Ethical hopelessness

  • Kathryn Norlock
Keywords: Hope, Unforgivable, Moral transformation, Attitudes, Beliefs, Trudy Govier, Margaret Holmgren


Some philosophers of forgiveness, notably Margaret Holmgren and Trudy Govier, recommend, even require, that victims of serious harm should hope for the moral transformation of evildoers. An attitude that an evildoer could never change is described as a moral failure. I reject the imperative that victims and witness ought to hope for the moral transformations of others. I argue that a victim’s knowledge that a participant in genocide has the capacity for moral change is compatible with a victim’s belief that the killer will never change. I distinguish knowledge of possibilities from belief in probabilities, and suggest they can coexist. Pessimism regarding the likelihood of moral transformation is not a moral failure, and does not indicate a lack of recognition of the psychological capacities of an unrepentant participant in genocide.