Fall 2019 Colloquium Series - 25 October
Elinor Mason, University of Edinburgh :: Apology as Taking the Blame
Friday,October 25 2019
Abstract: There are many different accounts of apology, but there seems to wide agreement that an admission of culpability is a necessary component of a sincere genuine apology. We sometimes apologize for harms that are not clearly under our control, and in such cases we cannot admit culpability. Thus on the standard account, this sort of apology cannot be a genuine apology.
I make a distinction between genuine apologies and pro forma apologies. Pro forma apologies are part of our politeness norms. They are a way of acknowledging harm, but do not acknowledge responsibility at all, and are compatible with excuses and justifications. By contrast, genuine apologies are not compatible with excuses or justifications. This is why it may seem as though admission of culpability is a necessary condition for a genuine apology, and apologies for things that are out of our control must be pro forma apologies. I deny this: I argue for a unified account of genuine apologies, according to which a genuine apology is an offer to accept blame. Blame can be articulate, involving a judgment about culpability, or inarticulate, in that it is emotional, and points to another agent, but does not commit the blamer to a judgment of culpability. Thus accepting blame can make sense even without admitting culpability.