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Repentance, Moral Conversion, and Personal Identity

Distinguished Faculty Lectures Series

Owen Ware, Philosophy

Repentance, Moral Conversion, and Personal Identity

Thursday, February 28
12:30–1:50 pm, CHAT Lounge

With few exceptions, philosophers have taken a critical view of the idea that repentance involves radical self-change (North 1987; Dan-Cohen 2007; Radzik 2009; Konstan 2010). A worry many have is that it creates a paradox of imputation. If an offender can fully transform herself, becoming a different person, then punishment, resentment, and forgiveness would no longer be justified. My aim in this paper is to offer a different view. The paradox of imputation arises only if we assume self-change must amount to a change of personal identity. Recent theorists of narrative identity have made a similar assumption (Schechtman 2001; 2007), but there are good reasons to resist it. If narrative identity requires empathy with one's past actions, then one's repudiation of those actions would lead to self-alienation. I argue, however, that we can understand repentance as a form of repudiation that sustains, rather than destroys, the narrative self. Moreover, thinking of repentance in this way gets us past the paradox philosophers have found so troubling with the idea of radical self-change.