Do you forgive but never forget, or forget but never forgive? Remember that question from silly surveys we’d fill out in junior high when we didn’t feel like doing our homework? Well, this question just came up in an email exchange with a friend of mine, and it actually holds much relevance to an important ethical issue i’ve been grappling with.
But before i get to my personal story, let’s look at what Charles L. Griswold, author of Forgiveness: A Philosophical Exploration and recent contributor to The Stone, had to say about forgiveness.
First of all, Griswold introduces the idea of forgiveness as something that stems from religion, and coming from a non-religious background, i have difficulty understanding that perspective. For instance, what does forgiveness have to do with revenge? I was quite surprised to see revenge and vengeance included in the discussion, because those are completely separate issues for me when it comes to forgiveness. Maybe it’s just because i’m not a vengeful person (i honestly can’t think of a single instance when i got revenge on anyone), but when i think about forgiveness, i think only about what you might think about what someone did to you, not what you might do afterwards.
However, if giving up revenge and resentment were sufficient to yield forgiveness, then one could forgive simply by forgetting, or through counseling, or by taking the latest version of the nepenthe pill. But none of those really seems to qualify as forgiveness properly speaking, however valuable they may be in their own right as a means of getting over anger. The reason is that forgiveness is neither just a therapeutic technique nor simply self-regarding in its motivation; it is fundamentally a moral relation between self and other.
Coincidentally, on the day i wrote about birthdays, Peter Singer wrote about giving birth to new generations on the NYT’s new online column on philosophy, The Stone. Ever since reading it, i’ve been thinking about the issues raised, but even after eleven days of contemplation, i’m left with far more questions than answers.
Disregarding some of the red herrings in the essay, what i take to be the underlying critical questions are,
1) Is life worth living?
2) Is it ethical to have children without having an objective answer to the first question?
For some perspective, the following are my favorite of however many of the 1258 (and still counting) comments on Singer’s post that i read that address either the first question or Singer’s main question of whether it is ethical to have children knowing that they will have to endure the pain and suffering that are an inevitable part of life.
There is the positive perception of human existence:
It’s the striving, not the fulfilment, that brings satisfaction, at least for mankind. –Phil (Comment #255)
And the negative:
Those of us who have not shot ourselves in the head are either delusional or cowards. I am a coward who wonders is everyone else really so delusional? Or are we just telling each other that life is worth living when we all know we remain alive because nature has selected for those who fear death the most, and nobody wants to look scared. To me it seems like saying “I meant to do that….” after a gross error or pretending to enjoy the flogging you are recieving for appearances sake. Does the flogged man live for the spaces between the lash? Or does he live for when the lashing is done and he can finally crawl away and die knowing he made a good show of bravery? Either way the whole thing was just torture. –Todd (Comment #54)