Forgiveness, Law, and Justice
Presented at the Brennan Center Jorde Symposium on October 20, 2014 (University of California, Berkeley) and January 8, 2015 (University of Chicago).
Should law encourage people to forgive one another—and should law be used to forgive people for wrongdoing? Or is it a mistake to promote greater connections between law, with its need for predictability, and forgiveness, with its dependence on emotions and moral judgments?
Before exploring these questions, I will discuss what I mean by forgiveness in Part I. Then, in Part II, I will turn to the possible roles law can play in relation to forgiveness in the contexts of criminal law—international and domestic—and debt, both of sovereign nations and consumers. When I first turned to some of these issues, South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was just getting started. In the twenty years since, and in no small measure because of the TRC effort, forgiveness has attracted global attention and debate in law, psychology, and politics well beyond its traditional home in religious and philosophical discussions. So I will also consider in Part II what we have learned from the TRC about the promises and limitations of joining forgiveness and law—both for law and for forgiveness. In Part III, I will raise some questions about the inquiry myself. Finally, in Part IV, I will provide closing thoughts and suggestions for incorporating forgiveness into existing domestic and international legal frameworks. Finding room for forgiveness through law or alongside law can draw upon a non-depletable resource, thereby enhancing human relationships without forgoing the accountability so important to social order.