Forgiveness: a work of love?

John Lippitt

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What difference would it make to our understanding of the process of interpersonal forgiveness to treat it as what Kierkegaard calls a ‘work of love’? In this article, I argue that such an approach – which I label ‘love’s forgiveness’ - challenges key assumptions in two prominent philosophical accounts of forgiveness. First, it challenges ‘desert-based’ views, according to which forgiveness at its best is ‘conditional’ upon such features as the wrongdoer’s repentance and making amends. But second, it also avoids legitimate worries raised against some forms of ‘unconditional’ forgiveness (such as Derrida’s claim that true forgiveness can forgive only ‘the unforgivable’). I argue that ‘love’s forgiveness’ neither endorses the Derridean view, nor communicates to the wrongdoer that no judgement is being made on her action. ‘Love’s vision’, I argue, has a crucial role to play in interpersonal forgiveness. I consider the objection that viewing forgiveness as a work of love is problematic because love involves a certain wilful blindness. Drawing on both Kierkegaard and some contemporary work in the philosophy of love, I examine Troy Jollimore’s argument that love has epistemic standards of its own, further arguing that in the relevant respects claims about romantic love and friendship can be extended to the case of agapic love of neighbour. By developing this view in relation to several key sections of Kierkegaard’s Works of Love, I show the importance of understanding ‘love’s forgiveness’ in the light of other virtues, especially hope and humility.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)19-39
Number of pages21
JournalParrhesia: a journal of critical philosophy
Publication statusPublished - 27 Nov 2017


  • Kierkegaard
  • Love
  • Forgiveness
  • Troy Jollimore
  • Humility


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