Philosophy Ph.D. Dissertations

Quasi-Unconditionality: Higher Call to the Virtue of Forgiveness

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Philosophy, Applied

First Advisor

Donald Callen

Second Advisor

George Agich (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Marvin Belzer (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Federico Chalupa (Committee Member)


This dissertation defends a particular account of forgiveness called the “quasi-unconditional”

view. There are two main reasons for preferring this account over the ordinary philosophical one

which, for the sake of convenience, I have called the “transactional” account. First, the

transactional account depends upon the belief that wronging others is inherently tied to how we

choose to act as moral agents, meaning that wronging others can be avoided as long as we do

what is right. Hence, under this assumption, forgiveness is called for only in the case of actions

where the doer is both responsible and blamable. This implies that the transactional account has

nothing to say on forgiveness in the case where right action can be wrongful (i.e., where

inevitable wrongdoing happens), a feature of what I have called an actual moral world. In an

actual moral world, human experience is a theatre of practical and ethical incoherence in virtue

of the difficulties we face in carrying out the multiple and yet specific roles that are

simultaneously imposed on us as members of society. Thus some form of unconditional

forgiveness is necessary simply as a way of grappling with the problematic nature of the moral

life. Quasi-unconditionality is a form of unconditional forgiveness but one that is different from

the ordinary philosophical account of unconditional forgiveness. For instance, unlike its rival, it

addresses a whole range of circumstances or wrongs for which we may not know who is

responsible, or where the issue of responsibility and/or blame is genuinely in dispute. The second

reason for preferring quasi-unconditionality is that even if we live in an ideal moral world where

it is impossible to wrong others as long as we do what is right, the transactional account cannot

address the worries that arise in cases of extreme wrongdoing. Cataclysmic evils generate

contentious concerns over the appropriateness of forgiveness. For instance, forgiveness has no

“meaning,” and there is nothing that can be done to rectify the moral scales in these kinds of

offenses. Under such cases, an approach to forgiveness is called for that depends neither on

remorse, recognition of guilt or other conditions as a basis for forgiveness, but which still sees

these things as necessary for the forgiving process to be realized. This eliminates the ordinary

philosophical account of forgiveness, implying a commitment to a form of unconditional

forgiveness of a different kind. Extreme, massive and horrific evils are like an epidemic, and

hence they pose a serious threat to the very fabric of society. In such extreme cases, the moral

situation might demand that unconditionality as a practice be treated both as an obligation and as

a “gift”. The gift introduces a new dimension into the moral life: grace. Grace renews the moral

life in the face of tragedy, extreme wronging, and injustices, but it does not erase these evils.

Like a double-edged sword, grace serves the course of justice but also makes it possible to live

in a way that transcends the walled-in moral world that we would otherwise face.