David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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Journal of Social Philosophy 36 (4):473–496 (2005)
Much of our private and public ethical discourse occurs in the giving, receiving, or demanding of an apology, yet we suffer deep confusion regarding what an apology actually is. Most of us have never made explicit precisely what we expect from a full apology and therefore apologizing has become a vague and clumsy ritual. Full apologies can be morally and emotionally powerful, but, as with most valuable things, frauds masquerade as the genuine article. These semblances of apologies often deceive and manipulate, and such duplicity is common between lovers, families, litigants, and nations. In response to this, I propose nine elements that an apology must satisfy in order to be considered categorical. I believe we have such a categorical apology in mind when we seek a full apology. The standards for a categorical apology are rigorous and precise, and I hope to disentangle the distinct elements of apologies. A categorical apology is a rare and burdensome act, and under certain circumstances full apologies may not be possible regardless of how badly we may desire them. While the leading social science accounts by Aaron Lazare and Nicolas Tavuchis aptly demonstrate how apologies lubricate reciprocally egoist relationships, such theories ultimately prove unsatisfying because apologies achieve their highest meaning as morally rich acts. Both Tavuchis and Lazare offer merely descriptive accounts when a prescriptive argument seems necessary. No philosopher, however, has ever devoted a monograph to the topic and only a handful of papers on apologies have appeared in philosophy journals.
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