Apology as Self-Repair

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