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The (Im)possibility of Forgiveness
I just finished listening to the podcast about Derrida on Forgiveness. For those that haven't listened to it, most of the podcast is about Derrida's assertion that forgiveness is impossible because if you forgive someone, that makes them forgivable. And if they are forgivable, why did they need you to forgive them? Derrida believed that forgiveness was only really needed because of the acts that are unforgiveable. But by the very nature of an act being unforgivable, it is impossible to forgive, thus proving the impossibility of forgiveness.
The part that I'm struggling a little bit with is that small, forgivable, acts are impossible to forgive. I get that the forgiveness may not be necessary because the person is already forgivable, but I don't see why that makes it impossible. I would say the point of forgiving someone is to prove or show that they are forgivable. This differentiates between the forgivable and unforgivable acts. And I thinks it's a pretty self-explanatory concept that it's impossible to forgive unforgivable acts, but why does that make it impossible to forgive all other acts as well? I don't know if that made any sense to anyone else, but I am interested to hear what everyone else thinks!
I as well listened to the podcast and can agree that when they had started to discuss forgiving acts of different sizes I got lost. The way I guess they had attempted to describe it just seemed odd to me. Stating that each of the different situations are all forgivable, the first one being about taking a small amount of money, the next taking a large amount of money, and to even go as far as to say "killing your entire family". They viewed these situations as forgivable scenarios but with given time. To me this seems absurd and really struck me as confusing when I heard it.
As for your point in general I can side with you on forgiving someone is essentially proving that their action is forgivable, and I don't really have an answer to the question you stated near the end as I'm still wrapping my head around it all. Hopefully I will be able to come back and answer it or explain another idea of my own findings.
I don't think that the speakers in the podcast were saying that small, forgivable acts are impossible to forgive (please correct me if I'm wrong) but that they were saying small acts are impossible to forgive because they need no forgiveness because they were never unforgivable. Ahhh I am confusing myself. I can never forgive someone for spilling water on me (the example they used) because I don't deem it unforgivable. In layman's terms, I don't give a crap if you spill water on me. So I can't forgive you for it because it never bothered me in the first place. Although, I will still say "It's ok, I forgive you," to comfort the other person. But I am not really forgiving them.
Derrida said that forgiveness only exists because some things cannot be forgiven. So we "forgive" people to show their action wasn't unforgivable. So really only unforgiveness exists. Therefore it is impossible to forgive.
@nicole The way that I interpreted it is a bit differently than you did I think. I think that Derrida did not mean that small forgivable acts are impossible to forgive, but he did mean that there is no point in forgiving them because the person who committed those acts is already forgivable. I am starting to realize that this idea sounded better in my head but maybe you understood it. I think that the things that are impossible to forgive are the ones that are horrible, if someone murders your family that is something that is unforgivable so that makes all acts that person commits unforgivable. This may be completely a wrong interpretation so please, by all means, comment on these ideas.
I think that we must reject this nihilistic view of the world I also listen to the podcast and I was unmoved by the arguments which Derrida was making this is because I am deeply read on the early church fathers were clear that it is important for a catholic to have the ideas of forgiveness implanted into the western world. This doesn't mean that we have to become peaceful hermits who can't have justice for a crime. We can forgive them spiritually and give them the punishment for the crime. The small forgivable acts will exist and I think that they are forgivable and that there is a point to forgive them so that you aren't such a vengeful person
@theboulder Okay, I think I see what you are saying. If I read it right, you are saying that it is impossible to forgive small, forgivable, acts because if they are actually forgivable, that means that you never actually cared in the first place. So you weren't actually affected by the act, but you had to show that you were okay with it, so you forgave the person. In which case, that makes sense. I'm starting to wonder, though, about acts that may start out as unforgivable, then later become forgivable. Let me clarify: sometimes people are really hurt by certain acts, and they remain angry for a period of time (sometimes short, sometimes longer). But then later, the relationship between the parties involved is reconciled because the person that was wronged becomes able to forgive that person. Did that make any sense? I guess that was kind of how I was looking at it, because for a while, the person was mad. So the other person needed to be forgiven. So the relationship that was hurt for a little while could be reconciled... no? Let me know what you think about this because I'm still trying to wrap my head around it.
@snowyyeti I was following you right up until you said any act that person commits will be unforgivable because they first committed a truly unforgivable act. So are you saying that if someone murders my family, they have now committed an unforgivable act, so if they spill water on someone completely unrelated and oblivious to the situation, that would also be unforgivable? I'm not quite sure I agree with this. I could see the argument that maybe any act that person then committed against me would also be unforgivable, but not all acts. Did that make sense? Let me know more of your thoughts on this, or if I completely misunderstood your point.
This was also confusing for me. I think that the use of the word impossible is what really threw me off. I can understand that it is impossible not to forgive unforgivable acts, but it seems odd to say that forgivable acts don't deserve forgiveness. Especially with a concept such as forgiveness, who decides degrees of forgivability? Deciding if an act is forgivable or not is somewhat subjective. Until we can definitively categorize every action as forgivable or not, I don't really agree with Derrida's thoughts.
So I can't forgive you for it because it never bothered me in the first place.
I like this idea, too.
In other words, if we employ the word "forgiveness" for trivial, totally forgivable things all the time, how meaningful is it, after all? Shouldn't it be reserved for acts which truly require a meaningful act of forgiving?
If forgiveness becomes an empty ritual of being polite or mannerly, it becomes more like an economic transaction for social favor, not really forgiveness, at least not in the more purely Christian sense.
@jacksonvon I think that what Derridas was getting at here is that don't just forgive to forgive. Forgiving is useless if you know the person is worthy of it. You and the individual both know he is a good person. And plus according to derridas forgiveness is already granted in the majority of the population who aren't culpable of any major infractions.
@nicole Hmm yeah I think it gets tricky there. My first thought is that ok, I guess forgiveness does exist! If a person changed their point of view or mental state maybe they could forgive. I think it boils down to unforgivableness. Derrida said forgiveness because the idea that there are unforgivable actions. So what would be an unforgivable action? The holocaust comes to mind for me. I've read stories of holocaust survivors "forgiving" the nazis. Does that mean that the holocaust was forgivable?? I don't think so. Is it possible to "forgive" (in this case not forgive bc it would've been forgivable) people, but not their actions? Or not the larger implications of their actions? Then again, Derrida did say forgiveness existed for a reason, however valuable that reason is. In a case like you suggest, maybe forgiveness is real. I'm not sure.
@jacksonvon I think what @msar said is a good point. I also wonder, is there not a hypocrisy between a spiritual forgiveness and a societal punishment? Derrida would argue that there is only reality, there is no duality to be had. If everything is forgivable spirituality, than according to Derrida, the concept of forgiveness doesn't exist. It needs an opposite to function. How can one forgive and yet punish at the same time? Which is the reality Derrida talks about?
they need no forgiveness because they were never unforgivable.
This, to me, sounded like some things don't need forgiveness because they were never that bad in the first place, like spilling water on someone. But if I were to get water spilled on me, it would be an inconvenience. It wouldn't be anything that would change the course of my day, but although minor it would be. And if I was the one who spilled, I would want forgiveness regardless of the fact that it was only a minor inconvenience. I would still want to know that person is not too hurt by what I did, even though if they were that would be a bit dramatic lol. Anyways, I think I might be playing too much emotion into this, but I think forgiveness is more of an act to tell someone you do not resent them for what they did rather than excusing the act
Shockingly I feel like I have a good understanding of Derrida's view on forgiveness. Through Derrida's eyes, forgiveness is about forgiving the unforgivable, and that the only things worth forgiving are those of which are unforgivable. Basically, Derrida is saying that there is no value in forgiving something forgivable, the real value comes from forgiving something you never thought you could.
As we all know Derrida was a very handsome man. Anywho, I'd like to bring up a point that the podcast members brought up. It went something like we forgive people that are worthy of forgiveness because we are looking to earn some sort of moral or political currency from the person. We are looking for something to gain for a simple "polite expression". It's crazy that both of derrida's theories that I have seen so far are telling us that the simple things we do in everyday life aren't as we see.
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