In Defense of Shame: The Faces of an Emotion

In Defense of Shame: The Faces of an Emotion

In Defense of Shame: The Faces of an Emotion

In Defense of Shame: The Faces of an Emotion

Synopsis

Is shame social? Is it superficial? Is it a morally problematic emotion? Researchers in disciplines as different as psychology, philosophy, and anthropology have thought so. But what is the nature of shame and why are claims regarding its social nature and moral standing interesting and important? Do they tell us anything worthwhile about the value of shame and its potential legal and political applications?

In this book, Julien A. Deonna, Raffaele Rodogno, and Fabrice Teroni propose an original philosophical account of shame aimed at answering these questions. The book begins with a detailed examination of the evidence and arguments that are taken to support what they call the two dogmas about shame: its alleged social nature and its morally dubious character. Their analysis is conducted against the backdrop of a novel account of shame and ultimately leads to the rejection of these two dogmas. On this account, shame involves a specific form of negative evaluation that the subject takes towards herself: a verdict of incapacity with regard to values to which she is attached. One central virtue of the account resides in the subtle manner it clarifies the ways in which the subject's identity is at stake in shame, thus shedding light on many aspects of this complex emotion and allowing for a sophisticated understanding of its moral significance.

This philosophical account of shame engages with all the current debates on shame as they are conducted within disciplines as varied as ethics, moral, experimental, developmental and evolutionary psychology, anthropology, legal studies, feminist studies, politics and public policy.

Excerpt

The existence of a philosophy of shame was brought to our attention some years ago by Professor Kevin Mulligan. His primary interest in the topic was, and still is, crucially tied to the popular claim that shame is an essentially social emotion. “Shame socialism,” as he called the trend, “is both wrong and bad.” This polemical take on the issue inevitably aroused our curiosity, and it is with these words ringing in our ears that we embarked on what has transpired to be a very long journey into the realm of shame. Our first steps into the literature confirmed just how commonplace the social conception of shame was. This, of course, did not surprise us—we had been warned. What did surprise us, however, was the discovery of a pervasive, although not universal, portrayal of shame as a creature of darkness. Although the nature of shame, in all its aspects, was hotly disputed, in very different disciplines and from very diverse perspectives, the overwhelming majority of opinion was negative. This generally unfavorable view of shame, however, contrasted starkly both with our own initial intuitions as well as (we soon realized) with the insights of older theoretical traditions concerned with this . . .

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