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Beyond Revenge: The Evolution of the Forgiveness Instinct

ISBN: 978-0-470-26215-3
256 pages
June 2008, Jossey-Bass
Beyond Revenge: The Evolution of the Forgiveness Instinct (047026215X) cover image
Why is revenge such a pervasive and destructive problem? How can we create a future in which revenge is less common and forgiveness is more common? Psychologist Michael McCullough argues that the key to a more forgiving, less vengeful world is to understand the evolutionary forces that gave rise to these intimately human instincts and the social forces that activate them in human minds today. Drawing on exciting breakthroughs from the social and biological sciences, McCullough dispenses surprising and practical advice for making the world a more forgiving place.

Michael E. McCullough (Miami, Florida), an internationally recognized expert on forgiveness and revenge, is a professor of psychology at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida, where he directs the Laboratory for Social and Clinical Psychology.

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Acknowledgments.

Introduction: Three Simple Truths About Revenge and Forgiveness.

1 Putting Vengeance and Forgiveness Back into Human Nature.

2 Revenge Is a Problem: Counting the Costs.

3 Revenge Is a Solution: Three Evolutionary Hypotheses.

4 The Retribution Solution: The Evidence for Adaptation.

5 Family, Friendship, and the Functions of Forgiveness.

6 The Forgiveness Instinct.

7 The Forgiving Brain.

8 "To Promote and to Maintain Friendly Relations": Making Forgiveness Happen.

9 From Neurons to Nations.

10 Divine Forgiveness and Righteous Revenge.

11 Homo ignoscens.

Notes.

Bibliography.

The Author.

Index.

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Michael E. McCullough is a professor of psychology at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida, where he directs the Laboratory for Social and Clinical Psychology. His research is focused on human moral sentiments such as forgiveness, the desire for revenge, and gratitude. He also studies the evolutionary underpinnings and modern-day consequences of religious behavior.
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McCullough, whose last three books were academic, targets a general audience in this exploration of the human capacity for both revenge and forgiveness. Schooling readers in the basics of natural selection, McCullough argues that despite popular belief that revenge is a disease, both revenge and forgiveness have been adaptive for our species. Acting as a chatty tour guide through a labyrinth of game theory and studies of human and animal behavior, McCullough explains not only why humans seek revenge in some cases and forgiveness in others, but also delineates the neurological, psychological, social, cultural, and religious mechanisms behind these choices. McCullough approaches stories of extraordinary forgiveness with clear-eyed inquiry rather than misty-eyed reverence. What conditions, he asks, are most likely to lead to forgiveness instead of revenge? How can we create those conditions at a societal, even global level? While acknowledging that cycles of revenge seem unbreakable as they play out in a number of current conflicts, McCullough sees evidence of humanity’s collective will to break these cycles. Such innovations as restorative justice and truth and reconciliation commissions seem capable of provoking humanity’s hardwired impulse to forgive. Accessible but unsentimental, this book will appeal to all who wish to better understand forgiveness and how to engender it. (Apr. 4) (Publishers Weekly, February 11, 2008)
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