Forgiveness and the Problem of Irreversibility

Part 1: Forgiveness and the Problem of Irreversibility
Part 2: Forgiveness as a Manifestation of Divine Charity
Part 3: A Duty to Forgive?
Part 4: Prejudice as the Crystallization of Judgments
Part 5: Charity as a Flight from Politics
Part 6: Publicity without Politics

In The Human Condition Arendt staked out a position that action’s novel self-disclosure comes at a price: irreversibility and unpredictability “being unable to undo what one has done though one did not, and could not, have known what he was doing….” (Arendt The Human Condition, 237) In her efforts to demonstrate that willing occurs without the determination of thinking, she presents us with an account of freedom indistinguishable from randomness. Arendt’s actors ‘know not what they do’ until they have done it, and afterwards they observe and evaluate the consequences as if they were spectators and not agents themselves: an action worthy of the name is unforeseeable even to oneself.

Arendt wrote that “the remedy against the irreversibility and unpredictability of the process started by action does not arise out of another and possibly higher faculty, but it is one of the potentialities of action itself.” (Arendt The Human Condition, 236-7) In contrast with labor, the experience of which can only be salvaged because the laborer exists within a world created by work, or with work, which creates a world of static perpetuity unless natality and action interrupt its sterility, action cannot withdraw itself or find in the contemplative faculties a predictive measure that could reign in its excesses. Thus, Arendt suggests, only a second action, an act of forgiveness, can make the inevitability of trespass sufferable.
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