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Blondesjon's avatar

For what evolutionary reason did human beings create the concept of "forgiveness"?

Asked by Blondesjon (31458 points ) January 31st, 2013

Love=Instinct to protect and provide for the mate and/or offspring

Fear=Better safe than sorry survival response

And so on and so forth.

What purpose does forgiveness serve on the primal level and why did it become synonymous with divinity?

I ask this question because I had the phrase To err is human; to forgive, divine stuck in my head all day at work.

which isn’t terrible. yesterday it was the theme to hey jessie bouncing around in there like a misfired .22 slug.

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24 Answers

josie's avatar

How do you know they created it. Maybe they discovered it and liked it.

ucme's avatar

Caveman twats cavegirl on head with club, drags her into, err…yeah cave, humps the arse off her.
You just know somewhere along the evolutionary ladder there’s going to be a huge payback.
Wives always get their way in the end, bless all ten of their tiny toes.

RandomGirl's avatar

This is one of the many questions that make me think there must be a God. In an evolutionary world, ethics, kindness, and forgiveness would be destroyed.

ragingloli's avatar

Saving the resources that would have to be expended to carry out revenge, also taking revenge always carries the risk of getting shafted yourself.
Then there is the issue of revenge begetting revenge begetting revenge and so forth, putting your entire clan at risk.

Carinaponcho's avatar

I think forgiveness was created so that people can learn to forgive themselves for a wrongdoing and not carry that guilt so heavily. Letting go of a mistake and forgiving yourself for it is a liberating experience. It feels as though a burden was lifted off of your shoulders. If people had to carry around this burden, they would be too bush wallowing in their own mistakes to be able to survive.
I also think that forgiveness goes hand in hand with human imperfection. Everybody makes mistakes. If we didn’t forgive each other for those mistakes we made, people wouldn’t have the same closeness they do with them. If you can forgive someone, you don’t have that separating you. Evolutionarily speaking, this helped people to survive in groups without slowly abandoning all traitors or people who made mistakes immediately.

thorninmud's avatar

Forgiveness works. In game theory, where individuals must decide whether to cooperate or compete to achieve optimal outcomes, the most effective strategies are ones that extend “second chances” after betrayals, and are not unrelentingly retributive. So from an evolutionary point of view, groups that contain a large proportion of individuals who are optimistic about how cooperative their associates will be stand to have better overall outcomes.

Coloma's avatar

Because we learned that to harbor anger and vindictive desire is poison to the mind and heart.
It’s wisdom, earned wisdom, that is all.
Somebody, somewhere, once upon a time, had a moment of enlightenment that was shared and passed on in various forms.
If you go with Maslows theory of the heirarchy of needs, once we had enough Mastodon steaks in the cave we could turn our attentions to more spiritual and philosophical matters. lol

susanc's avatar

It was created for the purpose of avoiding warfare at the macro level and awful evenings at home at the micro level.

HolographicUniverse's avatar

Forgiveness is not an emotion but rather a gesture, by that distinction we recognize that it has no evolutionary benefit as it relates to physicality. This question would pertain to the “evolution” of intelligence because that is where morality, principles and the religious doctrine originate. Forgiveness was a concept derived from philosophy/religiosity and I would venture to say that it has no evolutionary benefit (because I see it as a weak ideal) Though our ancestors may not have seen it as such, but rather a tool to aid in the unity and consideration of our fellow man, much like other morals.

However considering how a large percentage of our population don’t practice this concept, it’s probably as evolutionarily beneficial as pythagoreanism

burntbonez's avatar

What are we talking about here? Could someone provide an operational definition of forgiveness?

Until we know we are talking about the same thing, we can’t really say anything about how the theory of evolution would explain forgiveness. No real need for an explanation, either.

So for now, since we don’t have a definition, I’m just talking through my hat about forgiveness.

I think forgiveness is said to be divine because it can be terribly difficult. So difficult that only a god could do it. But that’s just human hyperbole. Poetic license.

Forgiveness serves many purposes. Mostly it helps people get past being hung up on wrongs done them. It allows them to move on in their thinking. We can get really stuck when we’ve been wronged, and many people can think of nothing but revenge. Of course, it’s hard to get revenge, and thinking about revenge all the time keeps you from living your life. Forgiveness allows you to move on and get back to your life.

If there is anything evolutionary about it, it’s because people who didn’t forgive would get stuck in life, and never be able to care for themselves. They’d die, working on revenge. Whereas those who forgave could move on and live their own lives. I have seen people who are so stuck on not letting someone get over on them ever again that they never accomplish anything else. It’s pretty sad.

I mean, imagine being so messed up you couldn’t generate any interest in procreation! But that’s the only way I can imagine it working evolutionarily, and that seems pretty far-fetched.

dabbler's avatar

It think @ragingloli has a bead on it. In a group, forgiveness is efficient.
Until your group gets big enough that individuals are expendable, or the crime is so bad that expulsion is warranted, then forgiving that bumpkin over there might save his life for the next time he helps fend off a pack of sabretooth nasties.

Blondesjon's avatar

@HolographicUniverse . . . I’ve always viewed forgiveness as a natural extension of the “fight or flight” instinct.

HolographicUniverse's avatar

@Blondesjon
Jonsblond is that you?
Hmm could you elaborate?
@ragingloli I like your answer but I don’t agree with the “forgiveness or revenge” concept as that sounds rather black and white (as well as competitive)
The concept of self sufficiency, survival of oneself, does not require the acknowledgment of another being. This would mean that forgiveness, or revenge, is not pertinent for survival so much as being oblivious or changing the flaw that made them vulnerable

mazingerz88's avatar

Evolutionary reason? Survival probably.

SadieMartinPaul's avatar

Forgiveness = relief from pain

Anger, resentment, and indignation are slavemasters. They’re heavy burdens to carry, and they hold a person in bondage. True forgiveness, however, frees the wronged or offended person. By letting go of bitterness, the individual is no longer held captive by it or suffering from its lingering scars.

Evolution taught us to relieve hunger pains by eating and to alleviate thirst by drinking. Maybe forgiveness is the food and water for an injured soul?

ETpro's avatar

As Gandhi said, “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.”

glacial's avatar

@SadieMartinPaul It’s likely that we evolved to have hunger pains as a mechanism to keep us well fed, but we can’t have evolved to alleviate hunger pains by eating. The whole species would have starved before reproductive age. :)

In the same vein, I wouldn’t say that forgiveness is evolved for our own injured souls. Unless that injury affects our ability to reproduce, that’s not going to work.

@thorninmud‘s reference to game theory is the most convincing to me. But I generally have trouble making definitive statements about evolution and behaviour. It’s a murky business.

ETpro's avatar

@glacial Actually, we evolved to be sentient. That was a tremendous survival advantage. But since that evolutionary step, societal development has been driven by rational development. The idea of social evolution that was prevalent back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries has been soundly debunked.

Shippy's avatar

To forgive is to release oneself from a prison of anger, hatred and fear. Those emotions can wear us down, cause sicknesses and do nothing for self.

Perhaps I missed the point but not sure how this ties into evolutionary concepts. As this saying is as old as the hills.

Blondesjon's avatar

@HolographicUniverse . . . Forgiveness, especially as I see it defined here, allows us a form of “flight” in confrontational situations.

i’m just me. @jonsblond is my wife.

mattbrowne's avatar

Hunter-gatherer groups couldn’t afford too many lengthy internal fights, because the fight for survival in the external world was difficult enough.

tups's avatar

I agree with @ETpro the Gandhi quote pretty much covers it.

I don’t think every human aspect can be explained with evolution, though. A lot of things in this world are unexplainable.

Jeruba's avatar

My guess would be that ascribing misfortune to the wrath of some deity and taking steps to stay on its good side came along pretty early in things, probably about as early as when people started looking for reasons for storms, disease, scarcity of game, and other disasters. In that context forgiveness is just the other side of punishment.

kitszu's avatar

Speaking only of ‘evolution’...

Love: 3 a: the object of attachment, devotion, or admiration
Fear: 4: to be afraid of : expect with alarm. (Definitions from Merriam Webster online)

Evolutionarily speaking, for most animals, ‘forgiveness’ isn’t a playing a card. Forgiveness requires emotion. For an animal that has emotions? ‘Forgiveness’ must be a requirement. Why? Because if you feel emotion, resentment, revenge, is inevitiable. Without it, there is no social order. The human race evolved to ‘forgive’ so that it wouldn’t destroy itself.

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