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Rectification and remainders

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-L082-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 25, 2024, from

Article Summary

Forgiveness, mercy and gratitude are rectifications, attempts to correct imbalances or set things right between us. Guilt is a moral remainder, a residue acknowledging an unexpiated wrong. Remainders offer us a limited redemption in revealing our appreciation that not everything has been made right.

Forgiveness manifests compassion for wrongdoers, who may or may not deserve it. Questions arise about when, what and whom we can forgive, what forgiving achieves, and when we ought or ought not to forgive. Forgiveness has special value in personal relationships, enabling their renewal. Connections among punishment, repentance, forgiveness and regret (another remainder) are complex, sometimes paradoxical.

Mercy often manifests forgiveness, as in pardons and amnesties. Yet we can also show mercy in administering rules where there has been no wrong. Is mercy unjust? Answers vary according to whether the case resembles a criminal offence or a civil suit. Grounded in others’ sufferings rather than their deeds, mercy has us see ourselves in them, but the value of doing so can be qualified by considerations of justice and of self-respect.

Mercy and forgiveness sometimes evoke gratitude, appreciative acknowledgement of another’s goodwill. Gratitude can be deserved or misplaced. Debts of gratitude are paradoxical, giving rise to ethical questions. When do we owe more than emotional response? What does reciprocity require between unequals? Some paradoxes may be solved by understanding obligations of gratitude as like those of a trustee rather than those of a debtor.

Guilt is emotional self-punishment (often relievable by forgiveness) which continues even after compensation, restitution or punishment by others. Questions arise about when it is rational and how it is related to shame, remorse, regret and repentance, which are also remainders.

Citing this article:
Card, Claudia Falconer. Rectification and remainders, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-L082-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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