Fall 2007

Law, Violence and Forgiveness

Listed in: Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought, as LJST-11


Adam Sitze (Section 01)


In this course, we will approach the problem of forgiveness from a very specific angle. We will want to know how, if at all, forgiveness is related to the specifically legal powers of pardon, clemency, and amnesty. In the first half of this course, we will take up this question by exploring some key junctures in what might be called the "genealogy of forgiveness." We will consider the Athenian amnesty of 403 B.C., Aristotle's discussion of epieikeia ("equity") in Book V of The Nicomachean Ethics, the various discussions of mercy, repentance, and release in the books of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Seneca's rendering of clemency in his letter to Nero, the theme of "grace and nature" in medieval political theology, and the problem of forgiveness in the writing of Friedrich Nietzsche, Hannah Arendt, and Jacques Derrida. In the second half of the course, we will bring our genealogical understanding of forgiveness to bear on its contemporary use and, perhaps, abuse. We will seek to understand how powers of pardon, clemency, and amnesty have been used in situations where law is forced to respond to two very different forms of what might be called "the unforgivable," namely, civil war and crimes against humanity. In particular, we will study legal documents and essays pertaining to President Abraham Lincoln's amnesties of 1863 and 1864, West German President Konrad Adenauer's amnesties of 1949 and 1954, South Africa's 1993 amnesty agreement and subsequent Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and Algeria's 1999 Law of Civil Harmony. First semester. Professor Sitze.