Academic journal article Contemporary Readings in Law and Social Justice

Sociological and Legal Perspectives of Guilt

Academic journal article Contemporary Readings in Law and Social Justice

Sociological and Legal Perspectives of Guilt

Article excerpt


This paper aims to review the main meanings of the notion of guilt, based on the premise that prior the substantiation of legal systems, the term had a different social significance. Testimony is the fact that even today some tribes in the Java region do not have in the vocabulary the word "guilt." Also studies on students, demonstrates that learning pro-social behavior, is based on the development of psychological mechanisms such as internalization of guilt and effortful control of anti-social behavior. To realize and appreciate a fact as being good or bad it is necessary that the specific fact has a representation in the individual conscience, therefore, when it comes to the question of guilt it is necessary, for justice representatives to be convinced, that the one hold responsible has the representation of the acts that he committed. Based on these ideas we will analyze the main areas from which the guilt derives.

Keywords: shame, guilt, penal law, justice, social control

The judge is condemned when the guilty is acquitted.

Publilius Syrus, Verdicts

1. Introduction

To understand the concept of guilt, we will analyze the description of the word in everyday language and then, the legal definition. Routinely is assumed that guilty means "to be guilty" so actually is a fact circumstances. Result of the action of an idea contrary to social norms lead to "a state of guilt" by internalizing the subjective level of consequences.

From a legal perspective guilt is "mental attitude had when committing the unlawful act or immediately after committing, both facing the act but also facing its consequences." Criminal law defines guilt as "an essential feature of the offense, which consists of consciousness attitude towards crime and the attitude of the crime subject concerning the outcome of his act. Guilt exists when the hazardous social act is committed intentionally or by mistake." Last definition is the most comprehensive because it covers both common language and the language of the law specialists.

2. Shame, Guilt and Psychology

Learning social behavior is starting in childhood, by cultivating a sense of shame. Subsequently the guilt occurs. Depending on the specific of the society and moral norms, we deal with so-called "culture of shame", particularly specific to Asian societies and the "culture of blame" specific to the West societies. Shame and guilt are called "moral emotions" and the feelings generated refers to how the individual feels negative when is evaluated negatively by other members of society. Shame occurs after the individual is aware of moral norms. Unlike shame, guilt imply as a negative assessment to be made by him/herself. Shame is related with others members of society and strongly associated with fear of failing the expectations of others.

Guilt is directed in wards and is associated with fear of failing to meet personal standards. Studies have shown that guilt is determining individual to raise their self-esteem and to amend the perspective in which embraced certain aspects of reality. Empirically analyzing the three terms - shame, guilt, psychology - the first term to includes the other two. Shame and guilt are the psychological consequences that the person should accept for violation of the social rules1. Speaking about guilt, this feeling may be remedied and erased by punishment. Punishment, in this case is a common and recommended measure in many legal and moral codes of the countries of the world. In this respect, punishment is advised taking in account the legal provisions of each country. Another, measure to be taken in consideration in order to "repair" guilt is forgiveness as a alternate item. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.