Do Repentance and Change of Character Excuse Wrongdoing?

By Yaw A. Frimpong-Mansoh.

Published by The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society

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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

The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society, Volume 2, Issue 1, pp.71-84. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 253.695KB).

Dr. Yaw A. Frimpong-Mansoh

Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Philosophy, Northern Kentucky University, Highland Heights, Kentucky, USA

Dr. Yaw A. Frimpong-Mansoh: Dr. Yaw A. Frimpong-Mansoh received his Ph. D. from the University of Alberta, Canada in August, 2011. Dr. Frimpong-Mansoh’s specialization and competence include: Ethics (Theory and Applied), Africana Philosophy, Social and Political Philosophy, Philosophy of Race, Health Care Ethics, History of Modern Philosophy (Hume). Frimpong-Mansoh has published and presented in reputable national and International journals and conferences. Samples of his publications and presentations include: “Culture and Voluntary Informed Consent in African Health Care Systems,” Developing World Bioethics, 2008, 8 (2):104–14; “Democratic Consolidation in Ghana: The Role of the News Media,” Africa Media and Democracy Conference: Towards Sustainable Stability in Africa, Accra, Ghana, August 15–18, 2012; Why Africa Matters to African American’s Cultural Identity, 16th Meeting of the Alain Locke Society, George Washington University, Washington DC., November 7–8, 2008. Dr. Frimpong-Mansoh is an NEH Scholar, National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute and Seminar on Philosophical Perspectives on Liberal Democracy and the Global Order, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, MO, June 1–25, 2010.