Christopher Bennett


In this paper, I argue that our practice of giving and demanding apologies is rationalized by a belief that apologies make a difference to our normative situation. The characteristic normative effects of an apology are, I claim, that it removes an obligation on others to distance themselves from the wrongdoer, and that it makes the apologizer personally accountable to the addressee for their future compliance with the obligation they violated. However, if we ask what rationalizes that belief, two influential views on the literature on apology – that I call the Reassurance View and the Performing Deference View – prove to be inadequate. In particular, these views cannot explain how apology can be both an expression of remorse for one’s wrongdoing but also a performative through which, by carrying out certain canonical actions, one can – all at once – change one’s normative situation. In order to explain these features of apology, I suggest that we see apology as akin to a normative power, but a normative power that is exercised expressively, or by an expressive action. In particular, I suggest that we see the power of apology as exercised by the performance of the expressive action of dissociation.