Dilemmas of Reconciliation: Cases and Concepts

By Carol A.L. Prager; Trudy Govier | Go to book overview

3
Reconciliation for Realists

Susan Dwyer1

As the last millennium drew to a close, there appeared to be a global frenzy to balance moral ledgers. Talk of apology, forgiveness, and reconciliation was everywhere. Take, for example, the Canadian government’s offer of reconciliation to that country’s 1.3 million Aboriginal people, and President Kim Dae-jung’s formal acceptance of Japan’s written apology for harms caused during its thirty-five-year occupation of South Korea. In academia, so-called forgiveness studies came into their own, most notably with the establishment of the University of Wisconsin’s International Forgiveness Institute, and the disbursement of five million dollars from the Templeton Foundation for work on a spectrum of issues from deathbed reconciliations to conciliatory behaviour among non-human primates.2 But perhaps nothing has done more to subject the concepts of apology, forgiveness, and reconciliation to international attention and critique than South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.3

Of the three concepts of apology, forgiveness, and reconciliation, the latter, can seem the most puzzling. This is not to say that apology and forgiveness do not raise difficult questions in their own right. Aurel Kolnai, for example, points to the paradoxical nature of forgiveness: on the one hand, we think we ought to forgive all—and only—those wrongdoers who deserve to be forgiven; on the other, the more deserving of forgiveness a person is, the less like a wrongdoer he seems, and forgiveness seems to lose its point.4 Still, most of us have enough experience of apology and

Notes to chapter 3 are on pp. 109-10.

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