Forgiveness at the Limit: Impossible or Possible?

Richard Kearney

Strony: 143 - 155



In the paper, the author analyses the concept and the phenomenon of forgiveness as discussed by several contemporary philosophers. He focuses his attention upon the contemporary debate on forgiveness at the limit, with particular reference to the question of pardon as a secret gift. Several contemporary thinkers have responded to the question of the limits of forgiveness. Jankelevitch and Primo Levi have affirmed the impossibility of forgiving those who do not ask for forgiveness. Hannah Arendt talked of the impossibility of forgiving radical evil; Derrida has written of the impossibility of pure forgiveness tout court. Paul Ricoeur seeks an alternative response to the limit of forgiveness. He attempts to give due credence to the strong arguments of Derrida, Jankelevitch and Arendt, while seeking to shift the final emphasis from ‘impossible’ to ‘difficult’. In author’s discussion of forgiveness of the radical evil, he argues that it calls for an answering power of radical good. He stresses that the possibility of forgiveness is a ”marvel” precisely because it surpasses the limits of rational calculation and explanation; gratuitousness of the pardon is due to the very fact that the evil it addresses is not part of some dialectical necessity: the pardon is something that makes little sense before we give it, but much sense once we do.