Excuses, excuses

Criminal Law and Philosophy 1 (1):21-39 (2006)
Abstract
Justifications and excuses are defenses that exculpate. They are therefore much more like each other than like such defenses as diplomatic immunity, which does not exculpate. But they exculpate in different ways, and it has proven difficult to agree on just what that difference consists in. In this paper I take a step back from justification and excuse as concepts in criminal law, and look at the concepts as they arise in everyday life. To keep the task manageable, I focus primarily on excuses and excusing activities, distinguishing them from justifications as well as from other close relatives, in particular, forgiving and pardoning. I draw upon J.L. Austin’s classic A Plea for Excuses, but expand on his account, suggesting that we offer excuses for reasons besides those he mentions. My hope is that my examination of excuses and excusing activities will help us rethink our views on just how justifications and excuses differ, views which often are worked out without much attention to how these concepts function in everyday life and to the connection between offers of excuses and justifications and the rules of civility
Keywords Justification  Excuse  Civility  Forgiving  Pardoning  Holding responsible  Exempting  Blaming  J.L. Austin
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