Public Apologies


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Resource summary

Question Answer
The Paradox of Public Apologies - The paradox of public apology is a puzzle about motivation - Widespread demand for and widespread rejection of public apologies - Explicable in terms of the value of trust and the search for trustworthiness - Highlights some of the serious moral and political risks inherent in the practice
The Elements of the "Story" an Apology Tells “I. The actions, policies, or events in question were wrongful and harmful. II. The recipient was negatively affected by these actions, policies, or events. III. The speaker takes responsibility for and regrets these actions, policies, or events; IV. The speaker now disavows and censures the intentions, practices, or procedures that led to them, and acknowledges the recipient as someone who deserves better V. Contain some forward-looking element, in which the speaker commits not to do these similar wrongs again, or to make appropriate reparations or remedy, or to become somehow better, meeting certain standards or values that are inconsistent with their past behaviour. VI. Express sorrow or some other negative affect.
The Moral Function of an Apology - The offender's willingness to apologize, in itself, may indicate responsiveness to my status as a moral agent - Performs salient features of trustworthiness, in both words and in affect, and a willingness to offer apology indicates desire to be trusted - Address victim as an interlocutor worthy of respect - Acknowledge the impact and harms caused by the wrongdoing
According to MacLachlan: How an Apology Can Go Wrong - If the speaker continued to dispute her wrongdoing, or denied responsibility, or suggested the recipient wasn’t really harmed or shouldn’t expect to be treated any better than this, then whatever she is doing (confessing, making excuses, offering sympathy, crowing, piling on insult, etc.) she is not apologizing - Official apologies are a less reliable mechanism for assessments of trustworthiness, as the apologizer does not speak for herself but rather on behalf of an institution. How and whether we trust institutions varies from how and whether we trust individuals - Personal expressions of regret and sorrow tend to provide at least some evidence that the agent will adopt different and more appropriate attitudes and policies towards us in the future, and will think twice before engaging in the kind of behavior that harmed us in the first place. Scripted public expressions of regret and sorrow do not come with such guarantees. Just as with any public speech act, an apology that hits all the right notes cannot, in and of itself, ensure appropriate institutional change and concrete
MacLachlan's Solution to the Paradox of Public Apology Why do we continue to ask for public apologies, when we almost never trust the apology to be true and sincere? - Public apologies appear to compensate for the loss of general or civic default trust - Creates a sense of accountability, and at the same time, a sense of belonging and identification - Public statements of value, and often involve a verbal reassertion of relevant democratic norms
Acknowledgment and Public Apologies: Gorier and Verwoerd - Central thesis is that it is through acknowledgment that the importance of apologies to victims, and their power as a step toward reconciliation, can be explained - Apologies are a powerful way to acknowledge responsibil- ity and guilt, and to express other-oriented moral regret - A corollary of the idea of soothing by acknowledgment is that there is a further insult to, and harm of, victims/survivors when acknowledgment is lacking. If a society pays no heed to brutalities and offenses suffered by many of its citizens, it further damages these vulnerable people because moral con- tempt can be as devastating as the original wrong itself. In literature on the treat- ment of trauma, this lack of acknowledgment has been termed a second injury to victims, and its effects are referred to as the second wound of silence - Recognition and acknowledgement of wrongdoing, harm, and resentment are important preconditions for an effective apology that might “elicit a moral and emotional shift away from resentment in the direction of forgiveness”
Three Main Dimensions of Acknowledgement First, the wrongdoer is acknowledging wrongdoing by himself or the group or institution he represents. In express- ing moral regret for a particular act, he is in effect admitting that the act was wrong, and that he (or the group he represents) was responsible for it. This admission will be addressed to the victim or victims of the wrongdoing, and to others as well, in the case of a public apology. Second, in apologizing, the offender is acknowledging the moral status of the victim(s), the primary person(s) to whom he apologizes. The act was wrong, and in doing it, the offender (or those he represents) injured the victim or victims, who did not merit or deserve this ill-treatment. Third, the offender is acknowledging the legitimacy of feelings of resentment and anger that victims may feel in response to being wronged. The act or acts in question really were wrong, and they really did hurt victims, who did not deserve to be wronged. Thus, resentment and related feelings would be justified.
Public Apologies: Moral Amends - To make moral amends, we may apologize, expressing other-oriented moral regret and appealing for forgiveness from the person whom we have injured. Moral regret is to be distinguished from intellectual regret because moral regret involves acknowledgment of our responsibility for wrongdoing. - Moral amends may be understood in terms of the (victim-centered) acknowledgment just described. Many exchanges at the TRC suggested that the process of making moral amends requires concrete forms of restitution and that moral and material amends may be closely related.
Public Apologies: Practical Amends - practical gestures may include efforts to improve attitudes and relationship, and need not always have a material focus, we prefer to speak of practical amends instead of material amends. For potential reconciliation between the parties, and for good evidence of sincerity on the part of perpe- trators, a full-fledged moral apology should include a commitment to practi- cal amends. - One will briefly raise their hopes only to disappoint in the end when one is unwilling to commit to moral and practical amends; - We have also alluded to the promise of apology. The promise is that a wholehearted apology, followed up with proper commitment to reform and practical amends, can provide a major initial step toward restoring injured relationships.
Reconciliation and Reparation - For potential reconciliation between the parties, and for good evidence of sincerity on the part of perpe- trators, a full-fledged moral apology should include a commitment to practi- cal amends. - An apology in which there is no willingness to undertake any practical mea- sures of reparation is likely to seem insincere or hollow. It may even be worse than no apology at all. - Because institutions and collectives such as MASA are typically more extensive and more powerful than individuals, there is often a financial and physical capacity for many further actions. Thus reparations and commitment not to reoffend are of special importance. To be willing to extend some kind of forgiveness and work for reconciliation with an institution that has been oppressive or cruel in the past, victims need the assurance that that institu- tion is not going to lapse into its bad old ways. An institution that has encouraged, authorized, or negligently permitted wrongdoing by its person- nel and officers will have much to do to reform itself.
According to Govier and Verwoerd: How An Apology Can Go Wrong - Denials compromised acknowledgment - No commitment to practical amends - Cover-up rather than commitment - Mandate as a collective representative being unclear
Moral Function of Public Apology - The moral apology implies a request for forgiveness and is an initiative toward reconciliation. Moral regret is to be distinguished from intellectual regret because moral regret involves acknowledgment of our responsibility for wrongdoing. Moral regret focused specifically on our having wronged another person is other-oriented moral regret.
Legal Function of Public Apologies - Golding says that “one of the main functions of other-oriented regret, in the interpersonal forgiveness situation, is the negat- ing of the justifiability of the injured party’s resentment.”11 That is, the expres- sion (by the offender) of the sorrow that amounts to other-oriented moral regret negates the justified resentment (of the victim); saying one is sorry thus may inspire forgiveness. - The offering of an institutional apology is a public event, one that may carry implications of legal liability or a duty to compensate victims. Third parties are present, offering opportunities for grandstanding and hypocrisy. The shift from the private to the public realm alters the grounds for the interaction and imposes constraints on flexibility. A public apology is fashioned mainly for the record, and may exist primarily to appear on a record.
Bill Clinton's Remarks to the People of Rwanda Why Bill Clinton’s Apology Was Good - Admitted wrongdoing - Stated all facts (didn’t leave anything out) - Noted what should have been done differently to begin with - Was apologetic and emotional about situation - Stated that the United States should now work to improve the current situation, in order to do as much as they can to rectify what had happened - Funding and assisting survivors - Work with Rwandan gov. to strengthen civilian and military cores - Promised to pursue justice of the most powerful perpetrators - Ensure the world knows that nothing of this form will be tolerated again (Work with UN) - Etc. - Urging others to do the same
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