To Forgive the Unforgivable

A four week course,

beginning Monday, 9th June 7pm.

$120/$80 (members and low income)

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Course Description

The poet Robert Frost said that to be social is to be forgiving. The twentieth century philosopher Hannah Arendt argued that forgiveness is the key to action and freedom. But what happens if you can’t forgive, either because something in you refuses or because it’s not your right or prerogative to do so? What if you are not sure forgiveness exists or that it is a positive value? In this course, we will look at how some modern philosophers from Hegel to Hannah Arendt and from Vladimr Jankélévitch to Jacques Derrida have attempted to examine this network of questions both in the light of historical trauma (such as the Holocaust and Apartheid) and interpersonal, intimate relations.


Suggested Reading

Jacques Derrida “To Forgive: The Unforgivable and the Inexpiable” in Questioning God, ed. Michael Scanlon et al. Indiana University Press, 2001.

Vladimir Jankélévitch  Forgiveness Andrew Kelley (trans.) University of Chicago Press, 2013

Selections from Hannah Arendt The Human Condition, Hegel The Spirit of Christianity and its Fate, Maurice Blanchot The Writing of Disaster, Nietzsche The Genealogy of Morals

Eva Mozes Kor Forgiving Doctor Mengele, a film by bob Hercules and Cheryl Pugh, Icarus Films, 2005

Simon Wiesenthal The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness Schocken Books, 1998.


Course Outline

1.     Distinction between forgiveness, forgetting and legal amnesty; the concept of radical evil. Forgiveness in the philosophy of Hegel and Hannah Arendt.

2.     Forgiveness and power. Arguments against forgiveness by Maurice Blanchot, Jean Améry and Friedrich Nietzsche.

3.     The concept of hyperbolical forgiveness of the unforgiveable in Vladmir Jankélévitch and Jacques Derrida. Understanding forgiveness as an elementary dimension of all communication.

4.     Forgiveness in literature and our daily lives, readings from Simon Wiesenthal’s The Sunflower. J.M. Coetzee Disgrace. Practical improvisation to explore how the readings relate to forgiveness in our lives


Planned Learning Outcomes

By the end of this course you should be able to:

1.     Explain the differences between forgiveness, excuse, expiation, forgetting and legal amnesty.

2.     Discuss arguments for and against forgiveness as a value inherited from the Judeo-Christian, i.e., Abrahamic tradition.

3.     Evaluate different ways to ask for and grant forgivenes.

4.     Explain the relation of forgiveness to communication and social life, i.e., its relation to activities such as listening.

5.     Evaluate the difference between forgiveness as an event and forgiveness as a speech act such as “I forgive you” or “Your sins are forgiven”

6.     Re-evaluate the conditions under which forgiveness may be said to take place and whether it is a positive thing.


About the Tutor

Doctor Peter Banki is Research Associate in Philosophy at the University of Western Sydney. He holds a Ph.D from New York University. He wrote his Ph.D on the debate on forgiveness in the literature of Holocaust survivors. He has published a number of articles in peer review journals in the fields of continental philosophy and literature. He has recently spoken about his research on the Radio National Program “The Philosophers’ Zone” and has tutored and lectured in philosophy at the University of Western Sydney and also at the University of Sydney. His website is 

His book Holocaust Forgiveness: A Literary/Philosophical Investigation is currently under consideration at Fordham University Press. You can read a section of it here.


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