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  • Philosophy without Apologies
  • Jeffrey R. Di Leo (bio)

I do not know what effect my accusers have had upon you, gentlemen, but for my own part I was almost carried away by them; their arguments were so convincing. On the other hand, scarcely a word of what they said was true.

—Opening lines of Plato's The Apology of Socrates

Western philosophy began with an apologia. Will it end when we lose our desire and will to apologize?

Plato's The Apology of Socrates is a recollection and examination of the arguments Socrates presented at his trial for corruption and impiety. The defense is thoughtful and deliberate, delivered in an easy and conversational tone.

By comparison, few contemporary public figures accused of wrongdoing seem interested in thoughtfully and deliberately responding to accusations. Moreover, among the publicly accused, there seems to be a general lack of understanding as to why their accusers would conclude they had done something wrong.

It is common now for alleged wrongdoers to mindlessly reply to their accusers, "I'm sorry you're offended by my actions."

But this is not an "apology." Nor is it a defense.

It may be linked to what the Western philosophical tradition would call "egoism," the view that we should consider only ourselves and that any consideration of others is solely based on self-interest.

So, when the "egoist" offers their "non-apology apology," saying "I'm sorry you're offended by my actions," they are not admitting to wrongdoing.

Moreover, in saying that they are "sorry" if their actions have caused any offense, they are in fact expressing dismay that they have to make this "(non-apology) apology" to the accuser.

In the Western philosophical tradition, there is much discussion of egoism, but it is a position that largely has been relegated to the dustbin of bad ideas. That is, until now.

One of the legacies of the early twenty-first century will be the spread of the belief that egoism coupled with optimism and aggression is a desirable personal identity and form of conduct. Today, we call the person who with aggression and optimism considers only themselves, and who believes that any consideration of others must be based on self-interest, the "neoliberal man" or "neoliberal woman." As such, we might also call the "non-apology apology" the neoliberal man offers as simply the "neoliberal apology."

In contemporary popular culture, one of the best examples of the neoliberal man and his fate is Walter White of the television series Breaking Bad. Though White spends much of the series trying to convince himself and others that his heinous and violent actions were altruistic, that is, done out of a concern for his family's future, he admits by the end of the series that this was not true—and that everything he (that is, Heisenberg) did was about fulfilling his own self-interest.

The purely neoliberal man makes no apologies for his actions.

Money, fame, ego, aggression, self-interest, and complete disregard for the welfare of others are the modus operandi of the neoliberal man.

Some regard him as a menace to society who needs to be called to justice.

Others see the neoliberal man as a hero who should not be accountable to the law.

I, however, see him as an individual who acts without apology outside of the mandates of Western philosophy, which is, after all, a form of philosophy that was steeped in an apology.


In Greek, "apologia" means "a defense" or "a speech in defense." The most well-known from the ancient Greek period is the "apology" Socrates gave when he was publicly accused of wrong-doing in 399 b.c.e.

But "apologies" in a philosophical sense need not be limited to the courtroom or formal "defenses" of one's opinions. It is also fair to say that every argument that uses logic and reason to defend a position is an apologia. The case of Socrates though sets the high bar for apologias.

Socrates was considered by some to be a menace to society. Three citizens of Athens brought a public action against him. Their names were Meletus, Anytus, and Lycon.

The specific charges...


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