The problem of forgiveness may rightly be regarded as a perennial philosophical problem. Introducing his 1973 essay “Forgiveness,” Aurel Kolnai writes that, logically, forgiveness seems to be either “unjustified or pointless.” The logical and ethical problem of forgiveness acquired distinctive urgency in the 1960s when statutes of limitations on Nazi war crimes were set to expire. In the resulting debates, the ethicist Vladimir Jankélévitch occupies a central place. In his book Forgiveness and elsewhere, Jankélévitch singles out Spinoza as a philosopher with a particularly inadequate account of forgiveness. This article contextualizes Jankélévitch's argument and argues that Spinoza's conception of evil and forgiveness is essential for understanding why Jankélévitch himself cannot consistently account for his refusal to advocate forgiving the German people after the Holocaust. Drawing on Sylvain Zac's account of forgiveness in Spinoza, as well as Deleuze's account of the problem of evil as it arises in Spinoza's correspondence with Blyenburgh, this article argues that Spinoza offers an account of forgiveness that makes sense of what is ethically required in the face of what Carse and Tirrell call “world-shattering” wrongs such as the Holocaust.

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