Can you be sorry without intending to change your behavior in the future? Without being ashamed? Do other cultures have different concepts of sorrow and guilt?
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.