The conditions of legitimate attributions of responsibility have been perennially debated by philosophical, religious and legal scholars. Generally, the discussion tends to be dominantly focused on the responsibility of the wrongdoer. The moral standing of repented and reformed wrongdoers usually slips through the discussion. Is it morally legitimate to hold repented and reformed wrongdoers responsible for their past wrongdoing? Is failing to excuse repented and reformed wrongdoers of responsibility morally wrong? I engage in a theoretical examination of the concepts of repentance and character reform, and examine the extent to which they constitute legitimate grounds of excuse of wrongdoing. My central concern is not fundamentally about the possibility of false judgments in wrongdoing. Also, my main concern transcends the issue whether a wrongdoer deserves a humane treatment. Instead, I am ultimately concerned with the deeper issue whether we owe a moral obligation towards repented and reformed offenders.
I approach the discussion normatively from the context of David Hume’s discussion of excuse conditions of wrongdoing, both in his Treatise and Enquiries. Hume stopped short of stating clearly whether an excuse consideration towards a repented and changed wrongdoer is a moral obligation. Using Hume’s account as a stepping stone, I defend a stronger claim that, in matters of justice and fairness, excusing a repented and changed wrongdoer is a moral imperative. I distinguish excuse from forgiveness, and argue that unlike the latter, excuse in the contexts of repentance and change of character is an obligatory principle of justice but not a sentiment of mercy and compassion reducible to a personal voluntary decision or choice. The discussion concludes with an examination of implications for social justice the ideas of repentance and excuse discussed in this paper.
|Keywords:||Repentance, Forgiveness, Revenge, Retribution, Punishment, Character, Responsibility, Excuse, Restorative Justice, David Hume|
Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Philosophy, Northern Kentucky University, Highland Heights, Kentucky, USA