But, the Dictionary Says….

So often I have heard people fall back to a definition of something with deep philosophical import by saying, “But, the dictionary says….”

Let us examine the definition of “forgive” from the Merriam-Webster on-line dictionary. The first entry tells us that “forgive” means “to give up resentment…” As we saw in our blog post of December 19, 2012, this cannot possibly be the definition because it also could define the term indifference. If I give up resentment yet retain some mild annoyance toward those who have offended me, then I still actually may not be forgiving.

A synonym allegedly is pardon. Yet, pardon, as a legal term, involves a third party, uninvolved in the original offense, making a determination. In forgiveness the one offended is making that determination.

Bottom line: When it comes to philosophically subtle and important terms such as forgiveness, it is best not to rely on the dictionary.

And as a final thought, the writers at Merriam-Webster would do well to revise their dictionary.

Dr. Bob

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1 comment

  1. Jeffrey says:

    It is important, as you say, to make distinctions between related constructs. We can be too broad in our definitions (a chair is a piece of furniture, yes, but so is a sofa) or it can be too narrow (a chiar is what you sit on at the dining room table, yes, but this limits “chair” only to a dining function). You strike the right balance with forgiveness. Thank you for being a voice of reason in a world often confused by the word “forgiveness.”


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