Per-Erik Milam, researcher in practical philosophy
Per-Erik Milam after a talk about his research at Universeum during the Science Festival.
Photo: Monica Havström

Forgiveness as a gift - good for both the forgiven and the forgiver

For many people, the winter holidays are a time for giving gifts, for generosity and charity. Have you ever heard of that forgiveness can be a gift? And that it is good for both the forgiven and the forgiver.

"I’ve been thinking about gift giving in connection with my research project on forgiveness. Many philosophers and theologians think of forgiveness as a gift, something given freely and not owed. And psychologists have shown that forgiveness is good for both the forgiven and the forgiver", says Per-Erik Milam, researcher in practical philosophy at the University of Gothenburg.

Of course, forgiving can be hard, too. It can be painful to think about your mistreatment, tough to decide whether you should forgive, and difficult to overcome your blame toward the person who has hurt you.

"However, these features make forgiveness an even more meaningful gift. After all, the best gifts are those that express your love, care, or appreciation by showing that you have thought about the person and tried to understand them", says Per-Erik.

For those who celebrate Christmas, the holidays are also a time for redemption and reconciliation.

"Both of these concepts are closely tied to forgiveness. They are central themes in some of my favourite Christmas films, from It's a Wonderful Life and How the Grinch Stole Christmas to Home Alone and Die Hard. Of course, our actual moral conflicts are sometimes more complicated than the ones we see in feel-good Christmas movies".

According to Per-Erik, forgiveness is not always appropriate or even possible. Such obstacles are the subject of his research project, The Limits of Forgiveness, funded by Vetenskapsrådet.

"Nonetheless, occasional moral conflicts with our family, friends, and coworkers are probably inevitable, and forgiveness can bring a little light and warmth into a cold and dark time of year".

Per-Erik Milam is also affiliated with the research group in Lund Gothenburg Responsibility Project. He received his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of California, San Diego in 2014. His research work lies at the intersection of ethics, moral psychology, and social/political philosophy.

"I study the nature and ethics of practices like blame, apology, and forgiveness that we use to address and resolve moral conflicts".

Written by Monica Havström

Per-Erik Milam, forskare i praktisk filosofi. Foto: Monica HavströmPer-Erik Milam, researcher in practical philosophy      Photo: Monica Havström

Contact information:

Per-Erik Milam, Department of Philosophy, Linguistics and Theory of Science