• darthbarracuda
    2.8k
    If someone did something intentionally and knew it was inappropriate, misguided or otherwise wrong, then probably most of us would agree that this person should apologize.

    If someone did the wrong thing but did not know it was wrong, or accidentally did the wrong thing, should this person still apologize? Does doing the wrong thing unintentionally (perhaps out of ignorance or fear) free a person from the responsibility of saying sorry?

    My view is that, no, a person should still apologize for what they have done even if they did it accidentally or did not mean to do the wrong thing, because apologizing is a way of communicating your recognition that what you did was, in fact, wrong to do. Not apologizing for doing the wrong thing in general means you either don't think it actually was the wrong thing to do, or you have a character flaw that precludes you from admitting failure and assuming responsibility.

    [yes this is somewhat personal to me :-} ]
  • Dlaw
    14
    I think this is where we move from morals to ethics - with ethics informing the better choice.

    If we bring in the question of right or wrong, we forget the purpose of the apology, which is to show both sympathy and empathy. Best case, this undoes the wrong if it leads to a corrected misunderstanding - always a possibility. Worst case, someone apologizes to a selfish person to whom one has committed no real offense and the offense is confirmed in that person's mind.

    But then again that was probably going to happen anyway.

    The only reason I see not to err on the side of apology is when you feel you're being manipulated more than once into apologizing to a person who is trying to use conflict to raise status.
  • apokrisis
    3.8k
    Does doing the wrong thing unintentionally (perhaps out of ignorance or fear) free a person from the responsibility of saying sorry?darthbarracuda

    But if you intentionally do the wrong thing, surely you must believe that in some larger way it is the right thing? So it would then be unreasonable to apologise - unless you have also come to believe you were in fact wrong and so changed your mind about what is right.

    Whereas if you do something wrong by accident, then apologising is no big deal. You are not to blame. An accident is. You are apologising for an accident for which you are not responsible in any intentional sense.

    Thus either you intentionally did it because it seemed right - so why apologise? Or you accidentally did it - and your apology is now essentially vacuous. The accident bears the burden of the blame. You are really saying you would have acted right if you could.

    So these mark the two extremes. And neither accurately describe the majority of the real world encounters you are likely concerned about.

    Where are apologies both morally warranted and meaningful? Well if you thought you were doing the right thing and later see it as being the wrong thing.

    Then in practice, an apology is just a good way to head off social conflict no matter what the wrongs or rights. It is a pragmatic response if you don't want drama.

    But what is life without drama? >:)
  • T Clark
    3k
    My view is that, no, a person should still apologize for what they have done even if they did it accidentally or did not mean to do the wrong thing, because apologizing is a way of communicating your recognition that what you did was, in fact, wrong to do. Not apologizing for doing the wrong thing in general means you either don't think it actually was the wrong thing to do, or you have a character flaw that precludes you from admitting failure and assuming responsibility.darthbarracuda

    If you cause harm by accident or through bad behavior, the correct actions are 1) acknowledge the error and 2) make things right. Giving an apology is like asking for forgiveness, you do something wrong to someone and then ask them to make it right. It lets you off the hook. It lets you avoid taking responsibility for your own actions.
  • T Clark
    3k
    Whereas if you do something wrong by accident, then apologising is no big deal. You are not to blame. An accident is. You are apologising for an accident for which you are not responsible in any intentional sense.apokrisis

    So, if I accidentally back my car into your mailbox, I am not responsible? It's "the accident's" fault?
  • Janus
    5.2k


    The distinction between legal and moral responsibility?
  • T Clark
    3k
    The distinction between legal and moral responsibility?Janus

    I don't think legal responsibility comes into this. I guess we're talking about personal responsibility. Acknowledgement that my behavior caused someone harm and acceptance that I am obligated to make it right. Is that moral responsibility?
  • Janus
    5.2k


    In cases where you damage something due to negligence I guess the question then becomes whether you were intentionally negligent.

    I mean you might have intentionally allowed yourself to be slack about attending to what you were doing because you wanted to focus on something else. This would contrast with a case where your attention was inadvertently distracted by some dramatic event.
  • Buxtebuddha
    1.8k
    For me it comes down to what I feel compelled to apologize for. If I'm in a debate with someone and I unintentionally hurt their feelings, I'll likely apologize for making them feel hurt, but I probably won't apologize for thinking that I'm right in my position, only in the way in which I argued. In the event that someone fucks up in ignorance or fear, then that person cannot be entirely in the wrong, unless you put no value in intention.
  • darthbarracuda
    2.8k
    But if you intentionally do the wrong thing, surely you must believe that in some larger way it is the right thing? So it would then be unreasonable to apologise - unless you have also come to believe you were in fact wrong and so changed your mind about what is right.

    Whereas if you do something wrong by accident, then apologising is no big deal. You are not to blame. An accident is. You are apologising for an accident for which you are not responsible in any intentional sense.
    apokrisis

    People can do the wrong thing knowing it is the wrong thing because they do not care about morality, and care more about themselves or whatever. Promising a friend to do something for them but deciding to not fulfill this promise and go have fun partying or whatever instead is an example.

    If I were to crash my car into someone else's on accident, I would feel compelled to apologize even though I didn't do it on purpose.
  • apokrisis
    3.8k
    So, if I accidentally back my car into your mailbox, I am not responsible? It's "the accident's" fault?T Clark

    The law says you are responsible. It says you can't have been paying due care and attention. So now there is a social standard in place. And the OP seemed more directed at some kind of personal absolute morality than at social/legal norms.

    If you insulted DB, called him an idiot, and there was a law that said you must apologise, then personal moral choices aren't really involved. It just a norm in play. You don't have to mean it when you do what you are supposed to do. It doesn't seem a character flaw to abide by a norm even when you don't accept it should apply in your circumstances. Instead, isn't that even more admirable? :)

    So what would you actually do if you knocked over my mailbox? Would it depend on there being possible witnesses?

    The problem with real life is there are always extenuating circumstances. Right and wrong can never be so black and white.
  • apokrisis
    3.8k
    People can do the wrong thing knowing it is the wrong thing because they do not care about morality, and care more about themselves or whatever.darthbarracuda

    That's what I wonder. Can people actually choose to do wrong? If they are making real world choices, they must weight the decision with many factors. And of course it is easy to rationalise and tip the balance the way that favours yourself and your interests. But that just says people construct some belief about whether they are overall in the right or in the wrong. And having done that, by definition really, they pick what is for them the "right".

    Talk of intentionally picking the course you know to be wrong doesn't sound coherent. You are really talking about people picking the course they know you would likely judge wrong - but they would rather see what they want to do as right.

    So the point is that all such choices are already constructed to be defensible as "right". It should be no surprise that the wrong-doer starts with that general belief. It is only if you can appeal to something outside the person's private intentionality - like a social norm of what was the right action - that you then create some different standard other than the person's own freedom to construct their choices.

    Unless you are arguing some absolute basis for morality, you are stuck with having to rely on social norms. And when it comes to apologies, even the law doesn't generally like getting involved in that.

    If I were to crash my car into someone else's on accident, I would feel compelled to apologize even though I didn't do it on purpose.darthbarracuda

    Yeah, but that is then normally going to be a case of your negligence. So it isn't literally an accident - an act of God. It is culpable negligence.

    If you are instead forced into the car in front of you by the car behind you, would you still feel as compelled? As a matter of form, you might say "sorry about that". But just as quickly, you would point out who was really to blame.

    So your OP seemed to want a black and white absolute moral principle. But morality is normally pragmatic.

    Apologies are a social tool. People use them to get away with stuff. Blame the accident, it wasn't me. And people demand them because they care about dominance hierarchies. They want someone who has attacked their social standing to humble themselves. But mostly apologies just grease the wheels and lower the potential for confrontations. They are a friendly habit where there is not enough at stake to want to risk a test of wills.

    So I'm saying the OP seems to want some general metaphysical-strength position of the giving and withholding of apologies. But really, is there anything more going on here than social game-playing and norms of maturity? Apologies would be tools to use to your best advantage, whatever you judge that to be in a social situation.
  • T Clark
    3k
    So what would you actually do if you knocked over my mailbox? Would it depend on there being possible witnesses?apokrisis

    It has happened to me. I was turning around in someone's driveway and backed into it. They weren't home. I went back my home, got my tools, and did my best to fix the damage. Since they still weren't home, I left a note with my phone number.

    The problem with real life is there are always extenuating circumstances. Right and wrong can never be so black and white.apokrisis

    I'm a bit shocked that you don't seem to understand. It's not that I'm to blame, it's that I'm responsible. I don't deserve punishment or censure, I'm obligated to make things right.
  • apokrisis
    3.8k
    So now it is about property damage and adequate compensation?

    Correct me if I’m wrong but the OP was about personal insult. If you hurt my feelings, you might want to show me that you are hurting just as much, and now we can be all square. Everyone equally happy in being equally unhappy. :)
  • T Clark
    3k
    So now it is about property damage and adequate compensation?

    Correct me if I’m wrong but the OP was about personal insult. If you hurt my feelings, you might want to show me that you are hurting just as much, and now we can be all square. Everyone equally happy in being equally unhappy.
    apokrisis

    You're right, I wasn't thinking of the subject just in relation to an insult or hurt feelings, although I think what I had to say is still appropriate. Actually, it works better for emotional or personal failings than it does for more substantive ones. I know from experience, both as the victim and the perpetrator, that an acknowledgement of error and genuine attempt to set things straight are very powerful responses for people who are hurt emotionally.
  • darthbarracuda
    2.8k
    That's what I wonder. Can people actually choose to do wrong? If they are making real world choices, they must weight the decision with many factors. And of course it is easy to rationalise and tip the balance the way that favours yourself and your interests. But that just says people construct some belief about whether they are overall in the right or in the wrong. And having done that, by definition really, they pick what is for them the "right".

    Talk of intentionally picking the course you know to be wrong doesn't sound coherent. You are really talking about people picking the course they know you would likely judge wrong - but they would rather see what they want to do as right.
    apokrisis

    I don't agree with what I see to be your reduction of moral rightness/wrongness to subjective or inter-subjective opinions, or calling it "right" instead of right. You and I seem to be using different concepts here, as it is plain to me that choosing the course that is morally wrong is very much so possible and coherent and happens all the time, whereas you seem to be using it in the sense of prudential rationality, or weakness of will.

    I'd be more interested in something like the ancient Greek notion that evil is born from ignorance. But that would lead us to the question of moral responsibility in general, and not just apologizing (but also punishment, justice, redemption, etc).

    So your OP seemed to want a black and white absolute moral principle. But morality is normally pragmatic.apokrisis

    No, not at all, I explicitly reject any sort of black-and-white moral absolutism. At least, any sort of morality that can be cashed out in real life. But rejecting absolutism doesn't necessarily imply relativism or extreme particularism. We can certainly have prima facie principles and duties, which I think ultimately is what is the case. So the OP, far from asking for absolutes, is asking for general, "at first glance" moral principles. At first glance, when someone does something wrong, they ought to apologize regardless of their intentions. But this of course isn't an absolute. It's only a guideline for what tends to be the most appropriate thing to do.

    Really, I'm less interested in the meta-ethics this time and more interested in actual normative ethics.
  • Thorongil
    3.2k
    You may recall or have realized by now that I've chosen to largely ignore you, darth, but I can't help but comment on this thread. In our last PM conversation, I apologized several times for whatever part I may have played in the scuffle that led to our mutual estrangement a while back, while you failed to offer, and have still failed to offer, any apology yourself and didn't seem, nor seem now, to care about resolving the dispute in a way that might enable us to carry on discussing things with one another in a cordial manner. Your position in this thread is therefore highly ironic.
  • darthbarracuda
    2.8k
    Shiiiit, you're still hung up on that? If I remember correctly I said I was going to be honest with you anyway. Do I need to apologize for being honest?

    I'm not going to apologize for something I don't see as wrong. That would just be insincere of me, a sniffling apology to get back on someone's "good" side. I'll apologize when I think I actually did screw up and feel the other person deserves an apology.

    I apologize if that was rude... /s

    Edit: to an extent I come from a Levinasian stance, in which I experience a primordial demand to apologize to anyone and everyone simply for my very existence. I get in other people's way, interrupt their projects, irritate them, etc. Any sort of self-righteous indignation is a violence against the other person. So, I do feel a need to apologize to you, just as I feel the need to apologize to everyone. But from a broader, third-person perspective, as an impartial observer, I don't think someone else would agree that I should apologize for each and every thing I do.
  • mcdoodle
    984
    I've been thinking about apology just lately and writing an essay about *public* apology - for which I heartily recommend Alice Maclachlan as a starting point.

    http://www.alicemaclachlan.com/research.html

    I'm feeling for myself, after some deliberation, that apology is part of a ritual or symbolic exchange. You make an apology when you believe that by such a speech act you will place yourself, and the person you're apologising to, in a better relation than your present mutual standing. That's it!

    My other major source is Karine Polwart - a philosophy graduate who became a singer-songwriter. This is her song 'Sorry'.

  • darthbarracuda
    2.8k
    I'm feeling for myself, after some deliberation, that apology is part of a ritual or symbolic exchange. You make an apology when you believe that by such a speech act you will place yourself, and the person you're apologising to, in a better relation than your present mutual standing. That's it!mcdoodle

    I agree that apologizing can put two people on higher mutual standing with each other. But I will say that apologizing only to get to a better standing with another person is insincere, even manipulative. You should apologize first and foremost when you have done something wrong and the other person deserves to be supplicated to. Sincere apologizing is an act of humble submission - you put yourself at the mercy of the other person, and they can either reject or accept your apology.
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