Philosophy Walk: Mercy & Forgiveness
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Philosophy Walk: Mercy & Forgiveness

September 23,, 2023 @ 10:00 am - 1:00 pm

Ten MIle Creek Park - Helena, MT

We often talk about showing mercy or forgiving those who have harmed us as something noble, praiseworthy, perhaps even necessary or required in order to behave well. But this has by no means always been the case: the ancient Romans, for example, often saw the bestowal of mercy or clemency as a sign of tyranny and despotism, and they had some good reasons for doing so. By taking some historical perspective on these issues, in this walk we’ll aim to deepen our own understanding of the scope, limits, benefits, and dangers of mercy, clemency, and forgiveness.

After briefly clarifying what we mean by mercy, forgiveness, and clemency, we’ll consider their practice, from the vantage points both of the person who is forgiven, and the person who extends that forgiveness.

— First, what is it like to be the recipient of mercy or forgiveness? When, how, under what conditions is it good or bad for us to be on the receiving end of an act of clemency or mercy? In what ways can being forgiven be beneficial or harmful to us? What new duties or obligations might we have toward a person who has extended mercy or forgiveness to us?

— Second, what is it like to be the giver of mercy or forgiveness? How does extending, or withholding, forgiveness change our own character in good, bad, or (most likely) very mixed, complex ways?

Along the way, we’ll consider some of the complicated ways that forgiveness and mercy interact with other values and virtues:

— Can personal forgiveness, or judicial clemency, co-exist with justice? Or does “letting go” of a penalty that’s owed to us entail giving up on the virtue of justice?

— When, if at all, can there be a duty to forgive? Is forgiveness something that can be required, or is it something “above and beyond” any requirement or command?

–Who gets to decide when mercy or clemency is appropriate, and when it isn’t? And what does that say about our social and interpersonal relations, and the prospects for equality or inequality between people, as individuals and in society?


September 23, 2023
10:00 am - 1:00 pm
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Ten MIle Creek Park
1505 Williams Street (near Fort Harrison)
Helena, MT 59602 United States
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