23 April 2010

When one hears the word “apology” in a philosophical context, one naturally thinks of Plato’s famous Socratic dialogue, ``The Apology”.  And then it strikes one that Socrates doesn’t sound all that apologetic. Historically, ``apology” often meant “reasoned argument or writing in justification of something”.   Nowadays it mostly means “a regretful acknowledgment of an offense or failure”.   It’s in this latter sense we are interested in apologies, including apologies in the political sphere, whether sincere or self-serving statements pretending to be expressions of regret.

 The topic of apologies is full of philosophical angles, although not too many philosophers have written about it. To start with, an apology is a purposeful speech act, so certain questions naturally arise:.


o   What is the goal of such acts? 

o   What are apologies supposed to do? 

o   When are they successful? 

o   What are the “appropriateness conditions” for an apology?

o   What the difference is between apologizing and repenting.

o   Are they just rituals?  Or do they have to be sincere to really be apologies? 

o   And is it really an apology, if the behavior of the apologist doesn’t change in relevant ways?

o   Should you always accept an apology? 

o   Does doing so mean your forgive?  Forget? Or both? Or can you accept an apology and still try to get even?


So-called ``collective apologies” raise more questions.  Congress apologizes on behalf of the nation to our Japanese citizens for the internment camps during World War II.  The Turks will or won’t apologize to the Armenians for what was or wasn’t an attempted genocide.  Do such collective apologies make sense?  Or is it just politics?


 Neither Ken nor I have much a background in the philosophy of apologizing, but our guest, Nick Smith from the University of New Hampshire has written a book on the subject, one of the very few philosophers who have.  So we’ll have a lot to learn, and a lot to talk about.

Comments (6)

Guest's picture


Saturday, April 24, 2010 -- 5:00 PM

First, you guys are freaking rock stars. Second

First, you guys are freaking rock stars.
Second, you haven't mentioned it (yet), but Harry Shearer's Le Show (KALW, Sundays @ noon) has a segment called "Apologies of the Week." He rounds up all of the collective apologies of the week and, without too much comment, the audience can see how big of a marketing/PR scheme it is for politicians and public figures. It's hilarious and disgusting at the same time and definitely backs up your comments on public apologies. Check it out!

Guest's picture


Thursday, April 29, 2010 -- 5:00 PM

Great introductionary blog for the broadcast. Wh

Great introductionary blog for the broadcast.
When I think of Apologies, philosophically, Plato doesn't come to mind; but this blog gave me a reason to consider next time. "Apology" often meant ?reasoned argument or writing in justification of something?, thanks for the history... It comes to mind the etymology of the word "apology", "apolo"'s "logic".

Guest's picture


Friday, May 7, 2010 -- 5:00 PM

I strive to find the idea of weight behind apologi

I strive to find the idea of weight behind apologies. People apologize all the time, but the question I have is why do people apologize. Is it to clear the air? Or perhaps it is just something that people do so they can steer clear of regret?
What kind of society are we when it comes to apologies? How would you define the instantly gratified apology? In a world where everything else is at our fingertips, why not the apology?

Guest's picture


Saturday, July 17, 2010 -- 5:00 PM

It really is hard to apologize when pride is at st

It really is hard to apologize when pride is at stake. But through sheer determination in order to preserve the relationship towards the person or people you have done harm it really is a good to make a first move towards friendly approach. After relaying your intentions to the said person you then await his/her response. You must have patience and open mindedness.

Guest's picture


Tuesday, October 12, 2010 -- 5:00 PM

Public apologies work most of the time. Nice post.

Public apologies work most of the time. Nice post.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Wednesday, October 13, 2010 -- 5:00 PM

I recall something said to me around 15 or 16 year

I recall something said to me around 15 or 16 years ago. An Army Special Operations friend told me that "his daddy" always said: never apologize---it's a sign of weakness. I rather doubt that Bob's father ever said that to him. It was more likely an Army aphorism, which is, was, and will be the caveat emptor of societies generally and western society, specifically.
Now then---does this approach make us stronger? I don't think so. Not long into his presidency, Barack Obama apologized for something and drew summary criticism for his weakness. Well, looks like we have painted ourselves into a corner---really? Apology is probably over. So what? Glad I won't be around to see it.