Forgiveness: A Cognitive-Motivational Anatomy



This work aims to identify the constituents of forgiveness in terms of the forgiver's beliefs and motivating goals. After addressing the antecedents of forgiveness—a perceived wrong—and distinguishing the notion of mere harm from that of offense, we describe the victim's typical retributive reactions—revenge and resentment—and discuss their advantages and disadvantages. Then we focus on the forgiver's mind-set, pointing to the relationship between forgiveness and acceptance of the wrong, addressing the forgiver's motivating goals, and discussing both their self-interested and altruistic implications. In so doing we also discuss the role of the forgiver's positive feelings towards the offender, arguing that, however important, they are unnecessary to forgiveness. We finally identify two kinds of forgiveness—conditional and unconditional—suggesting that they are grounded on different notions of “worth.”