Foregone forgiveness and guaranteed gifts…

AXIOM: If everything is necessary, nothing is gratuitous.

POSTULATE: Forgiveness and gift-giving are intrinsically gratuitous.

SUB-POSTULATE 1: A non-gratuitous gift is a contradiction in terms, just as ineluctable forgiveness is morally incoherent.

EXAMPLE 1: If I force you to bring about a “forgiveness event” on John’s behalf then I have simply forced you to act in such and such a manner without actually forgiving John.

SUB-POSTULATE 2: If a gift is a guaranteed outcome of prior conditions in a relationship, and if forgiveness is a forced result of conditions pertaining to the offense, then neither the gift-giving nor the act of forgiveness has any intrinsic merit or moral significance.

CONCLUSION: If everything is necessary, there is no such thing as forgiveness and gift-giving.

REJOINDERS: Even on a compatibilistic reading, in which strict determinism is compatible with an agent’s own intrinsic actions, determinism still renders the forgiveness and gifting events necessary, whereby they are not truly acts of forgiveness and gifting. Even if a determinist can say that nothing “extrinsic to” the agent’s (determined) nature, dispositions, knowledge, etc. “forced” him to forgive someone (or give a gift to someone), he still must acknowledge that the entire event qua the-agent’s-forgiving-somebody (or the-agent’s-giving-of-a-gift), were inevitable, absolutely necessary outcomes of prior conditions. Thus, while the agent may “feel” he himself is forgiving his offender, and while this feeling may be as fully compatible with his own (determined) nature as his (determined) sense of outrage at the offense is, yet, in the larger moral framework in which the event is actually recognized as an act of forgiveness, there is nothing gratuitous or magnanimous about the act of forgiveness itself. For, if determinism is true, the agent’s magnanimity followed from the offender’s wrongdoing as necessarily as did the agent’s being upset. The same holds for the act of gift-giving. If it is a strict necessity that I will give a beggar some money for dinner, or that I will surprise my wife with a bouquet, then those acts are not in the least gratuitous. It may be true that nothing within the event-structure itself “forces” me, against my own (determined) nature, to be generous or romantic, yet the events themselves are necessary, and therefore lack anything of the gratuitous nature of acts of generosity, hospitality, forgiveness, sacrifice, etc.

MUSINGS: It seems that determinism’s only criterion for good and evil is whether an act ends up being forgiven or ends up remaining unforgiven. If it is ineluctably determined that a man’s murdering another man’s wife will result in the husband’s forgiveness of the murderer, then it seems there was, ultimately, nothing truly wrong with his act of murder. After all, it resulted in a virtuous act and was pardoned from the murderer’s record (at least vis-Ã -vis the husband). Likewise, it seems that the only deterministic criterion for generosity is whether someone ends up being generous or not. If a man’s deliberation to give a gift or not necessarily results in, say, generosity, then the act of deliberation itself is morally inseparable from the (necessarily eventual) virtue of actually being generous. Conversely, if some other man’s deliberation over an act of generosity ultimately and necessarily results in his being miserly, then his act of deliberation is morally inseparable from his non-virtuous niggardliness. Therefore, if determinism is true, the moral worth of your deliberation to be virtuous or vicious is actually determined to be virtuous or vicious by whatever actually is already determined to come about.


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