Political Apologies and Categorical Apologies

  • Nick Smith
Part of the Rhetoric, Politics and Society Series book series (RPS)


I Was Wrong: The Meanings of Apologies attempted to differentiate the central meanings provided by ‘categorical apologies’, a term I offered to stipulate a regulative ideal for acts of contrition.1 That book also considered how these meanings map onto collective apologies, which added many layers of complexity to the discussion. Research for my forthcoming book on the role of apologies in legal contexts introduced additional complications. In both individual and collective harms, a pattern — subject to many disclaimers regarding cultural specificity — becomes evident. A victim suffers harm. She wants something like an apology. She may not have an exact sense of what a sufficient apology would entail, but something like a categorical apology motivates her: she wants to know what happened, she wants someone to admit wrongdoing, she doesn’t want to stand by while someone ‘gets away with’ violating a moral principle she cares about, she wants to be respected and recognised as wronged, she wants the wrongdoer to feel badly, she wants to know this isn’t going to happen again to her or anyone else and she wants the wrongdoer to take practical responsibility for redressing her injury. This chapter will identify a few of the questions I find most helpful to ask when evaluating the meanings provided by — and avoided by — political apologies.


Negative Emotion British Columbia Practical Responsibility Oral Argument Moral Transformation 
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  1. 2.
    Roy Brooks, ‘Japan’s Official Responses to Reparations’, in When Sorry Isn’t Enough: The Controversy over Apologies and Reparations for Human Injustice, ed. Roy Brooks (New York: New York University Press, 1999), 127–128. On Abe’s subsequent denials, see ‘Sex Slave Denial Angers S. Korea’, BBC News, 3 March 2007, accessed 1 July 2013, Scholar
  2. 3.
    See Mihaela Mihai, ‘When the State Says “Sorry”: State Apologies as Exemplary Political Judgments’, Journal of Political Philosophy 21, no. 2 (2013): 200–220.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 5.
    Janna Thompson, ‘The Apology Paradox’, Philosophical Quarterly 55, no. 201 (2000): 470–475.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 12.
    Andrew Jenks, Perils of Progress: Environmental Disasters in the 20th Century (Upper Saddle River: Pearson, 2010), 32.Google Scholar
  5. 17.
    See Joel Bakan, The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power (New York: Free Press, 2004).Google Scholar

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© Nick Smith 2014

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  • Nick Smith

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