Tagged: “Humility”

Thank you for clarifying that to forgive is a moral response, but it is not a response of dominating the other.  Yet, I have a follow-up question: Might forgiveness actually be morally superior to, say, acrimony or hatred?

Let us make a distinction between the person who forgives and the act of forgiveness itself.  Those people who forgive are not acting in a morally superior way, but are lowering themselves in humility, as I explained before.  Yet, the act of forgiving is far superior in a moral sense than acrimony, getting back at the other, or hating the other.  Why?  It is because forgiving builds up and hatred has the potential of tearing down.  So, the person is not feeling morally superior; the forgiving act itself is considerably morally superior than the option to hate.

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My partner keeps saying that I am “morally superior” because I forgive.  He does not mean this in any positive sense.  He is using it as an insult.  How do you recommend that I respond?

I would say something such as this:  “Yes, forgiveness is a moral issue and so, yes, I am showing moral behavior toward you.”  Yet, as the philosopher Joanna North has said in a philosophy journal article, when people forgive, they lower themselves in humility so that each person can meet person-to-person.  So, yes, forgiving is an admirable moral response, but it does not suggest domination of the other at all.

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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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May I follow up on my question about humility? It seems to me that the value of humility has waned in the past few centuries. What do you think of this diminishing of the importance of humility in the eyes of the academic thinkers?

I think you are right that the negative view of humility within philosophy has been with us for centuries, with the writings of the Scottish philosopher David Hume and the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. For example, in the late 1800s, Nietzsche stated that those who try to humble themselves are actually trying to exalt the self. The famous philosophers Albert Camus and John Paul Sartre, in post-World War II France, split over the theme of humility. Whereas Camus embraced moral humility, rejected absolutism and violence, and acknowledged human fallibility, Sartre was not convinced (Dresser, 2017). I am not surprised, then, that philosophers such as David Hume have a negative view of forgiveness, which he called “a monkish virtue.”  I wonder what Mr. Hume did when holding resentment toward those who were less than fair to him.

Dresser, S. (2017). How Camus and Sartre split up over the question of how to be free.  Aeon, January 27, https://aeon.co/ideas/how-camus-and-sartre-split-up-over-the-question-of-how-to-be-free

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Do I have to grow in character before I am able to forgive? If so, what character traits do you see as important?

This is one of those chicken-or-the-egg dilemmas. It seems to me that as we forgive, we grow in the moral virtues, particularly of courage (as we decide to move forward), humility (as we try to see the humanity in the one who acted unfairly), and then eventually in love, particularly agape love, or that which is in service to others for their sake. Agape love costs the one who loves; it can be a struggle to offer goodness to another through a broken heart. These three: courage, humility, and agape love, I think, are major fruits of forgiving.

For additional information, see What is Forgiveness? 

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