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‘Forgiveness Of Evildoers Requires Too Much Virtue And Delivers Uncertain Benefits.’
Philosophy study seeks to systematically and rationally solve the problems facing the society. It studies fundamental and general problems which faces the society and gives a solution to the same. Moral philosophy as a branch of philosophy employs moral reasoning in studying such problems and seeking appropriate solutions related to the problems. This branch discusses about how moral capacity is developed, how moral agency develops and the nature associated to this. Moral reasoning borrows from number of theories which were put forward by the past scholars. Such theories include the utilitarian theories, the virtues ethic theories and so on. Undesirable and unacceptable actions are one of the problem the society faces in day to day life. Forgiveness to the evil doers need to be reasoned borrowing from some of these theories. (Sofroniou 2003; Peabody 2006; Thomas 2001)
Virtue ethics theory is associated with Aristotle approach to ethics which emphasize on the moral agent character. Aristotle argued that rational (mental) attribute of a person greatly attributes to his/her actions. Aristotle asserted that, one should live moderately and avoid extremes which Aristotle considered as immoral. Generally, virtue is considered as doing the right thing, at the right time, at the right place, to the right person, and doing it in the acceptable manner. This will speak a lot about the moral agent. (Aristotle & David 1980)
On the other hand, utilitarian theory is associated with the consequences of an action. In judging an action, utilitarian theory considers the results of an action. Thus these theories are called consequential theories. Bentham, who played a big role in development of utilitarian theory, asserts that, morality of an action should be based on happiness and pains it creates. Bentham’s hedonistic approach asserts that, a morally right action is one which creates more happiness as opposed to the pains. John Stuart Mill, who also played a big role in development of utilitarian theory, based his argument on benefits of an action. According to Mill, an action is morally right if it benefits more people as compared to those whom it makes worse off. Any action that does not encourage the welfare of majority should be rejected and is morally wrong. (Stuart & Robson 1969; Thomas L, 2001,)
Applying these theories in the discussion: ‘’Forgiveness of evildoers requires too much virtue and delivers uncertain benefits.’, then a big debate lies ahead. There are a number of factors to establish before making a final conclusion. Answers to the following questions should be ascertained: What is aim of forgiving the evildoer? What are the benefits of forgiving an evil doer? What is the probability that when such an evil doer is forgiven, will be committed to change his/her actions for better? What is the role of the society in compensating those who are wronged by evil doers? What was the main drive to the act done by the evil doer? And so on.
Borrowing from virtue theory, it is asserted that a virtue is doing the right thing at the right time, at the right place, to the right person, and doing it in the acceptable manner. At first an evil doer will have gone against one of these conditions. She/he will have done a wrong thing, at the wrong time, to another person, in the wrong manner and so on. Decision to forgive a moral agent who has done such an act need to be questioned through a moral reasoning approach. In fact it requires more virtue as it is put in the title of the discussion at hand. Evil actions are extreme cases. Each person has an intrinsic trait that allows him/her to conform to virtues acceptable to the society. To forgive an evil doer will be extension of mercy and extreme of the society goodness. It may be argued that forgiving a person who has done an evil act will be an opportunity offered to him/her to change his/her actions for the better. However, how certain is this claim? The Aristotle approach will judge the moral agent based on his/her evil action and reward him/her accordingly. The nature i.e. correctional services set by the society should be allowed to take the actions. The person has failed to utilize his/her mental (rational) capability and do what is desirable to the society; avoid the extremes. Forgiving such a person will require more ethics than what the founder of these virtue ethics theories -Aristotle, asserted.
On the other hand, forgiving may be viewed as a right thing, but those affected by evil action of the evil doer may consider it as wrong. It may be that the person who did what is considered as evil, did the action in good faith and wished if the results of his/her action will not culminate to an evil action. Forgiving such a person will be forgiving the right person. But how sure are we his /her claims of good faith are correct? How accurate is the investigation if the person was driven by good faith? It will really require more virtue to forgive an evil doer. (Aristotle & David 1980)
More said about the virtue ethics theory; let me turn to the utilitarian theory. Bentham’s hedonistic approach has a lot to borrow from. The act of forgiving an evil doer is likely to have diverse effects. First, it is likely to save the evil doer from punishment associated to his immoral act and this add him/her some kind of happiness. On the other, if this person action led to losses to another moral agent, forgiving such a person may add more pains to the affected person. It should be established if the affected person has the willingness to forgive his/her offender. The benefits accruing to offended person due to his/her action to forgive his/her offender are uncertain. One is not sure if the evil action against him/her will be repeated by the same offender or the offender will perceive forgiveness as an opportunity to develop better relations and live in peace with the people who forgave him/her. The outcomes are uncertain.
John Stuart Mill theory, based on benefits, also has a great share in this debate. It is on the benefits of an action we should judge the morality of an action. In some cases, benefits of forgiving may be certain. Sometimes based on the past experience, one may clearly identify some of these benefits e.g. the benefits of forgiving those involved in civil wars is likely to bring peace among fighting communities. A wife may forgive her husband who has been involved in infidelity hoping this will change his conduct. However, in most cases, benefits associated with forgiving are usually uncertain e.g. answers to following questions may be hard to obtain: What are the benefits of forgiving a robber? What are the benefits of forgiving a terrorist? What are benefits of forgiving a murderer? These are questions which whose answers will depend on number of assumptions. It may be hoped that a terrorist or a murderer will refrain from his/her action and stop causing pains to other people. But no one is certain if this will happen. It may either happen or the evil doer may intensify his/her actions and cause more harm to other people; a shift from uncertain but expected benefits to worse pains. Utilitarian judge actions on certain benefits and consequently most evil actions will not be legitimate for forgiveness i.e. the action of forgiving has uncertain benefits.