When did “forgiveness” become part of life? More precisely, there is no need for forgiveness in the animal world up to the early Homo sapiens, say, some 50,000 years ago… oh, there is no resentment, no revenge either but, of course, violence for survival/protection is part of life in all organisms: So what triggered the need for forgiveness?

Humans are **aware** of themselves. They are aware of others as well.  This awareness leads to the question, “What is right and what is wrong?”  When what is right fails, humans are aware of this. A central response of mending the effects of this wrong-doing is forgiveness (the awareness that even though the other did wrong, one can accept the wrong-doer as a person).  So, awareness starts the sequence which leads to forgiveness. No other species seems to be self-aware like this.

Please follow and like us:
Categories: Ask Dr. Forgiveness


  1. Are you then saying non-human animals and insects are not aware of themselves and of others? That’s not my experience. I wish you could expand on your assertion. Of course, most people would agree that non-humans animals and insects do not have the consciousness humans have. I suggest this ought to be restated as “the other species have their own level of consciousness” which, it could be argued, is less complex if compared with human’s consciousness. In other words, there may be more than “awareness” at play. Thanks for the opportunity to exchange initial comments…since my interest is on understanding.

    • directorifi says:

      The lower animals see and perceive, but they do not **reflect.*. They cannot think to themselves: “I am aware.” It is this reflective awareness that is so qualitatively different. As Aristotle said, we are rational. We are aware that we are aware, and it makes all the difference. Dr. Enright

      • Agreed. But my question remains unanswered: when did forgiveness emerge? I suspect, though not sure, it came about when violence beyond survival and protection became part of societal life. Again, the key point here is twofold: first, violence beyond survival emerged after early Homo sapiens; second, the need to forgive emerged later on. As regards Aristotle… a great wise man, indeed… he also remarked that birds in winter change their feathers so as to cope with the changing temperatures while the truth is that he was observing migrating birds…

  2. Robert says:

    Hello, Georges. Thank you for the follow-up comment. One of your premises seems to be that forgiveness occurs only in the context of violence, but in my experience forgiving others occurs most often in the context of annoyances. Thus, and I only am guessing, it seems that forgiving others would have first emerged when: 1) people are aware (or aware that they are aware); 2) they see injustices, even if those injustices are annoyances (a tired and insensitive spouse; a child who is acting badly, as examples); and 3) they are aware that they can offer forgiveness. We know that forgiveness was occurring during the time of the Hebrew nation, about 3,000 years ago because the first historical record of which I am aware is of Joseph forgiving his brothers in the book of Genesis.

  3. Yes, I agree that “forgiveness” applies, as well, to “annoyances” or, rather, disappointments and frustrations. But, the central question in this conversation started with, “when did forgiveness become part of life?” and I dare say it emerged later than the early Homo sapiens, say, between 10,000 and 50,000 years ago… in other words, much earlier than the time of Joseph and his brothers. I adopted such “idea” on the basis of our ancestors getting, sort of, organized…that is, the emergence of “chiefs” and their need to rule others…. subsequently introducing punishments which in turn trigger counter-reactions. Of course, I speculate: I am not young but was not there. But I have support in my thinking when observing mammals and birds in various environments including wilderness. And I wrote a philosophical essay after studying/rediscovering the development of our worldviews. Sincere thanks for your prompt and interesting response.

  4. Robert says:

    Hello, again, Georges. I think we both agree that forgiveness may have first occurred when injustices were getting in the way of relationships and psychological well-being. It may have started as a way to cooperate and self-regulate. When did humanity become self-aware so that people could reflect: “I am being treated unfairly. What can I do to diminish the negative effects of this?” I am not sure how long ago that was.

    • I am well aware of your time constraints and therefore particularly thankful for your attention to my question. Indeed, we agree that forgiveness and injustice “emerged” somehow together. If I may, such emergence (of injustice) may have been “helped” by the ideas of a tribe chief getting too much into individual lives because of greed and maybe some good intentions. That sort of greed does not exist in the non-human world. That’s why I expressed in my first comment, along with my question, that “forgiveness” might have started somewhere during early Homo sapiens times (say, between 10,000 and 50,000 years ago). For each emerged phenomenon many “origins” can be identified along the time line. The subject is complex and humans have complicated it (by introducing arbitrary “starting points” as well as several “special” time lines… as if the world did not have one only time line… for the convenience of a particular view). Again, sincere thanks.


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *