Tagged: “Aristotle”

Free on YouTube – Watch Dr. Robert Enright’s Greek Forgiveness Education Presentation

In case you missed it, you can now watch Dr. Robert Enright’s presentation during yesterday’s (Feb. 4) Greek Forgiveness Education webinar, on YouTube–for free. Details about the webinar can be found in the article posted immediately below this one.

The unique webinar was broadcast live via Zoom video conferencing from Greece. More than 4,500 individuals participated in the webinar or have watched the YouTube video since it was posted.

Dr. Enright, Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and founder of the International Forgiveness Institute (IFI) was the featured presenter for the webinar. His topic, “The Healing Value of Forgiveness from the Aristotelian Philosophical Perspective,” has special significance in Greece because Greek philosophers like Aristotle not only helped shape the world some twenty centuries ago, but they are still very much alive in the principles underlying what is being taught in the country today.

“I have been relying on Aristotle for 35 years,” Dr. Enright said in his opening remarks during the webinar–the same length of time he has been studying the “moral virtue” (Aristotle’s term) of forgiveness. “The English translation of what Aristotle described as a moral virtue is ‘magnanimity’ or ‘largeness of heart,’” Dr. Enright added–what he calls the very essence of forgiveness.

Following Dr. Enright’s presentation, Dr. Peli Galiti, Director of the IFI’s Greek Forgiveness Education Program spoke on “The Way to Forgiveness: From Theory to Practice.” For the past eight years, Dr. Galiti has been conducting Forgiveness Education training workshops for Greek teachers. During that time, she has trained more than 600 teachers to use the Forgiveness Education Program developed by Dr. Enright which is now being taught to more than 6,000 Greek students.

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I think that to forgive deeply, we need humility. How would you define humility?

Although Aristotle did not explicitly use the word humility, philosophers following in the Aristotelian tradition have seen humility as a moral virtue between the vices of dogmatism or arrogance on the one hand and timidity or moral weakness on the other (Hazlett, 2012).  In other words, humility is a quest for truth about the self and others that avoids extremes. 

Hazlett, A. (2012). Higher-order epistemic attitudes and intellectual humility. Episteme, 9, 205–223.

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Thank you for answering my question about getting to know what forgiveness is. I have another question for you: Is it possible for most people to go through the forgiveness process (your 20-unit Process Model) in a genuine way and to the full extent of forgiving?

I again, will refer to Aristotle and his wisdom about becoming perfected in the moral virtues.  According to Aristotle’s observations, all people have the potential for perfection in the moral virtues, but we do not reach that highest level of perfection because we are imperfect beings.  This actually keeps life interesting.  As we strive to get better in forgiveness or justice or love, we always have room for more improvement.  Yes, we do get better with practice, but no matter what our age or experience, we can look forward to more insights, surprises, and growth.

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As a strict philosophical materialist, I am convinced that there are no such things as moral offenses caused by an offender. I say this because there is no free will and so we cannot pin blame on “offenders” for their behavior. They have not chosen to act this way.

Well, I have to disagree.  Social science researchers claiming that brain activity preceded an observed behavior by participants never——never——study this in the context of morals.  In every case, the researchers measure such activity as button-pushing: Does the brain activity occur before a person pushes a button or does the person first decide to push the button and then it is registered in the brain?  Button-pushing has nothing whatsoever to do with moral decisions.  Would you claim that the person who executed little girls in the Amish community of Pennsylvania in 2006 “just couldn’t help it”?  Could he not help it when he lined them up?  Did his brain make him pull the trigger and some cause outside of him lead to what the executioner’s weapon was to be?  Had he lived, would you advocate no court trial? 

When it comes to morals and the claim that people have no free will, you have to be careful that your view of humanity does not degenerate.  I say that because your view leads to the ultimate conclusion that no person who acts monstrously ever can be rehabilitated other than through some kind of yet undiscovered brain surgery.  Surely some who act monstrously might have a brain lesion, but that would be the rare case, what Aristotle would call an Accident.  Why do I say this?  It is because many times (far too many) a young and very physically-healthy person has committed acts of unspeakable brutality.  Thus, the Aristotelian Accidents do not account for the entire story explaining monstrous behavior.  Free will, then, leading to self-chosen acts, seems to fit better such moral examples as occurred in the Amish community.

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The Common Good of Communities and the Need for Forgiveness: A View from Classical Greek Philosophy

A community is a single, whole entity, with a common purpose, made up of persons, each of whom is a single, whole entity (Maritain, 1994).  A community is not simply the sum total of the individuals in the community (a nominalist view).  Think of a symphonic community of musicians. There is a harmony of persons performing different activities and with different talents in the orchestra.  The group transcends any given part of the group (Wild, 1948).  A symphony orchestra is more than the violin section only.  Communities differ in their norms, beliefs, and actions (what Aristotle calls accidents).

Aristotelian realist philosophy states that communities have a common good (Aristotle, 1999/340 B.C.).  A common good is defined by Plato (2015/330 B.C.) in The Republic as persons growing in the Cardinal Virtues of justice, courage, wisdom, and temperance with these emphasized within the group. These four virtues, in Plato’s view, are not generated by opinion or feelings, but they naturally apply to all persons and all communities. These are understood by reason and chosen by the free will of each person.  In other words, the Cardinal Virtues are not forced upon us.

Let us, then, define these Cardinal Virtues: 1) Justice is offering one’s best to others and the community.  Kreeft (1992, p. 60) describes Platonic justice through the poetic image of music: one strives to be in harmony with others as all cooperate and play a beautiful societal tune. This is the central virtue according to Plato in The Republic.
2) Courage
is going ahead despite fear so that one can do one’s best even when it is difficult to do so.  3) Wisdom is knowing the right response at the right time without having a rule-book nearby.  4) Temperance is balance, avoiding too much or too little in all we do, including practicing the virtues, in pleasure seeking, and work.  In Book IV of his Republic, Plato (2015/330 B.C.) defends the view that all four of these Cardinal Virtues, together, help to mature individuals and to have a well-functioning community in which the greater good then benefits all. 

 As Wild (1948, p. 185) clarifies, the goal of the common good is human perfection for all in the community.  The common good of the community, which includes the good of each person, is considered higher than the individual good.  In other words, individuals can be in service to one another for the good of the other person and the good of the group. 

Now, and importantly for how forgiveness fits into the common good of the community, when people are treated unjustly by others, anger can ensue, which can develop into irritability (Stringaris, Vidal-Ribas, Brotman, & Leibenluft, 2017) and even to hatred.  Forgiving those who are unjust, then, can first reduce the anger, which in turn can reduce the desire for excessive recompense (in the case of justice), and the desire for reckless bravado (in the case of courage).  Without hatred, temperance can be restored, and the clear, rational thinking of wisdom can once again be present. If the common good is to be just, to work in harmony with others, then forgiveness can keep justice in balance, by first reducing toxic anger, and thus preserving the central Cardinal Virtue (justice) in communities. If this is true, then forgiveness needs to play a central part in the common good of communities.

If this is true, then forgiveness needs to be fostered in individuals, families, schools, workplaces, and places of worship……now.

Robert


  • Aristotle. (1999/340 B.C.). Nicomachean ethics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Kreeft, P. (1992). Back to virtue. San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
  • Maritan, J. (1994). The person and the common good. South Bend, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.
  • Plato, translated by B. Jowett (2015/approximately 330 BC). The complete works of Plato/ the republic. Hastings, East Sussex, United Kingdom: Delphi Classics.
  • Stringaris, A., Vidal-Ribas, P., Brotman, M.A., & Leibenluft, E. (2017). Practitioner review: Definition, recognition, and treatment challenges of irritability in young people. Journal of Child Psychology, 59, 721-739.
  • Wild, J. (1948). Introduction to realistic philosophy. New York: Harper & Row.
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