Monday, December 22, 2014


177. Tolerance and forgiveness

The debatable ethics that I propose in this blog requires the ability and commitment of tolerance, in an effort to understand and perhaps forgive what appears to be moral failure.

Kevin DeLapp (p. 152)[i] proposed three forms of tolerance: normative, epistemic, and pluralistic. Normative tolerance entails ‘this is not my business’. It is close to indifference. Epistemic tolerance is modesty: ‘I don’t know, can’t judge’. Pluralistic tolerance entails the recognition that there may be alternative moral views or systems. Thus one may recognize as different but valid a consequentialist ethic where only outcomes matter, not motives, as well as a Kantian ethic where motives matter regardless of outcomes. This view can perhaps be seen as relativistic.

Epistemic tolerance may yield the effort to understand apparent moral failure, in recognition of the complexities, dilemmas and tragedy that may be involved in moral choice. What appears to fly in the face of one’s moral principles may upon scrutiny hide a commonality of such principles. Epistemic tolerance may lead to forgiveness.

For this, I propose, the causal analysis discussed in preceding items in this blog may help, with an analysis of the material, formal, final, efficient and conditional causes of action.

In debatable ethics this is to be combined with ‘voice’, extending the benefit of the doubt, listening to reasons given, and the effort at empathy. Only when that persistently fails should one resort to the ‘exit’ of censure, condemnation, or separation. That is also what I recommended for the building and maintenance of trust, in items 68-75 of this blog.

Concerning the material cause, one may find that the culprit did not see or have the morally relevant information on what happened.

Concerning the formal cause, one may find that he/she did not see or understand the moral salience of what happened.

Concerning the final cause, one may find that he/she saw a conflict between what was morally required and what was in his/her interest. Here the motive matters. 

Concerning the efficient cause, one may find that he/she had conflicting moral obligations. In case of tragedy all options were bad.

Concerning the conditional cause, one may find that he/she was following different moral principles, at odds with one’s own.

Concerning the exemplary cause, finally, one may find that he/she was following a bad example that to him/her was presented as a good example or an example of customary conduct.

All of these depend, in one way or another, on upbringing, education and social conditions.

So when does forgiveness arise? Clearly, when there was lack of perception, lack of moral ability, conflict between obligations, or tragedy, forgiveness is easiest. With respect to motive especially there is need for debate. How understandable was self-interest in comparison with moral obligation? That depends on the moral principles and their underlying ethic that were at play.

What if one disagrees with the underlying ethic? One may accept that it is an established ethic, even if one disagrees with it. This is pluralistic tolerance. Then a debate is in order to compare the alternative ethics. Here, voice may meet its limit, in the inability to agree or accept, and this may yield exit. When one can only see the other ethic as evil or unacceptable under any circumstances, exit is inevitable.

Such debate may stall in the inability to cross cognitive distance, or in emotions attached  to morality, obstructing empathy and understanding. Then a knowledgeable and wise third party may help, as a go-between, to help cross cognitive distance, defuse suspicion, dampen emotions and make repairs when debate is torn. Or in other words: to help voice and try and prevent exit. Providing an exemplary cause.   


[i] Kevin DeLapp, Moral realism, London: Bloomsbury, 2013