Wiping the Slate Clean: The Heart of Forgiveness

LUCY ALLAIS

‘Wiping the slate clean, or concerning some wrong, ceasing to ‘hold it against the perpetrator, are metaphors associated with forgiveness. Can we make philosophical sense of them? Specifically, my concern in this article is to make sense of the idea that these metaphors capture a core part of forgiveness, in a way that is compatible with seeing that forgiveness must be granted without changing judgments concerning the wrongness of the offense and the perpetrator’s culpability for it.
The first difficulty is simply to make sense of what is involved in ceasing to hold action against someone while continuing to regard it as wrong and as attributed to the perpetrator in the way which is necessary for there to be something to forgive.
Forgiving seems to mean ceasing to blame, but if blaming means holding the perpetrator responsible, then forgiveness requires not ceasing to blame, or else there will be nothing to forgive. The second problem concerns the point or justification of ‘wiping the slate clean. It might be thought that where the perpetrator has made appropriate and proportional atonement, there is nothing left for forgiveness to do but to acknowledge this and that where this has not happened, ‘wiping the slate clean’ would amount to condonation, a failure to condemn wrongdoing properly.

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