Martha Nussbaums Anger and Forgiveness: Over vergelding en vergeving en over woede en liefde

Translated title of the contribution: Martha Nussbaum’s Anger and Forgiveness: On retribution and forgiveness and on anger and love

Jacques Claessen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


In this article the author discusses the book Anger and Forgiveness written by the wellknown and influential American philosopher Martha Nussbaum. In the opinion of the author Anger and Forgiveness is a provocative and challenging book. In the book, Nussbaum makes a distinction between conditional and unconditional forgiveness, she relates conditional forgiveness to the logic of retribution and she disapproves retribution and, by extension, conditional forgiveness on moral grounds. Her disapproval of retribution and conditional forgiveness is related to her disapproval of (vindictive) anger, which in her opinion is intrinsic part of retribution and conditional forgiveness. According to Nussbaum, anger – transitional anger excluded – has to be replaced by unconditional love; only conduct that stems from unconditional love can be qualified as moral. Sometimes unconditional forgiveness can be seen as a form of unconditional love. Subsequently, Nussbaum applies her ideas on anger, retribution, forgiveness and love to the political domain, to which also criminal law belongs. Nussbaum pleads for a criminal law system empty of anger and retribution; in Nussbaum’s criminal law system there is only room for prevention, grace and human welfare – all stemming of unconditional love. Nussbaum’s Anger and Forgiveness offers an alternative view on concepts such as anger, retribution, forgiveness and love, concepts which are important within the context of criminal law and restorative justice. The author argues that, although the reader can certainly learn from Nussbaum’s ideas as explained in Anger and Forgiveness, the radicality of her ideas inevitably causes criticism; Nussbaum holds a very idealistic perspective that neglects the human condition. Instead of ruling out anger and retribution, the author advocates a criminal law
system that is capable of canalizing anger and transforming vindictive anger into transitional anger. Furthermore, he pleads for a criminal law system that makes forgiveness possible without forcing victims to forgive. For that reason restorative justice practices need to be incorporated into the criminal law system. In sum, to a certain extent Nussbaum and Claessen share the same moral ideals, but they disagree on the path leading tot those ideals. Where Nussbaum opts for a top-down approach, Claessen opts for a bottom-up approach which respects the human condition.
Translated title of the contributionMartha Nussbaum’s Anger and Forgiveness: On retribution and forgiveness and on anger and love
Original languageDutch
Article number1
Pages (from-to)14-32
Number of pages19
JournalTijdschrift voor Herstelrecht
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 7 Jan 2019


  • herstelrecht
  • vergeving
  • woede
  • liefde
  • vergelding
  • strafrecht


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