Daryl Koehn, Preliminary Thoughts on Types of Apologies: Interpersonal, Corporate and Collective [2017 C4eJ 2] (Symposium)

[☛ watch the video | read the rest of the symposium on The Ethics of Apology: Interdisciplinary & International Perspectives]

Daryl Koehn*

Many thinkers who write about apologies tend to assume that all ethically sound apologies must exhibit the features we attribute to ethically good interpersonal apologies.[1] That assumption is unwarranted, and it is has the pernicious effect of normatively overburdening and perhaps even under-burdening corporate and collective apologies.[2] In this short paper, I wish to offer a kind of preliminary typology of apologies and suggest that the various types may be considerably more different than theorists have realized to date. I am not certain that this typology is complete. What’s more, I cheerfully admit that I may be wrong on key points. The paper is meant to provoke thought and to invite others who are interested in the ethics of apologies to weigh in and to challenge claims I make about similarities and difference among apologies.

What I would insist upon is that an apology is an extremely complex speech act.[3] Therefore, those who wish to analyze apologies and their efficacy and ethicality are well-advised to look at many apologies of each type before making broad assertions about the essence or nature of apologies. Elsewhere I have offered a detailed framework for evaluating the ethical soundness of corporate apologies offered by Chief Executive Officers (CEOs).[4] Before proposing and publishing that particular framework, I scrutinized more than one hundred and fifty corporate apologies. Nick Smith’s published work reflects his similarly extensive analysis of specific interpersonal and collective apologies.[5]

I have found it useful to think of apologies using a Venn diagram (see Figure 1 below). Although in this paper I have more to say about differences among the types of apologies, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge at the start that there clearly are numerous similarities among these types as well (Domains #4-7 on the diagram). In addition, even those areas depicted as regions of uniqueness or non-overlap (Domains #1, #2 and #3) are best interpreted as representing what one very often or typically sees in that particular arena or domain. However, one can certainly find occasional cases in which behaviors or attributes usually seen in connection with one type of apology are present in another type as well.[6] In this paper, I explore and delineate possible contours of each of the seven domains depicted in the diagram below.


Domain #1: Corporate Apologies’ Distinctive Characteristics

Several features of corporate apologies appear to be distinctive. When we receive interpersonal or collective apologies, we expect the apologizer to acknowledge that wrongdoing has occurred. Both the apologizer and the harmed or victimized party agree that the apologizing agent or those he or she represents has done something wrong. There is no possibility in play that the “wrongdoing” might only be perceived or may not actually have occurred. Indeed, if Konrad Adenauer in his apology for the Holocaust had suggested that the Holocaust was only perceived as a monumental offense against humanity, his apology would immediately have been dismissed out of hand as acceptable and characterized as a non-apology.[7] However, we need to remember that corporations are often accused of having acted unjustly (or even criminally) by individuals who may have hidden agendas or who have based their accusations on false or incomplete information. Attempts by customers to extort firms or sellers are so widespread that vendor sites such as amazon.com have discussion boards dedicated to dealing with these attempts. “Social media blackmailing” of firms is not uncommon either.[8] Customers threaten to post unfavorable reviews if hotels or restaurants do not give them free meals and room upgrades in addition to an apology.

This problematic behavior by corporate stakeholders has two consequences. First, firms may face social demands that they apologize, when no apology is owed. Anything that they say in the face of such demands is then unjustly proclaimed to be a failed apology. Second, in some cases, firms want to apologize for some wrongdoing with which they are associated, but the firm’s perception of the wrongdoing is not identical with the perception of stakeholders who see themselves as victimized by the firm. Akio Toyoda’s apology before Congress falls into this second class. The firm was accused of having manufactured cars with faulty accelerators. This accusation was found by credible investigative bodies to be unsubstantiated. On the other hand, in his Congressional testimony which was heard as an apology, Toyoda did state that the firm had failed to attend failure adequately to quality control issues in general. He testified that the firm had become so caught up in marketing that it had lost its focus on product quality. Another case: after the Ashland Oil spill, the firm was accused by the press of having built the tank that ruptured without first obtaining the necessary permits. The firm believed (rightly as it turned out) that its employees had obtained the relevant permits, even though the firm’s managers could not locate the requisite forms in the immediate aftermath of the spill. It was publicly alleged as well that the ruptured tank had not been tested prior to being deployed. That widely reported initial allegation also turned out to be unfounded. Nevertheless, despite these public misperceptions of the wrongdoing, the firm wanted to reach out to those who had suffered on account of a spill that could unquestionably be traced back to an exploded Ashland Oil storage tank.

So when CEOs offer apologies, sometimes the CEOs must grapple with or address a difference in perception as to what, in fact, the firm’s misdeed was. In the case of collective apologies, by contrast, although the description of the wrongdoing can be contested (see my comments below on iterative apologies), the apologizer and wronged or aggrieved parties usually agree on the wrongdoing or the offense—e.g., the American government’s internment of Japanese-Americans during WW 2; the Canadian government’s head tax on Chinese. If we were to speak of “perceived” wrongdoing in these cases, we would be rightly accused of seriously misunderstanding the situation or perhaps even of deliberate obfuscation. Similar reasoning applies to purely personal apologies. Personal apologies beginning with “I’m sorry if you think I harmed you in some way” are quickly dismissed by infuriated victims. The victim expects convergence between his or her and the apologizer’s understanding of the wrongdoing or injustice.[9] Victims of a priest’s sexual abuse were understandably incensed when the priest apologized not for the abuse but only for the sin of breaking his vow of chastity. Those on the receiving end of this “apology” rejected it tout court.

A related difference among apologies centers on causality. In interpersonal incidents calling for an apology, we know who caused the harm. If I spill coffee on you, we both know that I caused the harm (the burn, the damaged silk blouse, etc.). Incidents involving corporations frequently are not that clear-cut. Causality is very often a matter ascertained by the courts. Did Halliburton or British Petroleum or a third party cause the Gulf of Mexico oil spill? There was much finger-pointing. Causality as well as some facts of the case have been the subject of years of litigation. In other cases, firms may suspect sabotage or terrorism caused the harm the public associates with the firm. It is thus naive to expect that an apology offered by a CEO is going to feature an admission that the firm caused the offense. Many of the ethically more sound corporate apologies instead focus on rectifying the harm with which the public associates the firm, even if the firm did not cause the harm or did not do so in any simple sense of the matter.[10] The firm takes responsibility for ameliorating the harm or preventing future harm of this sort without admitting guilt.

Perhaps causality is clearer when it comes to collective apologies. The Canadian state removed more than 150,000 Aboriginal children from their families and communities and placed them in Indian Residential Schools. Yes, we can debate whether the state did so as an agent of the Canadian public.[11] And, yes, we may be unsure as to the number of victimized individuals. But the cause of the wrongdoing is not contested in the same way in which the causes of particular corporate disasters (Gulf Oil spill; the Ashland Oil spill, etc.) are routinely disputed. In cases of alleged corporate wrongdoing, parties contend over issues of fact touching upon what exactly was done and who did or did not do it; while in the case of national or collective apologies, we may be dealing less with questions of causation and more with thorny theoretical problems inherent in the attribution of responsibility to a collective.[12]

While reparations are often an element of collective and interpersonal apologies, they are not so common in corporate apologies. As is well-known, the US has a very litigious business environment. Settlements are generally arrived at through class action suits, not freely bestowed by firms accused of wrongdoing. Moreover, often the firms themselves can claim they, too, have been victimized. Data breach-related CEO apologies are among the most common corporate apologies. In such cases, the firms did not themselves cause the breach, although they may have been negligent in protecting customer or third party data. The hacked firms usually announce the breach, express regret for the inconvenience and worry experienced by customers whose data has been compromised, and then outline the steps they are taking to prevent future breaches. After the breathtaking hacking of the credit bureau Equifax, Equifax did offer a year’s worth of free identity theft protection to those who definitely were or might have been affected. VW offered owners of VW vehicles affected by the emissions cheating scandal a cash “good will” payment and several years of free roadside assistance if these owners bought a new VW.[13] But such corporate bestowing of something of economic value on apology recipients is relatively rare.

Collective national settlements accompanying collective apologies are not rare. The US government made a cash settlement to the interned Japanese-Americans, and the Canadian government did the same in the case of children warehoused in residential schools. Even personal apologies may involve some sort of reparation possessing economic value. After spilling red wine on my sister’s carpet and sofa, I not only apologized profusely but gave her money to hire a professional cleaning service to remove the staining. Parents who get home later than the return time they had told their babysitter may apologize and give the babysitter extra money as compensation for any inconvenience or harm they caused by staying out too long. Such gestures can be thought of small-scale reparations.

In general, corporate apologies aim at shoring up corporate brands. Consequently, I think that CEO apologies are best viewed as efforts to restore trustworthiness in the firm and perhaps in the larger capitalistic system rather than as instances of confessional repentance designed to elicit forgiveness from consumers or other stakeholders. The market system relies upon trust, and so it is not surprising that firms are frequently concerned with maintaining or repairing trust.[14] Indeed, forgiveness cannot be the main concern in a corporate context. For only those who have been harmed by an offender are in a position to extend forgiveness to the offending agent. Yet many stakeholders who have not been harmed by a specific firm nevertheless listen to, expect and find value (or an absence thereof) in CEO apologies.[15] Volkswagen’s corporate apology for manipulating pollution control data and deceiving regulators spoke not only to existing owners of VW vehicles but to potential son, owners and perhaps even VW employees, shareholders and lenders. Would-be buyers of VW automobiles do not have to forgive VW, but they do need to think that the firm is sufficiently trustworthy that VW can be relied upon in the future to produce safe, truly non-polluting cars.

Domain #2: Personal Apologies’ Distinctive Characteristics

Nick Smith has analyzed characteristics of personal apologies in detail.[16] I have little new to add to what he has already done a fine job of explicating. In the interest of highlighting the distinctiveness of personal apologies, I would just stress that personal apologies frequently fit into a quasi-religious narrative arc involving psychological transformation. A mean-spirited individual who has harmed her friend may apologize, promising to do better in the future. The recipient of the apology who accepts it may then reasonably watch for evidence that the speaker is involved in a process of self-reform.[17]

Such psychological reform makes little sense in the collective and corporate contexts if we believe that corporations and nations do not have souls. While some business writers speak of corporate souls, many would question the use of such terminology. We think of psychological reform as growing out of a sense of shame or guilt, yet corporations and collectives, which lack a singular physical body, cannot blush. Court and judicial officials can and do look for evidence that suspects or prisoners feel remorse.[18] In the absence of remorse, these individuals may be arrested, incarcerated, and receive much heavier prison sentences. The narrative arc in the judicial context incorporates the possibility of physical imprisonment. But we cannot imprison a corporation or an entire nation. So the personal apology appears to be distinctively wedded to a narrative or story about psychic transformation in a way that corporate and collective apologies are not.

Another point: the individual apologizer commits to reforming herself in the future. It might be argued that in the case of collective apologizes some kind of moral transformation (perhaps at the individual citizen level) has already occurred prior to the utterance of the apology. It is precisely because the state/public has moved beyond a condition of complacency, indifference, or wickedness that the state/general public feels that a collective apology is now called for and warranted.

A historical note: since the 1600s, interpersonal apologies have been linked to repentance and forgiveness.[19] In earlier times, the West featured apologies that were spirited, personal defenses of ways of life (e.g., Socrates’ famous apology before the Athenian jurors).[20] These ancient apologia or defenses gave way to a Judeo-Christian view of apology that asked recipients of the apology to forgive the debt or trespass committed by the offender just as the recipients, in turn, would ask (or maybe even expect!) God to forgive them their sins or trespasses.[21] These religiously-based personal apologies can be construed as attempts to heal wounds and to make personal relations more cordial or, more minimally, civil through the mechanism of repentance and forgiveness. Although some collective apologies might appear to invite restorative forgiveness, in many cases the injured parties who would possess the moral standing to choose whether to forgive the offense are no longer alive (e.g., the Jewish victims of the Holocaust) and so cannot forgive the collective. Consequently, it would seem to be a category mistake to make forgiveness an integral part of collective apologies. Forgiveness is similarly out of place in the case of corporate apologies (See above analysis of Domain #1).[22]

Domain #3: Collective Apologies’ Distinctive Characteristics

In the case of a collective apology, a public official utters a carefully crafted statement of regret for substantial, or even monstrous, harms committed by the state and/or the general public. It is very much an open question whether the official should be interpreted as speaking as an agent of the public or not.[23] Ascertaining whether the official is apologizing for past actions of the state apparatus or for those of the general public can be tricky as well. This difficulty is not merely theoretical. A substantial number of members of the general public may not be willing to accept responsibility for deeds that they did not directly commit or intend or that they may not even today find all that objectionable. Therefore, the exact status of the apologizer and the basis for his or her authority can be obscure when it comes to this class of apologies.

This state of affairs differs considerably from what we encounter with other types of apologies. The CEO who utters a corporate apology unproblematically speaks as a representative and employee of the firm. CEOs are the “authorized” speakers for firms in a variety of contexts—e.g., at shareholder meetings and on calls with financial analysts regarding earnings reports. I know of no case where the public rejected a corporate apology on the ground that the CEO did not speak for the firm.  In personal apologies as well, we almost never encounter conundrums concerning the authority or standing of the apologizer. If I injure you, you will look to me to utter an apology. I am clearly the cause of the injury. Since I typically will have been acting as an individual and not as an occupant of some role, questions concerning my role, status, or authority as the apologizer will not arise.

Collective apologies may also require that we carefully consider who are the licit recipients of the apology for past official wrongdoing. If some of the gay men arrested by the police were charged with violent sexual predatory assaults on very young men, should a collective apology for past police actions against members of the LGBTQ community cover these police actions?[24]

Collective apologies involve a powerful or sovereign agent (the state apparatus/public) expressing regret over the state/nation having harmed and offended marginalized groups. The power differential between the apologizer and the victims is huge. While that power disparities do exist in the case of corporate apologies and even in some instances of personal apologies (think of the parent apologizing to the child), the state is in the position of being able to control access to the documents and records necessary to establish the scale and exact contours of the collective offense. The state can lock down access and even seal relevant records for decades. While corporations may try to paper over facts, the press often can locate sources or evidence that prevents firms controlling a breaking story along the lines that corporate management might desire. When we are thinking about collective apologies, then, we should not lose sight of the possible effects of this ever present, substantial power difference.

Given that those injured lack power, it can take time for them to find and to gain a voice. That means that collective apologies occur within a milieu of contestation and struggle. For example, Canadians moved from thinking of the residential schools’ injustice as consisting in abuse within the schools to realizing that the schools as such (which did little educating of children[25]) were unjust. This sort of evolution in how a wrong should be conceptualized means that collective apologies (e.g., Canada’s residential schools apology) may need to be iterative:

[Collective or political] apologies that had already been given appeared later to be undermined by an expansion in public knowledge; new historical findings and new civic narratives emphasized details and dimensions of causal and political responsibility ignored in the earlier regretful admissions… Political apologies…tend to occur within longer-run processes in which state admissions of wrongdoing interact dynamically with struggles over public knowledge. Thus, apologies might better be seen as moments within iterative processes of social memory and civic learning rather than their summative ends.[26]

Iterative personal apologies, though, can come across as highly neurotic, while iterative corporate apologies are frequently disastrous, undermining consumer trust in the firm. Target apologized numerous times after hackers breached its credit card database. But the multiple apologies (perhaps as many as six—I, like many other customers, lost count and interest after the third apology) suggested that the firm was so befuddled and inept that it likely was not going to be able to remedy the wrongdoing or prevent future data breaches.

Finally, collective apologies typically must name some direct and extraordinary harm done to very large numbers of individuals (e.g., the interned Japanese Americans; the millions of Holocaust victims). The Equifax data breach compromised the identifying features of more than 100 million Americans. While this breach was serious, I suspect that most people would concede that the attendant harm was not of the magnitude of a genocide or mass imprisonment. Personal apologies may result from a serious harm—an accidental killing or severe damage to another’s self-esteem or reputation. Still, personal apologies more typically involve a lesser offense. Put differently: for an offense to merit a collective apology—an apology that may evolve and be crafted and re-crafted over a period of years—the wrongdoing must be horrific.

Domain #4: Characteristics Shared by Collective and Interpersonal Apologies

CEO apologies, especially in the US, are drafted with input from the firm’s legal department or outside counsel. Why? Because past corporate apologies have figured in lawsuits against firms. In that respect, corporate apologies reflect legal realties.

Personal apologies are usually not legalistic. Rather they are spur of the moment speech acts. What about collective apologies? Although lawyers have participated in the drafting of collective apologies, it is not clear that such apologies need to be as legalistic as they sometimes have been in the past. Doug Elliott contends that there are no cases, at least in Canada, in which national apologies have created legal liability for the nation/state.[27] If so, then it is simply a legal myth that official apologies must be crafted with an eye to avoiding lawsuits:

… [T]he notion that an official apology will lead to legal liability is an urban legend with no basis in fact or law in Canada. On the contrary, a well-timed and carefully crafted apology may serve to limit or avoid legal liability. Apologies do not create liability where none exists. Accordingly, the lawyer who automatically advises a client to refrain from an apology as the “safest” course is actually engaging in professional negligence. Further, in the context of government lawyers, such advice may verge on the unethical.[28]

Domain #5: Characteristics Shared by Corporate and Interpersonal Apologies

Those harmed by corporate agents or private individuals usually expect to receive an apology shortly after the offense occurs. Corporate leaders may be able to buy themselves some breathing room by suggesting that they are investigating a possible data breach or are looking into the allegation that their products are in some way defective. But when many consumers have been affected, especially in some non-trivial way, the CEO cannot wait too long before offering an apology once the firm’s stakeholders have come to expect one. In this era of social media, delay is not a viable option.

So, too, with personal apologies. If I spill coffee on you and then wait for two months before expressing any regret, you likely will dismiss my words as being “too little, too late.”[29] If offenders genuinely respect and empathize with their victims, then we expect that they will express remorseful regret relatively promptly after having inflicted the injury.

However, any collective apology that was given too soon would appear unseemly. If German leaders had announced in 1945 that they and their fellow citizens deeply regretted the Holocaust, few would have taken their words seriously. The problem here is not just that the intended recipients of the apology would not have believed in this sudden change of heart. As I noted above, I’m not sure that the remorse narrative applies all that well to collective apologies. The problem is rather that the victims and other relevant observers or third parties (e.g., historians) would not have had sufficient time to absorb the enormity of the harm that the victims have suffered. The perpetrators/apologizers would not have had the time needed to contemplate their actions and motivations or even to think about the extent to which they might share in the responsibility for wrongdoing that they did not themselves individually commit. The very process of identifying victims typically takes years. To the extent that the specification of the nature and magnitude of these collective offenses requires sustained self-scrutiny, access to archives, and detailed historical analyses, a “quick collective apology” is an oxymoron.

Domain #6: Characteristics Shared by Collective and Corporate Apologies

As I have already suggested, neither corporate nor collective apologies readily fit into a narrative arc of psychological reform. That arc presupposes that the same agent is the cause of the past misdeed and the promised future reform. In the case of corporate and collective apologies, the individuals involved in the past wrongdoing—those who formulated the relevant unjust policy or procedure or designed the harmful product, those who advocated for the policy or product, and those who executed the policy or manufactured the product—may no longer be on the scene. Some of the politicians who argued for the internment of Japanese-Americans were dead by the time the collective apology was given. With respect to corporate apologies: the CEO uttering the apology may have been brought in from the outside to replace a CEO who was fired because of his or her poor handling of the crisis or on account of his or her complicity in an attempted cover-up. In such cases, we cannot locate an individual agent who is using the apology to signal that he or she is embarking upon a self-initiated reform of the self.

These two types of apologies share another subtle feature. In both cases, the apologizers occupy some role (President of the United States; CEO of Domino’s Pizza) that authorizes these individuals to speak on behalf of the corporate or collective entity. If prior occupants of that role are widely thought to have been corrupt or untrustworthy, the role itself can become “contaminated.” In other words, the apologizer will find it difficult to make an effective apology because the audience has decided in advance that the speaker’s words are not worth hearing. Even before the Fukushima nuclear meltdown, prior CEOs of Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) had been implicated in various safety scandals.[30] The CEO at the time of the Fukushima disaster faced a public disinclined to trust anything he might have to say. We can readily imagine a similar problem arising in connection with a collective apology. If prior national leaders have given collective apologies that have been dismissed as hollow, then the current president or premier may find it well-nigh impossible to be taken seriously.

Individual apologies are not usually subject to role contamination, for speakers do not typically offer apologies in some capacity as role occupiers. Of course, if someone has offered many apologies in the past to, say, a friend, then this victimized friend arguably has grounds for doubting the value of the latest apology. But victims do not reject a personal apology on the basis of what some predecessor of the apologizer has or has not said.

Domain #7: Characteristics Shared by Personal, Corporate and Collective Apologies

I will end by returning to the point that I made at the beginning of the paper. All three types of apologies qua apologies share some common elements. In all three cases, the apologizer is addressing the victims of some harm, offense or injustice (accidental, intentional or resulting from negligence) that the apologizer has directly caused or with which he or she is associated (in the victim’s and/or public’s mind).


Scholars have begun to do a wonderful job of mining the rich and thought-provoking area of the ethics of apologies. Yet if, as I have been trying to establish, apologies exhibit not only similarities but also profound differences, then all of us interested in apologies need to hear not only from academics but also from officials, activists, practitioners, government officials, CEOs, members of the media, and victims’ advocates (to name but a few groups). In the absence of input from these individuals, any discussion of the ethics of apologies will be sadly impoverished.

* Wicklander Chair in Professional Ethics, DePaul University.

[1] See, e.g., K.M. Hearit, Crisis Management by Apology: Corporate Response to Allegations of Wrongdoing. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2006; J. Kador, Effective Apology: Mending Fences, Building Bridges, Restoring Trust. San Francisco, CA.: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2009.

[2] I owe this felicitous notion of normative over-burdening to Teddy Harrison, “Removing Insult from Injury: Apologies and Violence in Criminal Justice,” 2017 C4eJ 6 [video].

[3] The same point is made by Nick Smith in his keynote speech “Apologies as Remedies, Apologies as Weapons: Considerations for the Trudeau Administration,” delivered at University of Toronto, October 20, 2017.

[4] Daryl Koehn, 2013.  “Why Saying ‘I’m Sorry’ Isn’t Good Enough: The Ethics of Corporate Apologies,” Business Ethics Quarterly 23(2): 239-68, https://www.cambridge.org/core/services/aop-cambridge-core/content/view/S1052150X00005522

[5] Nick Smith, I Was Wrong: The Meanings of Apologies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008; Nick Smith, Justice Through Apologies: Remorse, Reform, and Punishment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

[6] For example, Hugo Boss’ corporate apology for its founding CEO Hugo Boss’ support of and business ties with the Nazi Party has some of the attributes of collective apologies (e.g., the apology was issued only after years of archival work done by a professional historian hired by Hugo Boss).

[7] For an argument as to why apologies that fall very short of the relevant ideal type are not really apologies at all, see Koehn, op cit.

[8] Maike Steggemann, 2015. “Customer Misuse of Social Media Power in the Hospitality Sector—Threats and Strategies,” unpublished paper, http://essay.utwente.nl/67291/1/Steggemann_BA_Management%20and%20Governance.pdf

[9] I do not think the understanding of the offense needs to be identical.  Those causing harm may never fully understand the nature and extent of the suffering and pain they have caused to those to whom they are apologizing.

[10] Koehn, op cit.

[11] Cindy Holder, “Whose Wrong Is It Anyway? Reflecting on the Public-ness of Public Apologies,” 2017 C4eJ 8 [video].

[12] I do not mean to suggest that issues of fact are never contested in the collective apology context. For eye-opening historical analyses of facts connected with past and proposed collective apologies in the Canadian context, see the superb papers by Steven Maynard, “To Forgive and Forget? Homonationalism, Hegemony, and History in the Gay Apology,” 2017 C4eJ 11 [video]; and Mayana C. Slobodian: “Official Apology, Official Denial: Making Sense of Canada’s Truth Commission,” 2017 C4eJ 12 [video]. Causation can be a highly complex matter. For example, to the extent that social attitudes and practices (e.g., anti-Semitism; prejudice against Asian emigrants or against indigenous peoples) have led to collective wrongdoing, establishing causation quickly leads researchers and thinkers into the realm of nuanced dynamics and poses questions concerning “facts” about attitudes and practices.

[13] Dante D’Orazio, “Volkswagen Apologizes for Emissions Scandal with Full-Page Ad in Dozens of Papers,” The Verge, November 15, 2015, https://www.theverge.com/transportation/2015/11/15/9739960/volkswagen-apologizes-with-full-page-ad-in-dozens-of-newspapers

[14] Nicola Lacetera, “Business Apologies and the Ethics and Narrative of Trust,” 2017 C4eJ 3 [video].

[15] One might try to argue that even potential customers or shareholders who do not own a firm’s products or shares are harmed by the firm’s wrongdoing insofar as their potential trust in the firm has been damaged. However, I think that this kind of extension of trust in order to make forgiveness applicable to corporate apologies strains the notion of an apology beyond its limits.

[16] Smith, 2008, op cit.

[17] Harrison, op cit [video].

[18] Smith, 2014, op cit.

[19] The modern form of the apology may have developed alongside the emergence of the bourgeoisie. The language of debtors and forgiving of debts certainly has a transactional, commercial ring to it.  We do need to be careful, though, not to generalize too readily about the connection between apologies, sin, repentance, and human and divine forgiveness. In Confucian contexts, apologies may have deeper links with the Confucian notion of the rectification of speech than with forgiveness. Insofar as Confucianism does not posit a transcendent god, forgiveness cannot be modeled on divine forgiveness. In Buddhism, forgiveness may be related to detachment from suffering, not to concerns with debts, sins, or trespasses.

[20] Mark Kingwell, “Apologies: A Stylistic Investigation,” workshop paper [video].

[21] See John Ricco, “On Queer Forgiveness,” 2017 C4eJ 4, for a discussion of forgiveness and its links to the concept of trespass [video].

[22] Indeed, forgiveness may not even be relevant in some classes of personal apologies. Simon Stern, “Atonement, Closure, and Narrative,” 2017 C4eJ 5 [video], makes a strong case that court “coerced” apologies given by an offender to his or her victim may still serve the valuable function of validating the victim’s claim that he or she did, in fact, suffer some harm.

[23] Holder, op cit [video].

[24] Maynard, op cit [video].

[25] Slobodian, op cit [video].

[26] Matt James, Jordan Stanger-Ross, and the Landscapes of Injustice Research Collective, “Impermanent Apologies: On the Dynamics of Timing and Public Knowledge in Political Apology,” workshop paper, p.1 [video].

[27] Doug Elliott, “So Sorry: The Legal Myths and Social Realities of the Official Apology,” 2017 C4eJ 10 [video].

[28] Elliott, op cit, p. 2 [video].

[29] Nicholas Tavuchis, Mea Culpa. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991: 87-89.

[30] Koehn, op cit.


D’Orazio, Dante. “Volkswagen Apologizes for Emissions Scandal with Full-Page Ad in Dozens of Papers,” The Verge, November 15, 2015, https://www.theverge.com/transportation/2015/11/15/9739960/volkswagen-apologizes-with-full-page-ad-in-dozens-of-newspapers

James, Matt, Jordan Stanger-Ross, and the Landscapes of Injustice Research Collective, “Impermanent Apologies: On the Dynamics of Timing and Public Knowledge in Political Apology,” workshop paper, p.1 [video].

Koehn, Daryl. (2013).  “Why Saying ‘I’m Sorry’ Isn’t Good Enough: The Ethics of Corporate Apologies,” Business Ethics Quarterly 23(2): 239-68, https://www.cambridge.org/core/services/aop-cambridge-core/content/view/S1052150X00005522

Smith, Nick. I Was Wrong: The Meanings of Apologies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008; Nick Smith, Justice Through Apologies: Remorse, Reform, and Punishment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

Steggemann, Maike. (2015). “Customer Misuse of Social Media Power in the Hospitality Sector—Threats and Strategies,” unpublished paper, http://essay.utwente.nl/67291/1/Steggemann_BA_Management%20and%20Governance.pdf

Tavuchis, Nicholas. Mea Culpa. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991: 87-89.