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The Prudential Value of Forgiveness


Most philosophers who discuss the value of forgiveness concentrate on its moral value. This paper focuses on the prudential value of forgiveness, which has been surprisingly neglected by moral philosophers. I suggest that this may be because part of the concept of forgiveness involves the forgiver being motivated by moral rather than prudential considerations. But this does not justify neglecting the prudential value of forgiveness, which is important even though forgivers should not be prudentially motivated. Forgiveness helps satisfy interests arising from the need for co-operation in such areas as epistemic life, where humans are interdependent. Forgiveness can restore epistemic relationships, and this has the prudential value of helping agents navigate their way through their environment. While the prudential value of forgiveness may be supplementary to its moral value, it would be a mistake to ignore this area of the debate. Exploring the prudential value of forgiveness enriches our understanding of the role that this practice plays in human life, and may contribute to explaining the origin of forgiveness.

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  1. As I will note in §2, reconciliation is not always a valuable outcome of forgiveness. For instance, there may be cases in which it is admirable for a woman to forgive her abusive ex-partner, but full reconciliation would not be desirable in such circumstances.

  2. Traits of anger, for example, are a risk factor for coronary heart disease. For an important exploration of the therapeutic value of forgiveness, see Enright et al. (1992). See also the volume edited by Murphy and Lamb (2002).

  3. Glen Pettigrove (2012, 2–9) suggests that forgiveness can occur even when no resentment is present. He argues it is a broader class of hostile reactive attitudes and feelings that is relevant to forgiveness, and I am sympathetic to this. However, for brevity, I will tend to talk about resentment or negative feelings that are relinquished by the forgiver, rather than the broader group of attitudes suggested by Pettigrove.

  4. For discussions of early notions of forgiveness, see the volume edited by Griswold and Konstan (2012).


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For helpful comments on drafts of this paper, I am grateful to Geoffrey Scarre and Ian James Kidd. I would also like to thank Aaron Wilson, Holly Havens, Lizzy Kirkham, and audiences at the University of Durham and the University of Leeds.

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Correspondence to Stephen Ingram.

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Ingram, S. The Prudential Value of Forgiveness. Philosophia 41, 1069–1078 (2013).

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  • Forgiveness
  • Prudential value
  • Epistemic interdependence
  • Co-operation
  • Reconciliation