Thursday, October 06, 2005

Wayback Machine: Self-Judgment Days

Rosh Hashanah has ended and Yom Kippur is coming soon, so I here's a commentary I wrote back in 2001 about these holidays. The article is about how a secular culture might adapt a traditionally religious holiday (such as Yom Kippur or Rosh Hashanah) to meet real emotional and psychology needs we have in a non-religious way.


Michelle F. Cohen said...

There is a problem with the issue of seeking forgiveness in the following:

"The moral imperative to seek forgiveness and make reparations, for Objectivists, is largely a matter of pride. Pride, according to Objectivism, is moral ambitiousness; it is the virtue that seeks to make our selves morally worthy of our own lives. In order to achieve this sense of worthiness one must strive to do the moral action, and, if one fails to correct where he has wronged. But, ultimately, the wrong that is done is to one's character and sense of worthiness. It is only through reparations and forgiveness that this damage to oneself is repaired and so atonement is a matter of egoistic pride."

It means that one's sense of worthiness depends on the forgiveness of the person who was wronged. So if the person wronged refuses to forgive, the wrongdoer can never recover his sense of worthiness, even if the wrong done was a small offence. Conversely,it means that if the wrong done was heinous, but the person wronged forgives the offense, the offender can regain his sense of worthiness although he committed a terrible act. Ultimately, one's sense of worthiness should depend on one's objective evaluation of the wrong done.

(By the way, the correct spelling for "Yamin Noriam" is "Yamim Noraim" - literally "days of awe.")

Shawn Klein said...

Hi Michelle,

You raise some excellent points that would need to be addressed in a spelled out account of forgiveness. Any such account would have to address the issue of actions (if any) that are beyond forgiveness; and it would have explain the situation of a failure to forgive when forgiveness is appropriate. Alas, such an account was not my intent when writing this article—nor do I have such worked out account in mind.

It is a misread to claim I was arguing that “one's sense of worthiness depends on the forgiveness of the person who was wronged”. The point made in the article is that after one’s sense of worth is damaged by a wrong committed, one needs to make reparations for the wrong done and to seek forgiveness from those harmed (this would, I think, likely include self-forgiveness as well) in order to repair that sense of worth. This in no way implies that the sense of worth depends on the other person. The repair is not a matter of getting forgiveness, but doing those things (like reparations and sincerely apologizing) that would warrant forgiveness.

If the individual refuses to give forgiveness were forgiveness is warranted, then I would argue that one’s job (so to speak) is done. He has done the work he needs to do to repair himself. The refusal—if forgiveness is truly warranted—shouldn’t bear on his evaluation of his self-worth. Nor should unwarranted forgiveness count either. If one has not (or could not because the wrong is so far beyond the pale) done the things to warrant forgiveness, then one has not done the work he needs to do to repair his self-worth (among other things).

Michelle F. Cohen said...

The Jewish Law indeed addresses the case where forgiveness is warranted but not given. The wrongdoer is obligated to apologize three times in three separate occasions, then it's no longer his responsibility.

Shawn Klein said...

Yes, that is a bit of Jewish law (is it actually part of halacha or is it just tradition?) that I've always liked.

Michelle F. Cohen said...

I think it is Halacha.