Monday, September 24, 2012

Dissertation on shame. Chapter 8.2 Moral codes

8.2 Moral codes

But what is morality? Turner and Stets (2006) say that from a sociological point of view “morality ultimately revolves around evaluating cultural codes that specify what is right or wrong, good or bad, acceptable or unacceptable” (Turner and Stets 2006: 544). Moral codes vary at the different levels of society where values are important; at the level of broad institutional domains (family, economy, education, science and so forth) where ideologies about what is right, proper, and appropriate are important for individuals; at the level of specific institutions, for example a worker in a factory or a student at school, have expectations to live up to; and finally there are face-to-face interactions where norms say something about respectful conduct and are therefore moral (appendix 2). It seems common in my opinion for people to feel shame when they violate an expectation in a face-to-face interaction. The shame felt can have different levels of intensity, from embarrassment to humiliation, and people may claim to experience shame without feeling guilt. Some may not have lived up to their own expectations or the expectations of others in a specific situation, and this may result in a feeling of shame. This does not necessarily mean that a person has done something wrong; guilt may be induced all the same. But the less situational and the more ideological the norm becomes, the more guilt will also dominate the person involved. People may also feel both shame and guilt when an institutional norm or societal value is broken.

Shame, like other moral emotions, connects a person to a social structure and culture through self-awareness. Turner and Stets (2006) argue that:

An individual’s transsituational self-conception and more situational identity are both cognitive and emotional constructs. They involve conceptions of who a person is, how others should respond to self, and valenced emotions about the characteristics of self in several or particular parts (Turner and Stets 2006: 548).

Our self-conception involves conceptions of who we are and how others respond to us. This self-awareness consists of a relation where the self relates itself to itself, or as Kierkegaard puts it in Sickness unto Death (1849/1980):

A human being is spirit. But what is spirit? Spirit is the self. But what is the self? The self is a relation that relates itself to itself or is the relation’s relating itself to itself. A human being is a synthesis of the infinite and finite, of the temporal and the eternal, of freedom and necessity, in short, a synthesis. A synthesis is a relation between two. Considered in this way, a human being is still not a self. (1849/1980: 13) 

These two quotes describe in my opinion different ways in which the self consists of layers upon layers of constructs, conceptions and characteristics, which all relate to each other in a very complex way. The self is both a process and a relation, both in relation to itself and in relation to others. Because the self is powered by emotions, it can become a moral self. These emotions can be seen in individuals who give the impression of having the moral identity of being caring; they say that they feel both shame and guilt when they feel that they have not helped others in the way they should or could have. Shame can be especially painful because of the way it involves the self. 
Kaare T. Pettersen

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