The Ethics of Apologies

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

With many public figures recently messing up in one way or another – from Eliot Spitzer to John Mackey – we’ll look at the ethics of apologies. Dr. Bruce Weinstein, also known as “The Ethics Guy,” writes a syndicated column for He’ll discuss the ethics of apologies, evaluate public apologies from past and present, and take calls from listeners.

The Ethics Guy's BusinessWeek column


Dr. Bruce Weinstein

Comments [6]

Paul from UWS, NYC

Would you please give examples if any of sincere apologies in history?

Aug. 01 2007 01:55 PM
PEter from New York

"I'm Sorry" is nice, but it means nothing. I'm sorry is a start, it is appropriate, it is good form, and the beginning of the least that can be done. But in every case -- apology or not -- what is truly needed, is submitting to the punishement for one's actions, paying the restitution, and ultimately a change of behaviour.



Aug. 01 2007 01:54 PM
Chicago Listener

During a conversation with a neighbor, he erupted into a profanity-laced outburst directed at me. Minutes later, he approached me and said he was sorry if what he said had offended me.

Not that he was sorry for what he said, but a classic "apology as insult."

I called him on it and he acknowledged that he meant what he said, at which point I directed an equal amount of venom toward him so he could feel the sting of the words he had used.

Ultimately, his false apology gave me a clear insight into his lack of character and I have put the relationship in the propoer perspective.

Aug. 01 2007 01:49 PM
Lonnie from Brooklyn

There are people who learned, wrongly, that "I'm Sorry" is what you say when you do what you wanted to do even though it hurts someone else and you know it. They learned that saying the words closes the matter and morally prevents pursuit.

I've learned never to allow such people to go as far as committing the wrongful act in the first place-- and if they do and they try to offer their faux apology, I never accept it. The lack of easy closure eventually discomforts the person, because I've haven't spoken specifically about forgiving the trespass. So they learn to avoid committing the willful error.

Aug. 01 2007 01:47 PM
David Brown from New Jersey

Could you speak about "apology" as a "genre of performance" of contemporary politics, e.g., the convention of having to make an apology, what expectations constituencies have; you might comment on recent cases of apology and the concomitant checking of oneself into rehab. in order to recuperate oneself.
Thank you
David Brown

Aug. 01 2007 01:31 PM

Great timing! During my morning commute I will be reading "Mistakes Were Made (but not by me)" by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson.

Alexander Pope said, "To err is human." So do people who do not own up to their mistakes think they are SUPERhuman?

Let's just say, I won't be voting for Hilary Clinton in '08.

Aug. 01 2007 06:36 AM

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