[lit-ideas] Understanding and Forgiveness

  • From: Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Fri, 7 May 2004 11:23:47 EDT

In a message dated 5/7/2004 3:33:05 AM Eastern Standard Time, 
Scribe1865@xxxxxxx writes:
"understanding" has "forgiveness" written right into it. The word use seems 
turn on the maxim, "to understand all is to forgive all" with the "forgiving" 
part elided so that its very elision becomes its tacit meaning, i.e., "I 
understand people will have different responses, and I will not be offended 
by that; 
instead, I will forgive them in advance for their choices" becomes, "I will 
Seems like the kind of thing JL Speranza could untangle, were he moved to do 
so, into related semantic deep structures.
Mmm. Let's see. There is indeed a (sloppy) use of

(1) I understand.

in which the verb of this sort of performative can be perceived as being 
_semantically_ related to

(2) I forgive.

Then there's

(3) I justify.


(4) I explain.

-- for Dilthey, for example -- and maybe Ricoeur -- understanding and 
explaining cover the whole gamut of the 'sciences' -- 'explain' for the _hard_ 
sciences, and 'understand' for the _soft_, human sciences.

Usually, a social anthropologist will observe some behaviour (cannibalism, 
say) and utter, 

"I can understand that" 

(i.e. that they are eating people). 

Some anthropologists (most) would add, 

"But I can't justify it". 

As far as 'forgive' is concerned, it seems to me that only those in a 
position to forgive (a priest, or more relevantly, a victim of the 
cannibalised) can 
really utter, with authority, "And I forgive them cannibals, too". Of course, 
humans are able of _empathy_ and it's a good thing to be able to forgive 
_simpliciter_ when what is at stake is the _human_ condition, so-called.

In any case, I don't think it's really a matter of _deep semantic_ structure 
to be untangled, as Yost has it -- and perhaps it's more than mere prejudice, 
as A. Amago suggests?

It seems more like, as Geary would have it, a mere "conversational 
implicature": Given the _role_ of the utterer -- in J. L. Austin's sense of 
'role' -- 
her understanding will sometimes come out as 'justifying', sometimes as 
'forgiving', sometimes as 'being explained to me', and sometimes as what it 
is, understanding. 

If anything, forgiveness is a _second step_ -- understanding the first. You 
cannot really forgive what you don't understand. While you can certainly 
[minimally] understand yet not forgive.

Finally, 'forgive' suggests _wrong_, while you can understand something which 
is just plain _right_ (or 'neutral') -- so there's another divergence there 
("I understand Prokofiev's music -- but I can't really forgive him for 
_composing_ it"). 



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