Apology as Self-Repair

Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 21 (3):585-598 (2018)
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Abstract

Bernard Williams briefly discusses agent regret in his broader account of moral luck. The present paper first outlines one way to develop Williams’s notion with reference to the unintended harm; it then suggests that agent regret can be counteracted by externalizing the action that caused unintended harm, in Harry Frankfurt’s sense of externalization; and then the present paper argues that apology is a mechanism by which a person can externalize an offending action/effect—in that way counteracting agent regret. This function for apology—self-repair—is different from others described in the literature, which address the role of apology in repairing relationships. The present paper describes a nonfictional example, that of a veteran of the U.S. war in Iraq who contacts a family gravely injured by him and his combat unit; the veteran is motivated to contact the family to apologize. The example serves as a prototypical case of agent regret. The example is taken from a recent literature on the clinical psychology of self-inflicted “moral injury”; categorizing this example of moral injury as agent regret also helps broaden our understanding of moral injury as a philosophical category and as a psychological phenomenon.

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Marc A. Cohen
Seattle University

Citations of this work

Epistemic Atonement.Elise Woodard - 2023 - In Russ Shafer-Landau (ed.), Oxford Studies in Metaethics Volume 18. Oxford University Press.
Pharmacological Prophylaxes against Moral Injury.Ned Dobos - 2023 - Monash Bioethics Review 41 (1):37-48.
Strict Moral Answerability.Maximilian Kiener - 2024 - Ethics 134 (3):360-386.
Third-party apologies, theory and form.Marc A. Cohen - 2022 - American Philosophical Quarterly 59 (3):287-295.

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References found in this work

Sources of the self: the making of the modern identity.Charles Taylor - 1989 - Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity.Charles Taylor - 1989 - Cambridge, Mass.: Cambridge University Press.
Moral Luck.B. A. O. Williams & T. Nagel - 1976 - Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 50 (1):115-152.
Moral Luck.B. A. O. Williams & T. Nagel - 1976 - Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 50:115 - 151.
Sources of the Self: The Making of Modern Identity.Charles Taylor - 1994 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 54 (1):187-190.

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