When asked, Scott Davidson, a philosophy professor at WVU, said the presidential pardon seminar is more like an “open discussion.”
“The starting point for the discussion is going to be an article that I published with The Conversation,” Davidson said. “So people are going to read that in advance, and then we’ll have a discussion about the issue of pardons — first in the presidential context — and then we’ll branch out to talk about the concept of the pardon on a more general, philosophical level.”
Having heard about recent presidential pardons in the news, Davidson and his colleagues thought it would be beneficial to hold a discussion.
“We just saw Trump issue over a hundred pardons just a few weeks ago, so it’s relevant in that way,” Davison said. “But it’s also important for thinking beyond the issue of presidential pardons. It’s important to think about the question of pardons in the question of the division in the U.S. and people’s calls for renewing a sense of unity and shared purpose.”
Davidson said the presidential pardon contradicts the idea of the rule of law. Rule of law, here, means a situation in which written law, with the help of a judge and jury, decides who is guilty, not a leader.
“[The pardon] is an element of the constitution in the U.S. that I think is worthy of scrutiny,” Davidson said. “I want to bring out, for the sake of discussion, questions of whether we ought to, as a society, reconsider presidential pardons.”
Daniel Miller is Davidson’s fellow philosophy professor and member of the Speculation Academy, which is holding the discussion at 3:30 p.m on Feb. 10 over Zoom.
“I’m currently interested in the nature and norms of forgiveness. What exactly is forgiveness? Who has the authority, or standing, to forgive?” Miller said. “Do only victims of wrongdoing have the authority to forgive, or can there be third-party forgiveness? Questions like this reveal both similarities and differences between pardon and forgiveness.”
Davidson claimed that the pardon, as an analogue to forgiveness in general, could be used as a way to examine our own interpersonal relationships. He said that these examinations could focus on and expand upon the current political climate.
“The second reason this is of importance now is that political polarization has overflowed into the personal sphere with very destructive effects,” Miller said. “Political division has caused rifts in interpersonal relationships between friends and family. Forgiveness, as an analogue of pardon, is the best means that humans have of restoring broken relationships. A recognition of what makes forgiveness and reconciliation possible is essential in this regard.”
Anyone interested can visit the WVU philosophy department’s website for more information.