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The Acorn

Volume 19, Issue 1, Spring 2019

Court D. Lewis, Gregory L. Bock, David Boersema, Jennifer Kling
Pages 19-41

Author Court D. Lewis Meets Critics on Repentance and the Right to Forgiveness

Court D. Lewis, author of Repentance and the Right to Forgiveness, presents a rights-based theory of ethics grounded in eirenéism, a needs-based theory of rights (inspired by Nicholas Wolterstorff) that seeks peaceful flourishing for all moral agents. This approach creates a moral relationship between victims and wrongdoers such that wrongdoers owe victims compensatory obligations. However, one further result is that wrongdoers may be owed forgiveness by victims. This leads to the “repugnant implication” that victims may be wrongdoers who do not forgive. Author Lewis addresses the “repugnant implication” by showing that victims are obligated to work toward forgiveness, if not forgiveness itself. Critic Gregory L. Bock argues that victims are not the only ones who can forgive, that the personal dimensions of forgiveness are overlooked, and that the force of the “repugnancy implication” may be questioned. Instead of rights-based eirenéism, Bock supports a virtue ethics framework. Instead of rights-based eirenéism, Bock encourages virtue ethics. Critic David Boersema raises questions about the binding nature of relationships, the dependency of flourishing upon forgiveness, and the nature of needs or rights. Boersema also questions the wisdom of a rights-based approach to forgiveness. Critic Jennifer Kling asks whether a rights-based approach is necessary to ground obligations to meet the needs of others: why not an ethics of care? If a rights-based approach is taken, perhaps a wrongdoer is obligated to not make forgiveness a life good. By disengaging this obligation, we avoid constraining a victim’s work toward forgiveness, especially when the wrongdoing is oppressive. Author Lewis responds to these objections.

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