I have been reading some of the social scientific literature on forgiveness and I am a bit confused.  I see a lot of different definitions of forgiveness out there.  Is forgiveness more than one thing?

To forgive another is a moral virtue of being good to those who are not good to you.  I am going to give you a little philosophy here based on Aristotle.  He made the distinction between what he called the Essence of any moral virtue and the Existence of that virtue.  Essence asks this question: What is the objective meaning of forgiveness that is consistent across cultures and across historical time?  Existence asks this question: How does the fundamental sense of forgiveness (that is fixed across cultures and historical time) have nuances for each person and within different cultures?  So, there is a fixed definition of what forgiveness is (its Essence) and yet it can behaviorally vary according to each person’s ability to forgive and according to different cultural norms for expressing forgiveness (its Existence).  The differences in the definition of forgiveness (its Essence) within the social scientific literature is caused by different researchers having different views of forgiveness (including misunderstandings of what forgiveness is) and not something inherent within forgiveness itself.

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