"In Defense of Third Party Forgiveness," forthcoming, The Moral Psychology of Forgiveness. Ed. K. Norlock (Rowman and Littlefield), 2017. Show/Hide Abstract
In this paper, I take issue with the widespread philosophical consensus that only victims of wrongdoing are in a position to forgive it. I offer both a defense and a philosophical account of third-party forgiveness. I argue that when we deny this possibility, we misconstrue the complex, relational nature of wrongdoing and its harms. We also risk over-moralizing the victim's position and overlooking the roles played by secondary participants. I develop an account of third-party forgiveness that both demonstrates how successful, morally legitimate, acts of third-party forgiveness are possible and simultaneously highlights the particular moral risks that would-be third-party forgivers face. I conclude insofar as they are appropriately grounded and cautiously bestowed, at least some acts of third-party forgiveness contribute significantly to post-conflict repair.
"'Hello. My Name is Inigo Montoya:' Revenge as Moral Address," forthcoming, Reasonable Responses. Ed. C. Hundleby (Windsor Studies in Argumentation), 2016. Show/Hide Abstract
Trudy Govier offers a sweeping moral critique of revenge, arguing that even non-violent, limited, acts of revenge are wrong, insofar as they necessarily treat the target as an instrument of the revenger's satisfaction (offending against respect for persons) and thus morally diminish the revenger. I challenge Govier's critique by broadening her account of revenge, focusing in particular on its communicative complexities. Revenge aims to address rather than use its target, I argue, for the revenger to be satisfied. It is plausibly described as a kind of forcible persuasion, in which the revenger aims to convince her target of the target's moral desert and the revenger's moral authority. Nevertheless, the unilateral nature of this address and the morally simplistic worldview on which it depends present significant (and likely fatal) moral risks to any project of vengeance.
"Fiduciary Duties and the Ethics of Public Apology." Journal of Applied Philosophy 2016. DOI: 10.1111/japp.12214. Show/Hide Abstract
The practice of official apology has a fairly poor reputation. Dismissed as 'crocodile tears' or cheap grace, such apologies are often seen by the public as an easy alternative to more punitive or expensive ways of taking real responsibility. I focus on what I call the role-playing criticism, the argument that someone who offers an apology in public cannot be appropriately apologetic precisely because they are only playing a role. I offer a qualified defense of official apologies against this objection, considering them through the lens of fiduciary duties. This focus draws our attention to formal or impersonal relationships that are nevertheless normatively rich, capable of sustaining trust, concern, and care. At the same time, I highlight several pitfalls for fiduciary apologizers, including the tension between apology as a mode of truth telling and the duty of confidentiality. I consider whether the fiduciary apologizer, in reflecting on her fiduciary obligations, has "one thought too many" (Williams 1981) for genuine apology, and argue that the issue of mixed motives is not limited to fiduciary contexts, cautioning against excessive idealism in our conception of apology. I conclude with some reflections on possible conflicts between fiduciary obligations and the conscientious desire to apologize.
"'Trust Me, I'm Sorry' The Paradox of Public Apology" The Monist 98:4 (2015) 441-56. Show/Hide Abstract
Our attitude to official apologies is paradoxical. Despite widespread critique of most apologies issued by heads of state, government, and NGOs, public demand for such apologies continues to arise with predictable regularity—we demand even as we condemn. I argue that the role of apologies in securing public trust in a democratic context can explain this paradoxical attitude. By contrasting private and public apologies, I demonstrate that the latter have emerged as a performative (rather than legal or structural) model for accountability, and thus for re-inspired public trust. I conclude by demonstrating significant democratic risks to this practice.
"Beyond the Ideal Political Apology," The Uses and Abuses of Political Apology. Ed. M. Mihai and M. Thaler, pp. 13-31. Palgrave MacMillan 2014. Show/Hide Abstract
Philosophers of apology typically model political apologies on their more personal cousins, looking for standards in the private realm by which to govern apologies made in public. This search, I believe, is mistaken – for two reasons. In this paper, I offer an alternative approach to political apologies, by turning to Hannah Arendt’s account of meaningful political speech. The moral significance of how we address, account for, and narrate past political wrongs is paramount, but this significance is best surmised when such questions are viewed through the lens of apology as political practice. My argument for this conclusion takes the following form. I begin by addressing what it means for an apology to be political, and briefly sketch the grounds for my skepticism concerning the standard approach to normative theories of apology, before turning to my Arendtian framework. I outline several reasons why Arendt is a fruitful resource for theorists of apology and sketch an Arendtian framework for evaluating political apologies, based on the features she attributes to meaningful political speech as action. I conclude by discussing the possibilities and limits of this framework.
"Gender and Public Apology" Transitional Justice Review 1:2 (2013) 126-47. Show/Hide Abstract
Why should a philosopher of public apology pay attention to gender? In this paper, I present a two-part argument for 'gendering' normative theories of public apology. First, I show that gender is deeply implicated in significant harms for which public apologies are demanded. Second, I argue there are multiple connections between gender and practices of public apology, connections that become evident once we consider apologies as public narratives, performed in public spaces and expressive of public responsibility.
"Government Apologies to Indigenous Peoples" (forthcoming in Justice, Responsibility and Reconciliation in the Wake of Conflict, ed. A MacLachlan and C.A. Speight, Springer 2012) Show/Hide Abstract
In this paper, I explore how theorists might navigate a course between the twin dangers of piety and excess cynicism when thinking critically about state apologies, by focusing on two government apologies to indigenous peoples: namely, those made by the Australian and Canadian Prime Ministers in 2008. Both apologies are notable for several reasons: they were both issued by heads of government, and spoken on record within the space of government: the national parliaments of both countries. Furthermore, in each case, the object of the apology – that which was apologized for – comes closer to disrupting the idea both countries have of themselves, and their image in the global political community, than any previous apologies made by either government. Perhaps as a result, both apologies were surrounded by celebration and controversy alike, and tracing their consequences – even in the short term – is a difficult business. We avoid excessive piety or cynicism, I argue, when we take several things into account. First, apologies have multiple functions: they narrate particular histories of wrongdoing, they express disavowal of that wrongdoing, and they commit to appropriate forms of repair or renewal. Second, the significance and the success of each function must be assessed contextually. Third, when turning to official political apologies, in particular, appropriate assessment of their capacity to disavow or to commit requires that consider apologies both as performance and as political action. While there remain significant questions regarding the practice of political apology – in particular, its relationship to practices of reparation, forgiveness and reconciliation – this approach can provide a framework with which to best consider them.
"Closet Doors and Stage-Lights: On the Goods of Out" Social Theory and Practice 38:2 (2012) 302-32. Show/Hide Abstract
This paper makes an ethical and a conceptual case against any purported duty to come out of the closet. While there are recognizable goods associated with coming out, namely, leading an authentic life and resisting oppression, these goods generate a set of imperfect duties that are defeasible in a wide range of circumstances, and are only sometimes fulfilled by coming out. Second, practices of coming out depend on a 'lump' picture of sexuality and on an insufficiently subtle account of responsible disclosure. We value and promote the goods of out best when we leave the framework of the closet, and not merely the closet door, behind.
"The Philosophical Controversy over Political Forgiveness" Public Forgiveness in Post-Conflict Contexts. Ed. B.A.M. Stokkom, N. Doorn and P. Van Tongeren, pp. 37-64. Intersentia 2012. Show/Hide Abstract
The question of forgiveness in politics has attained a certain cachet. Indeed, in the fifty years since Arendt commented on the notable absence of forgiveness in the political tradition, a vast and multidisciplinary literature on the politics of apology, reparation, and reconciliation has emerged. To a novice scouring the relevant literatures, it might appear that the only discordant note in this new veritable symphony of writings on political forgiveness has been sounded by philosophers. There is a more-than-healthy cynicism directed at what many philosophers see as an uncritical promotion of forgiveness, which – they fear – risks distorting and cheapening forgiveness as a moral ideal, on the one hand, and ignoring the moral and political values of justice, accountability and the cessation of harmful relationships, on the other. Are philosophical fears about the dangers of thinking about forgiveness in political terms warranted – or do they perhaps depend in part on conceptual conservatism regarding what exactly political forgiveness might be? I argue that most, if not all, standard objections to political forgiveness emerge from theoretical reliance on a picture of forgiveness I will call the Emotional Model. Once we make conceptual space for descriptions of forgiveness in performative and social terms, the concept is more easily adapted to a political account without at least some of the risks feared by philosophers.
"Complicating Out: The Case of Queer Femmes" with Susanne Sreedar (Passing/Out: Sexual Identity Veiled and Revealed, ed. D. Cooley and K. Harrison, Ashgate 2012) Show/Hide Abstract
In this chapter, we take up some ethical questions surrounding passing/outing – specifically, as they arise for those with queer femme identities. We argue that for persons perceived by others to be female, and who have queer sexual identities and feminine or 'femme' gender identities, choice between the various possibilities listed above may be complicated in morally significant ways. In some ways, these conflations privilege queer femmes; in others, femmes find themselves implicated in a political double bind. We contend that this example complicates the political and ethical demands that are typically taken to arise from the question of passing or coming out. We conclude by briefly exploring what it means to live queer femme identity responsibly and what this means for the ethics of sexual identity more generally.
Review Essay: "The State of 'Sorry': Official Apologies and their Absence." Journal of Human Rights 9:3 (2010) pp. 373-385.
"Unreasonable Resentments." Journal of Social Philosophy 41:4 (2010) pp. 422-441. Show/Hide Abstract
How ought we to evaluate and respond to expressions of anger and resentment? Can philosophical analysis of resentment as the emotional expression of a moral claim help us to distinguish which resentments ought to be taken seriously? Philosophers have tended to focus on what I call 'reasonable' resentments, presenting a technical, narrow account that limits resentment to the expression of recognizable moral claims. In the following paper, I defend three claims about the ethics and politics of resentment. First, if we care about socially just processes of reconciliation, we have good reason to pay attention to the logic of resentments. Second, the account philosophers offer of resentment – its distinctive features, aims, rationality, and gratification – will affect the conclusions we draw about which actual resentments to take seriously, which aspects of resentful claims need addressing, and what it means to address and repair them. In contesting definitions of resentment, I argue, we do more than simply perform housekeeping in philosophical taxonomies of emotion. Restricting our understanding to essentially 'moral' cases may cause us to lose sight of expressly political resentments. Instead, I argue, a plausible account of resentment must acknowledge that we resent violations and threats that are not necessarily self-pertaining, may not be expressible as individual, discrete injuries, and cannot always be construed as moral threats. Second, given the dependence of moral judgments on a broader horizon of moral possibility, philosophical standards of 'reasonable' or 'appropriate' resentment cannot avoid being politically charged. Thus, the widely accepted account of 'reasonable' resentment cannot make philosophical sense of the most interesting and perplexing cases. Ironically, a theoretical measure designed to revalue emotional expressions of moral protest may result in the exclusion and silencing of those with the most reasons to protest.
"Resentment and Moral Judgment in Smith and Butler." The Adam Smith Review 5 (2010) pp. 161-177 Show/Hide Abstract
This paper is a discussion of the 'moralization' of resentment in Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments. By moralization, I do not refer to the complex process by which resentment is transformed by the machinations of sympathy, but a prior change in how the 'raw material' of the emotion itself is presented. In just over fifty pages, not only Smith's attitude toward the passion of resentment, but also his very conception of the term, appears to shift dramatically. What is an unpleasant, unsocial and relatively amoral passion of anger in general metamorphoses into a morally and psychologically rich account of a cognitively sharpened, normatively laden attitude, an attitude that contains both the judgment that the injury done to me was unjust and wrongful, and the demand that the offender acknowledge its wrongfulness. Two very different readings of 'Smithean resentment' are thus available from the text. Indeed, the notion of two distinct forms of resentment – an instinctive, amoral version and a rich, rationally appraising attitude – would bring Smith into line with an earlier account of resentment, found in Bishop Joseph Butler's Fifteen Sermons Preached at Rolls Chapel, first published in 1726. Ultimately, I argue, the differences in their theories are to Smith's credit. It is precisely because the 'thin' or generic retaliatory passion described in Part I can be reconciled with the rich, normative attitude in Part II, that Smith is able to accomplish his meta-ethical goal of grounding moral judgments in naturally occurring emotions.
"Practicing Imperfect Forgiveness," in Feminist Ethics and Social and Political Philosophy: Theorizing the Non-Ideal. Ed. Lisa Tessman. Springer, 2009. pp. 185-204. Show/Hide Abstract
Forgiveness is typically regarded as a good thing - even a virtue - but acts of forgiveness can vary widely in value, depending on their context and motivation. Faced with this variation, philosophers have tended to reinforce everyday concepts of forgiveness with strict sets of conditions, creating ideals or paradigms of forgiveness. These are meant to distinguish good or praiseworthy instances of forgiveness from problematic instances and, in particular, to protect the self-respect of would-be forgivers. But paradigmatic forgiveness is problematic for a number of reasons, including its inattention to forgiveness as a gendered trait. We can account for the values and the risks associated with forgiving far better if we treat it as a moral practice and not an ideal.
"Moral Powers and Forgivable Evils," in Evil, Political Violence and Forgiveness: Essays in Honour of Claudia Card. Ed. Kathryn Norlock and Andrea Veltman. Lexington, 2009. pp.135-158. Show/Hide Abstract
In The Atrocity Paradigm, Claudia Card suggests we forgiveness as a potentially valuable exercise of a victim's moral powers. Yet Card never makes explicit just what 'moral powers' are, or how to understand their grounding or scope. I draw out unacknowledged implications of her framework: namely, that others than the primary victim may forgive, and -- conversely -- that some victims may find themselves morally dis-empowered. Furthermore, talk of "moral powers" allows us to appropriately acknowledge the value of refusals to forgive and the issue of "forgivable" evils, in ways that talk of forgiveness as a duty or virtue cannot.
Drafts for download or links to most papers are available through my Academia.edu page.
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