After Apology: The Remains of the Past

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My aim in this paper is to add to the existing critical literature by interrogating the power of official apologies to bring about political transformation. Unlike some of the early debates in moral philosophy, which were focused largely on the formal question of whether the concept of a political apology was a ‘category mistake’, I bring critical attention to the ‘work’ they perform and, perhaps more importantly, the work they make it possible to evade in our attempts to come to terms with the past. The article begins with an examination of the academic literature on apologies as ‘speech acts’, paying particular attention to the view that they can play a radical, transformative role in relations between peoples. I then proceed to raise some critical questions about the temporal logic that is at work in political apologies and the potential this has to prematurely foreclose upon the work of critical self-reflection that they set in motion. I conclude by suggesting that the acceptance of political apologies ought to be deferred so that the norms they instantiate have a chance to work their way through the political culture.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)129-144
Number of pages15
JournalAustralian Humanities Review
Publication statusPublished - May 2017


  • apology, politics, purification

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