Forgiveness and Institutional Punishment
Luke Russell (University of Sydney)

May 16, 2024, 3:30pm - 5:00pm
School of Philosophy, Australian Catholic University

East Melbourne

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Luke Russell is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Sydney.  He is the author of numerous articles and chapters, and recent books on Real Forgiveness; Evil: A Very Short Introduction; and Being Evil: A Philosophical Perspective (all with Oxford University Press). (See Associate Professor Luke Russell (


Should victims forgive the perpetrator in cases of criminal wrongdoing? In this paper I focus on one complex case study. In 2020 in Sydney the children of the Abdallah family were killed by a drunk driver. The family publicly forgave the perpetrator and then set up a Church-related institution to encourage forgiveness more generally. The NSW State Government endorsed and participated in this project, and the Australian Prime minister spoke of his admiration for their act of forgiveness. In contrast, many people doubt whether it is morally good for victims to forgive unconditionally in cases such as these. The Abdallah family claim that they have forgiven the wrongdoer, but they still want to ensure that justice is served and that he is punished. Is this really forgiveness, or does forgiving involve wiping the slate clean and being merciful? Does the fact that the Abdallah family are confident that the State will punish the perpetrator make it easier for them as victims to forgive him? How should we understand institutional (e.g. religious, governmental) calls for victims to forgive those who are guilty of criminal wrongdoing?

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