Fiduciary Duties and the Ethics of Public Apology

Journal of Applied Philosophy 35 (2):359-380 (2018)
The practice of official apology has a fairly poor reputation. Dismissed as ‘crocodile tears’ or cheap grace, such apologies are often seen by the public as an easy alternative to more punitive or expensive ways of taking real responsibility. I focus on what I call the role-playing criticism: the argument that someone who offers an apology in public cannot be appropriately apologetic precisely because they are only playing a role. I offer a qualified defence of official apologies against this objection, considering them through the lens of fiduciary duties. This focus draws our attention to formal or impersonal relationships that are nevertheless normatively rich, capable of sustaining trust, concern, and care. At the same time, I highlight several pitfalls for fiduciary apologisers, including the tension between apology as a mode of truth telling and the duty of confidentiality. I consider whether the fiduciary apologiser, in reflecting on her fiduciary obligations, has ‘one thought too many’ for genuine apology, and argue that the issue of mixed motives is not limited to fiduciary contexts, cautioning against excessive idealism in our conception of apology. I conclude with some reflections on possible conflicts between fiduciary obligations and the conscientious desire to apologise.
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DOI 10.1111/japp.12214
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