An apology is the act of declaring one’s regret, remorse, or sorrow for having insulted, failed, injured, harmed or wronged another. Some apologies are interpersonal (between individuals, that is, between friends, family members, colleagues, lovers, neighbours, or strangers). Other apologies are collective (by one group to another group or by a group to an individual). More generally, apologies can be offered “one to one,” “one to many,” “many to one,” or “many to many.”

While the practice of apologizing is nothing new, the end of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first witnessed a sharp rise in the number of public and political apologies, so much so that some scholars believe we are living in an “age of apology” (Gibney et al. 2006) or within a “culture of apology” (Mills 2001). A gesture formerly considered a sign of weakness has grown to represent moral strength and a crucial step towards potential reconciliation. Individuals, but more often states, churches, the judiciary, the medical profession and universities publicly issue apologies to those they have wronged in the past. Crimes ranging from personal betrayals and insults all the way to enslavement, violations of medical ethics, land displacement, violations of treaties or international law, systemic discrimination, wartime casualties, cultural disruptions, or political seizures constitute reasons for public expressions of regret.
What apologies are, and which goals they can promote, are objects of inquiry for a number of academic disciplines in the social sciences and humanities, including philosophy, political science, theology, psychology, history and sociology. Authors have been preoccupied by an array of questions: What are the validity conditions for an apology? Are these the same for interpersonal and collective apologies? And what purposes do apologies serve in human societies? [NEXT...]