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I Was Wrong: The Meanings of Apologies Paperback – February 25, 2008

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Editorial Reviews


"[This] book is lucid and learned, a rare combination. A must read for anyone interested in promoting civility in discourse...Highly recommended.
-D. Stewart, emeritus, Ohio University, Choice

"Smith provides us with a comprehensive and eminently sensible sourcebook on apologetic meaning. Smith has done a service by offering extensive and clearly written analyses of many aspects of apology as well as a great number of compelling and detailed examples. We have accurate guidebook to the many subtle ways apologies can succeed or fail."
--Matthew Talbert, West Virginia University, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

Book Description

Discussing examples from ancient and recent history, I Was Wrong leads us though a series of rich philosophical and interdisciplinary questions, explaining how apologies have evolved from a confluence of diverse cultural, legal, and religious practices that do not translate easily into secular discourse or gender stereotypes.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1 edition (February 25, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521684234
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521684231
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #808,907 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

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Dr. Nick Smith has done us all an enormous favor. Apologies are a dime a hundred these days, but this central ritual in our civilization has become more confused than ever.

"Much of our private and public moral discourse occurs in the giving, receiving, or demanding of apologies, yet we rarely make explicit precisely what we expect from a gesture of contrition. As a result, apologizing has become a vague, clumsy, and sometimes spiteful ritual," Smith writes in his introduction.

Smith is a scholar - an assistant professor of philosophy at the University of New Hampshire - and has marched bravely into the swamp of contemporary apologies with a machete and a clipboard. The good news is that he has cleared away a lot of debris and clearly outlines the dozens of complex issues surrounding the process of apology in a way that makes this book ideal for discussion groups.

In fact, it's also a great choice for congregational discussion groups, because this certainly is a spiritual issue. Smith makes that point himself in a fascinating chapter about various cultural and religious approaches to the practice around the world. This book is not an in-depth religious analysis of the issue, but Smith gives us enough analysis here so that the thousands of congregationally based discussion groups across the country could build from his framework - agreeing or disagreeing with his analysis as they consider his book.

The best thing about the book is that it never reaches a point at which Smith inserts a page labeled something like "The 5 Steps to a Perfect Apology." Early in the book, he does talk about various scholars' attempts to come up with a concise set of rules.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Stefan Sobolowski on September 6, 2008
Format: Paperback
Since the preceding reviews are quite thorough and touch on the most salient points of Nick Smith's work, I will aim for brevity. If you've ever felt that a personal or collective apology was somehow lacking, read this book. Mr. Smith does not presume to provide easy, prescriptive answers, but he does plant signposts to help us navigate the complex landscape of modern-day apologies and their meanings. Most importantly, Mr. Smith encourages the reader to engage her curiosity, follow her own intellectual intuition, and engage in spirited discussion along the way.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on May 5, 2008
Format: Paperback
Alfred Kinsey's work elevated the conversation about sex. Timothy Leary's work elevated the conversation about drugs. Now, Nick Smith gives us his thorough study of apologies, a work that promises to elevate the conversation about what it means to say "I'm sorry."

"I Was Wrong: The Meanings of Apologies" exposes how contemporary gestures of contrition demand our critical attention. Smith, who teaches Philosophy at the University of New Hampshire, examines the significance of various forms of regret. From collective apologies for the holocaust to a pet owner's apology for forgetting to fill his dog's bowl, all remorse receives scrutiny. Smith writes with the learning and patience of a benevolent professor. His message persuades a reader that today's public and private apologies are playing fast and loose with morality.

Smith wants to move the conversation beyond what he regards as the juvenile exchange of "I'm sorry." "No you're not." His book challenges readers to consider the moral force, or lack thereof, behind any act of contrition. His purpose is to guide a reader through an exercise that assures her moral sensibility will grow more sophisticated upon confronting the meanings of apologies. Smith leads us on a journey through a quagmire of questions. For example, who--precisely--is responsible for the 2006 Abu Ghraib torture scandal, and what would be the most suitable redress to those who were injured?

I realized the full urgency of Smith's work when considering blame, redress, and emotions. Smith illuminates the contemporary practice of blaming corporations for wrongs when culpability lies with individuals and their complex social associations.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful By C. Smith on January 10, 2009
Format: Paperback
Excellent book...makes you really think of what the word "apology" means to convey and how to evaluate its meaning....opens discussion as to how society has manipulated the meaning of the word.
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