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On taking back forgiveness

Scarre, Geoffrey

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Geoffrey Scarre


I argue that the effectiveness of forgiveness in the healing of relationships is dependent on both the givers and recipients of forgiveness understanding that once it has been granted, forgiveness is not normally able to be retracted. When we forgive, we make a firm commitment not to return to our former state of moral resentment against the offender, replacing it by good-will. This commitment can be broken only where the forgiving party makes some significant cognitive adjustment to her appraisal of either the offender or the offence, believing that her original forgiveness was granted in error. I reject the view (defended, for example, by Anthony Bash) that forgiveness can lapse or be withdrawn on the basis of a return of hurt or disappointed feelings, arguing that these do not amount to a restoration of the resentment that is extinguished when forgiveness is granted. I contend that a person who ‘forgives’ and later takes back that ‘forgiveness’ because certain negative feelings have returned either did not genuinely forgive in the first place or shows that she has not fully grasped the nature of forgiveness.


Scarre, G. (2016). On taking back forgiveness. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, 19(4), 931-944.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Oct 16, 2015
Online Publication Date Nov 7, 2015
Publication Date Aug 1, 2016
Deposit Date Nov 12, 2015
Publicly Available Date Nov 13, 2015
Journal Ethical Theory and Moral Practice
Print ISSN 1386-2820
Electronic ISSN 1572-8447
Publisher Springer
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 19
Issue 4
Pages 931-944
Keywords Forgiveness, Withdrawal of forgiveness, Performative forgiveness, Repentance, Reconciliation, Moral judgement, Anthony Bash.


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Advance online version This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.

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