The apology paradox and the non-identity problem

Neil Levy*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

6 Citations (Scopus)


J'anna Thompson has outlined 'the apology paradox', which arises whenever people apologize for an action or event upon which their existence is causally dependent. She argues that a sincere apology seems to entail a wish that the action or event had not occurred, but that we cannot sincerely wish that events upon which our existence depends had not occurred. I argue that Thompson's paradox is a backward-looking version of Parfit's (forward-looking) 'non-identity problem', where backward-and forward-looking refer to the perspective of an agent apologizing for or contemplating an action. The temporal perspective of the agent gives us the tools with which to dissolve the air of paradox which surrounds these problems. Each is best grasped from one temporal perspective, but the paradoxes arise when we attempt to examine it simultaneously from another. The evaluations appropriate to the apology paradox and the non-identity problem are therefore time-indexed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)358-368
Number of pages11
JournalThe Philosophical Quarterly
Issue number208
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2002
Externally publishedYes

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