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Monday, March 28, 2016

To blame or to forgive?

By Nicola Lacey and Hanna Pickard
Oxford University Blog
Originally published March

What do you do when faced with wrongdoing – do you blame or do you forgive? Especially when confronted with offences that lie on the more severe end of the spectrum and cause terrible psychological or physical trauma or death, nothing can feel more natural than to blame. Indeed, in the UK and the US, increasingly vehement and righteous public expressions of blame and calls for vengeance are commonplace; correspondingly, contemporary penal philosophy has witnessed a resurgence of the retributive tradition, in the modern form usually known as the ‘just deserts’ model.

But if we stop to think about it, this criminal justice practice stands in contrast to significant features of our everyday moral practices. People can and routinely do forgive others, even in cases of severe crime. Evolutionary psychologists have argued that both vengeance and forgiveness are universal human adaptations that have evolved as alternative responses to exploitation, and, crucially, strategies for reducing risk of re-offending. We are naturally endowed with both capacities: to blame and retaliate, or to forgive and seek to repair relations. We have a choice. Which should we choose?

The blog post is here.