This paper explores the ethical and political implications of Spinoza’s naturalistic psychology of the affects, especially of hatred and its reflexive ‘internalization’. His account calls into question whether forgiveness is ever really justified, or whether it could ever possibly be virtuous. So we might well wonder why a discussion of Spinoza’s psychology of hatred belongs in a discussion about forgiveness, reconciliation, revenge, or ameliorating violent conflict. As Spinoza defines hatred, it is only an awareness of one’s agency being diminished; and it encompasses any “negative reactive attitude”. If forgiveness and pardon are justified only if, and when, blame is justified, and blame necessarily entails being subject to “negative reactive attitudes”, and entails an individual “taking up the position of the judge”, then forgiveness and pardon is never justified—at least as long as one lives under the powers of a civil state.
Spinoza’s view, however, appears to authorize a broad posture of forbearance towards all wrongdoers I will then explore what this broad forbearance involves, as an alternative response to wrongdoing to blame and forgiveness. It does not involve foregoing just punishment (in contrast to revenge) under terms of reasonable civil law. But it involves cultivating “strength of mind” and thus, genuine ‘agency’, and seeking unqualified liberation from the motivational power of any form of hatred. Here, one will forebear others unconditionally, and embody peace as a virtue.
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