I’ve been thinking about this for a while and figure I’ll put some thoughts down. People seem to use two main ethical approaches to orienting themselves to those who do really bad things. I mean things like might include rape, murder, all the way to war crimes. The philosophical crux seems to be whether such people are theoretically redeemable (in a secular and/or possibly religious sense).
One view holds that some actions are “beyond redemption,” at least in a worldly/social sense. In this view, if you commit certain really bad actions, you are irredeemable for life (if not beyond), and people should treat you as such. YouTuber Steve Shives is in this camp, as he explains well in his interesting video on Garak in Deep Space Nine. He likes Garak as a character, but notes that if this were real life, Garak would not be morally redeemable because, regardless of his personal moral development, he has committed acts too heinous. For reference, Shives notes that the Cardassians in DS9, including Garak, are coded as Nazis. Basically, he’s saying Nazis—and, by extension, others who do really bad things—can’t be redeemed, i.e. it would be immoral to consider them/treat them as redeemable. It would be giving a pass to their heinousness.
This view—though atheist Shives might cringe at this—seems philosophically close to traditional Christianity, to the idea that some people deserve to go to hell. Some actions are simply too evil to be justly forgiven, regardless of any moral improvement the perpetrator might later make.
The other view holds that people are constantly in flux (at least potentially) and that anyone could theoretically be redeemed if they change enough to become a truly better person. In this view, people should be treated more according to who they are in the present (which could include actions to atone for the past). Under this view, Garak is certainly potentially redeemable. It’s a question of how much he changes, including what he might do to try to be accountable for former heinous acts. And I’d like to amplify a point made in some of the comments on Shives’ video: redemption is not the same as forgiveness. Both words have many meanings, but I’m with those commenters who see redemption as more internal to the self while forgiveness is something someone gives you (though you can give it to yourself too).( Read more… )