When the State Says “Sorry”: State Apologies as Exemplary Political Judgments

Journal of Political Philosophy 21 (2):200-220 (2013)
This paper aims to offer an account of state apologies that discloses their potential function as catalysing political acts within broader processes of democratic change. While lots of ink has been spilled on analysing the relationship between apologies and processes of recognising the victims and their descendants, more needs to be said about how apologies can challenge the presence of self-congratulatory, distorted visions of history within the public sphere of liberal democracies. My account will be delineated through a critical engagement with one very frequent objection to public apologies, namely that they unnecessarily taint the self-image of the community. Insights from the philosophy of judgment will be used to show how, in the form of an exemplary judgment, an official “sorry” can inspire societal reflection about an unsavoury past.
Keywords state apology  exemplary political judgment  historical injustice
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