Sunday, September 23, 2012

Dissertation on shame. Chapter 8.1 Cultural codes

8.1 Cultural codes

Turner and Stets (2006) argue that a moral emotion “is one that is aroused in reference to cultural codes that contain evaluative content” (Turner and Stets 2006: 556). The evaluative content of these cultural codes can vary greatly in intensity. Appendix 2 shows the variation of intensity of evaluative content from values in a society to situational norms. Tangney and Dearing (2002) argue that shame, guilt, sympathy, and empathy are often considered as the moral emotions.

Rawls (1971) distinguishes between two different types of shame. He calls the first type natural shame which arises from injury to our self-esteem as a result of not having or failing to exercise certain standards of excellence. A person with no musical ability does not feel shame as long as one has no aspiration of becoming a musician. However, a surgeon who lacks the dexterity to suture skin neatly, may well feel shame. The other type of shame is what Rawls calls moral shame. When one adopts a life plan, one embraces various virtues. These virtues are desirable both to the individual and to those people with whom he or she associates. Actions that manifest a lack of these virtues are likely to be the source of shame. Rawls argues that moral shame and guilt might both arise from the same situation, but they have different explanations. A person feels guilt because the action was contrary to their sense of right and justice. Moral shame, on the other hand, arises because the person has failed to achieve a goal or has shown a lack of self-control and has been found unworthy by the people on whom they depend for confirmation of their sense of self-worth. With guilt, we focus on the violation of the justified claims of others. With moral shame, we focus on the loss of self-esteem and our inability to carry out our life plans.

Turner and Stets (2006) write that shame and guilt can set processes in motion that again arouse other emotions like anger, fear, disgust, and hatred (Lewis 1971; Scheff 1990b; Turner 2002). They conclude that guilt is probably a typical moral emotion because it is clearly related to the action of violating cultural codes, while shame is a less typical moral emotion because it arises when a person has behaved incompetently (not necessarily a wrong doing) or when a sense a devaluation is felt (Turner 2002). This would mean that guilt is a strong moral emotion because its evaluative content is very high and often connected with the values the society is likely to hold (appendix 2). The respect for private property is highly valued in western society. Stealing another person’s property is therefore an action with a high evaluative content, which makes the guilt connected to this action a strong moral emotion. Should one not live up to the expectations of one’s spouse, the situational norms in one’s marriage become in the risk of being broken; one could then feel embarrassed or shameful. This shows in my opinion that shame can have less intensity as a moral emotion in certain situations because of its evaluative content.
Kaare T. Pettersen

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