Monday, December 28, 2020

Forgive the Unforgivable: Derrida and the Paradox of Forgiveness

When we ask forgiveness from someone, what do we want from him? When someone forgives, what happens? To whom can the power be forgiven and what happens if he refuses to use it?


The subject of forgiveness raises many questions, one of which is the so-called "paradox of forgiveness" which can be described as follows: forgiveness is possible only where there is injustice. The more there is to forgive, the less justification there is for forgiveness, because the greater the injustice, the more the offender harms, and the more the victim is harmed.

The French-Jewish philosopher Jacques Derride, one of the proponents of the paradox of forgiveness, argued that "only the unforgivable can be forgiven" (in an article entitled "Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness") He is one who does not justify forgiveness, and therefore cannot be forgiven. There is in forgiveness then something that goes beyond the ordinary, the logical, the required, something that should not happen, forgiveness that should not be accepted, but in some miraculous way does.

Another problem that Derrida points to in the context of forgiveness is that the statement "I forgive you" can actually be a forceful expression of superiority. In forgiveness the forgiver takes upon himself the power of forgiveness and uses his generosity in order to leave himself in a position of power and the forgiven in a position of submission. For Derrida "pure forgiveness" is "forgiveness without power", it is an unconditional forgiveness given without a claim to hierarchy and without placing anyone above the other. It is a forgiveness given to a person unconditionally, without demanding anything from him in return or leaving him committed to that forgiveness. This is the impossible forgiveness, and for Derrida, this is the only forgiveness there is.