What does love have to do with it? Do you really think that to forgive, we have to love the one who was brutal to us?
If I cannot offer this “moral love” or agape to the one who hurt me, does this mean that I have not forgiven?
No, it does not mean that at all. Aristotle makes a distinction between Essence and Existence. Essence is the core meaning of any object or concept. The highest Essence of forgiveness is to offer this moral love or agape to the other person. Existence in terms of forgiveness is how you express now that forgiveness to the other person. You might be able to reduce some resentment right now. If you can do that as you commit to do no harm to the other, you have begun the process of forgiveness. You have not reached the highest Essence of forgiveness, but you are expressing it to the best of your ability now. Here is a sports analogy to try to make this clearer. Suppose you are playing basketball and you are shooting free-throws. You make 4 out of 10 shots. This is your Existence (how you behave now) at the free-throw line. The Essence of basketball is to successfully make 10 out of 10 shots. Even though you are not matching the perfect Essence of free-throw shooting, you are playing basketball. It is similar with forgiveness. Even if you cannot offer complete forgiveness in terms of agape love, you still are forgiving as you commit to do no harm to the other and as you work in reducing resentment toward that person.
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.