Moral Repair and the Moral Saints Problem

Document Type: Research Paper


Texas A&M University


This article explores the forms of moral repair that the wrongdoer has to perform in an attempt to make amends for her past wrongdoing, with a focus on the issues of interpersonal moral repair; that is, what a wrongdoer can do to merit her victim‘s forgiveness and achieve reconciliation with her community. The article argues against the very general demands of atonement that amount to an obligation to stop being someone who commits wrongs—to become a ―moral saint‖—and suggests a new form of atonement that is more practical and useful in our everyday life.


Barnett, R. E. 1977. "Restitution: A New Paradigm of Criminal Justice." Ethics 87(4): 279-301.

Bennett, C. 2008. The Apology Ritual: A Philosophical Theory of Punishment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Canterbury, A. o. 1998. “Why God Became Man.” In Anselm of Canterbury: The Major Works, edited by B. Davies and G. R. Evans, 260-235. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Cottingham, J. 1979. "Varieties of Retribution." Philosophical Quarterly 29: 238-246.

Ellin, J. 2000. "Restitutionism Defended." Journal of Value Inquiry 34: 299-317.

Griswold, C. L. 2007. Forgiveness: A Philosophical Exploration. New York, Cambridge.

Hampton, J. 1992. "Correcting Harms versus Righting Wrongs: The Goal of Retribution." UCLA Law Review 39: 1659-1702.

Harvey, J. 1995. "The Emerging Practice of Institutional Apologies." International Journal of Applied Philosophy 9(2): 57-66.

Hershenov, D. B. 1999. "Restitution and Revenge." Journal of Philosophy 96(2): 79-94.

Hieronymi, P. 2001. "Articulating an Uncompromising Forgiveness." Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 62(3): 529-554.

Holmgren, M. 1983. "Punishment as Restitution: The Rights of the Community." Criminal Justice Ethics 2: 36-49

Kant, I. 1996. “Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals.” In Practical Philosophy, edited by Mary J. Gregor,41-108. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Moore, M. S. 1987. “The Moral Worth of Retribution.” In Responsibility, Character, and the Moral Emotions: New Essays in Moral Psychology, edited by F. Schoeman, 179-219. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Morris, H. 1976. Guilt and Suffering. On Guilt and Innocence. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Murphy, J. G., and J. Hampton. 1988. Forgiveness and Mercy. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Radzik, L. 2009. Making Amends: Atonement in Morality, Law, and Politics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Swinburne, R. 1989. Responsibility and Atonement. Oxford; Oxford University Press.

Walker, M. U. 2007. Moral Repair: Reconstructing Moral Relations after Wrongdoing. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.