Abstract: Forgiveness, Mercy, Revenge

This project will involve both a descriptive and a prescriptive element. I intend to describe, as accurately as possible, how modern Americans actually conceive of forgiveness, mercy, and revenge, and thus to reveal the role these concepts play in our collective imagination. I will analyze popular media and related media criticism to demonstrate that certain problematic understandings of forgiveness and revenge already exist in the American social consciousness. From there, I will analyze historical texts and philosophy to develop a practical understanding of how these attitudes affect real people. As of now, I have considered not only philosophical texts, but also psychology books, memoirs, historical records, and holy texts. By analyzing a broad range of texts across disciplines, I hope to create a philosophical framework which is both theoretically interesting and practically useful.

I expect to write four academic essays over the course of the project. The first would describe my concept of moral power, which I will argue is at the heart of forgiveness. The second essay will explain how this power is also central to concepts of mercy and revenge. The third essay will discuss the ethics of withholding and revoking forgiveness, and the final essay will connect the previous portions of the project to the philosophy of religion, as I will explore the implications of my conclusions for the problem of evil.