Václav Havel's Call for Forgiveness

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Vaclav Havel’s oeuvre reveals a remarkable consistency considering the number of social roles Havel occupied. The philosophical foundations of Havel’s thought are from his engagement with the work philosopher Jan Patočka, and from the rich phenomenological preponderance in Prague’s samizdat publications. Throughout Havel’s oeuvre there are scant few references to the concept of forgiveness. Indeed, it is not a concept that garners much attention in the phenomenology of Jan Patočka either. However, in Havel’s first public speech as president, there is a strange request for Czechoslovakian citizens to forgive many collaborators who might have assisted the old socialist regime. This call is conspicuous and worth scholarly attention (which it is yet to receive). This paper explores Havel’s understanding of what forgiveness in his political context, and further explains how that concept is consistent with Havel’s phenomenological perspective. Havel’s deep thinking on what constitutes a properly moral conscious experience sees forgiveness not as a religious gift, but rather as a necessary task for individuals to be able to create a civil environment capable of allowing meaningful and moral interactions between people. Thus forgiveness seems to be an important concept for Havel’s main philosophical task, living a life in truth. The relevancy of Havel’s mention of forgiveness will be brought out of its specific political context by comparing and contrasting it to other phenomenological explorations of forgiveness in the work of Hannah Arendt, Jacques Derrida, and Marguerite La Caze. Through this comparison the originality of Havel’s position is shown.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPhenomenology and Forgiveness
EditorsMarguerite La Caze
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherRowman & Littlefield Publishers
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-78660-780-5
ISBN (Print)978-1-78660-778-2 , 978-1-78660-779-9
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2018


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