburne has claimed that atonement
has four elements: repentance, apology, restitution and penance (Swinburne 1985).
If we look at the criteria by which we judge an apology to be sincere, we see the same
criteria emerging, and our understanding of blame and guilt can shed light on
why these various elements should form a uniﬁed response to wrongdoing. Thus
we might say that an apology works to restore relations damaged by wrongdoing
if it expresses shame, that is a remorseful acknowledgment of the wrongness of
what one has done, one’s own responsibility for it, and a determination to
reform so that one does not do it again. If one is remorseful about what one has
damaged then one will be motivated to repair it: this is the element of restitution. However, a successful apology also has to show proper recognition of the
gravity of what was done. One will withdraw goodwill from oneself to a greater
extent the more one regards oneself as having done something serious. Therefore
if blaming oneself motivates one to penance then the penance will be greater the
more serious the wrong. If penance was not an element of apology then we
would have no way of expressing in action our awareness of the gravity of what
we did. Overall the story of this paragraph suggests that there might be a noninstrumental way of explaining the signiﬁcance of reparation.
In this chapter I have given a brief survey of moral philosophical writing on the
issue of responses to wrongdoing. One of the fundamental lines of division on this
topic is between instrumental and expressive approaches. The instrumental approaches attempt to show how the behavior and attitudes involved in forgiving,
resenting, feeling guilty and making reparation can be justiﬁed in terms of their
good results. The expressive approaches attempt to show how these attitudes and
behavior are in some way intrinsically ﬁtting to certain situations. One reason for
opting for the instrumental approach is if one has the following sort of story in the
back of one’s mind. Many of our moral emotions are the product of a theological
cultural heritage that cannot be reconciled with a secular or naturalistic point of
view, since they involve essential reference to e.g. the state of one’s soul, or one’s
relationship to God, etc. However, even if such emotions cannot be justiﬁed
intrinsically or in their own terms they may still have an important social value –
particularly when a susceptibility to such emotions is widely shared. The problem
with the instrumental approach, however, is that it seems to involve changing the
subject: it does not bear out our sense that these attitudes and behavior are ﬁtting
to or “called for” by the situation. The ideal justiﬁcation of our moral emotions
would therefore perhaps be one that does justify our sense of “ﬁttingness.” But a
challenge for such an expressive account would lie in making sense of the intrinsic
value of forgiveness, blame, atonement, etc., in terms that are compatible with
naturalism (or that do not rely on supernaturalism). I hope in this chapter to
have provided some glimpses of how such an approach might proceed.
See also Ethics and sentiment (Chapter 10); Freedom and responsibility
(Chapter 23); Conscience (Chapter 46); Evil (Chapter 49); Responsibility: Intention and consequence (Chapter 50); Justice and punishment (Chapter 57).
Anscombe, G. E. M. (1958) “Modern Moral Philosophy,” Philosophy 33: 1–19.
Baron, M. (1988) “Remorse and Agent-Regret,” Midwest Studies in Philosophy 13: 259–81.
Bennett, C. (2008) The Apology Ritual: A Philosophical Theory of Punishment, Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
Butler, J. (1967) Fifteen Sermons Preached at the Rolls Chapel, ed. W. R. Matthews, London: Bell.
BLAME, REMORSE, MERCY, FORGIVENESS
Calhoun C. (1992) “Changing One’s Heart,” Ethics 103: 76–96.
Duﬀ, R. A. (2001) Punishment, Communication and Community, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Feinberg, J. (1974) “The Expressive Function of Punishment,” in Doing and Deserving, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Garrard, E. and MacNaughton, D. (2002) “In Defence of Unconditional Forgiveness,”
Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 103: 39–60.
Hieronymi, P. (2001) “Articulating an Uncompromising Forgiveness,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 62: 529–56.
Kekes, J. (1988) “Shame and Moral Progress,” Midwest Studies in Philosophy 13: 282–96.
Kolnai, A. (1973–4) “Forgiveness,” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 74: 91–106.
Murphy J. G. (2003) Getting Even: Forgiveness and its Limits, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Murphy, J. G. and Hampton, J. (1988) Forgiveness and Mercy, Cambridge: Cambridge
Nagel, T. (1979) “Moral Luck,” in Mortal Questions, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Nussbaum, M. and Kahan, D. (1996) “Two Conceptions of the Emotions in Criminal Law,”
Columbia Law Review 96: 269–374.
Scanlon, T. M. (2008) Moral Dimensions: Permissibility, Meaning, Blame, Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press.
Skorupski, J. (1999) “The Deﬁnition of Morality,” in Ethical Explorations, Oxford: Oxford
Smart, J. J. C. (1961) “Freewill, Praise and Blame,” Mind 70: 291–306.
Smith, A. (2002) The Theory of Moral Sentiments, ed. Knud Haakonsen, Cambridge: Cambridge
Strawson, G. (1994) “The Impossibility of Moral Responsibility,” Philosophical Studies 75: 5–24.
Strawson, P. F. (1982) “Freedom and Resentment,” in G. Watson (ed.) Free Will, Oxford:
Oxford University Press.
Swinburne, R. (1985) Responsibility and Atonement, Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Tavuchis, N. (1991) Mea Culpa: A Sociology of Apology and Reconciliation, Palo Alto, CA:
Stanford University Press.
Taylor, G. (1985) Pride, Shame and Guilt, Oxford: Clarendon Press.
von Hirsch, A. (1993) Censure and Sanctions, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Walker, M. U. (2006) Moral Repair, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Watson, G. (1996) “Two Faces of Responsibility,” Philosophical Topics 24: 227–48.
Wiesenthal, S. (1998) The Sunﬂower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness. New York:
Williams, B. (1981) “Moral Luck,” in Moral Luck, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
——(1993) Shame and Necessity, Berkeley: University of California Press.
Moore, M. (1987) “The Moral Worth of Retribution,” in F. Schoeman (ed.) Responsibility,
Character and the Emotions: New Essays in Moral Psychology, Cambridge: Cambridge
Murphy, J. G. and Hampton, J. (1988) Forgiveness and Mercy, Cambridge: Cambridge
Taylor, G. (1985) Pride, Shame and Guilt: Emotions of Self-Assessment, Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Oldenquist, A. (1988) “An Explanation of Retribution,” Journal of Philosophy 85, no. 9: 464–78.
Walker, M. U. (2006) Moral Repair: Reconstructing Moral Relations after Wrongdoing,
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Evil and moral evil
In its widest sense, evil is the antithesis of good: according to the Shorter Oxford
English Dictionary, “whatever is censurable, mischievous or undesirable.” On this
broad understanding of the concept, any and all of “life’s ‘minuses’” (Adams and
Adams 1990: 1) count as evils, including even such trivial events as my painfully
stubbing my toe on a kerbstone. According to St Thomas Aquinas, because
“good properly speaking is something inasmuch as it is desirable,” evil, as the
opposite of good, “must be that which is opposed to the desirable as such”
(Aquinas 1995: 5). The equation of evil with the undesirable is echoed in many
later writers, including Hobbes and Sidgwick, and it receives eloquent expression
from Josiah Royce:
By evil in general as it is in our experience we mean whatever we ﬁnd in
any sense repugnant and intolerable. … We mean [by evil] precisely
whatever we regard as something to be gotten rid of, shrunken from, put
out of sight, of hearing, or memory, eschewed, expelled, resisted,
assailed, or otherwise directly or indirectly resisted.
(Royce 1915: 18)
Amongst “life’s minuses” it is traditional to distinguish between moral and
natural evils. By the former is meant the intentional harm or wrong done by
moral agents – “sin, wickedness” is the dictionary’s gloss – whereas the latter
includes such harmful natural contingencies as diseases, famines, earthquakes
and ﬂoods. (However, since human beings are themselves a part of nature, any
intentional harm they cause might itself be classed as a species of natural evil.)
“Natural” and “moral” evils typically evoke diﬀerent cognitive and emotional
responses in the victims, only the latter being liable to generate anger or resentment. They also call for diﬀerent kinds of explanation, since only moral evil
raises the question (which has puzzled philosophers from Socrates to the present
day) of why any rational being should ever deliberately choose evil in preference