Response to Neu, Zipursky, and Steiker
Murphy, Jeffrie G., Criminal Justice Ethics
When Julie van Camp called to inform me that the American Philosophical Association Committee on Law and Philosophy planned to schedule a session on my work, I had mixed feelings. On the one hand, I was pleased and honored that colleagues whom I respect thought that my work was worthy of such attention. On the other hand, I realized that sessions of this nature are normally scheduled for people whose careers are perceived to be winding down if not essentially over. Although I am conducting a serious flirtation with turning 70, I do not just yet want to think of myself as having acquired the status of an old academic fart.
When I learned who the chair and panelists for the session were going to be, and when I read the papers of the panelists, good feelings moved aside all such reservations. I was honored that some of these colleagues were willing to travel considerable distance--never an easy experience in the contemporary world of air travel, particularly on a weekend when air travel is unusually heavy. To hear so many kind words expressed about my work from people whom I hold in esteem pleased me to the point of embarrassment, and the substantive criticisms and questions raised gave me much worth thinking about--so much, indeed, that I cannot possibly do these criticisms and questions justice in the brief time I am allowed for a response.
Given the limits of time and space here, I will simply select one important issue from each paper presented and will comment on that--leaving open, of course, the possibility that other issues will be raised in later discussion. I will discuss the three papers in the order in which they were presented and will thus begin with Jerome Neu's work.
Response to Jerome Neu
Neu is worried, and rightly so, about the degree to which acquiring, extinguishing, or modifying our emotions is really in our power. I have conceptualized morally justified forgiveness as the overcoming of resentment for moral reasons; and I have offered, as an example of such a reason, the recognition of sincere repentance on the part of the wrongdoer. But it seems, alas, that one might recognize sincere repentance, believe that this now renders forgiveness appropriate and perhaps even obligatory, and yet still be filled with resentment--thus finding that forgiving in such a case is simply not in one's power, not in one's voluntary control. There may be simple steps to overcome or constrain some emotions--count to ten before losing one's temper, for example--but this does not seem to work for resentment and for other emotions such as love. Neu here reminds us of Kant's famous distinction in the Groundwork between practical and pathological love--the former being in our power (acting as love requires), the latter not in our power (feeling the emotion of love). (1) And so, too, Neu suggests, for overcoming resentment. It is in our power not to act on our resentments--by not taking revenge, for example--but is it in our power to extinguish or even limit our feelings of resentment?
At this point I want to draw a distinction between direct and indirect control, and to draw the distinction in a way that seems right and has made me see a mistake (at least a mistake of emphasis) that has often occurred in my earlier writings on forgiveness. The mistake is in thinking of forgiveness primarily as a specific kind of act (the mental act of changing one's heart) whereas it should, at least frequently, be thought of as a disposition of character--a virtue in something like the Aristotelian sense. Like most people, I cannot immediately overcome resentment to forgive the person who has wronged me simply by seeing that I have adequate moral reasons to do so and then commanding myself to forgive right now. There is no direct control here. I can, however, work over time to develop a forgiving character--a character that is disposed to constrain resentment within reasonable and moral bounds. …