Saturday, September 15, 2012

Dissertation on shame. Chapter 8.4 Guilt and shame

8.4 Guilt and shame

Hunt (2006) argues that Nussbaum describes guilt as being concerned with the course of action while shame aims at changing the sort of person one is. Guilt can be understood as a species of self-directed anger, and like anger, is a response to harm or damage. Guilt aims at constructing results, such as restoring relations which the wronged person makes amends. Guilt, unlike shame, is linked to an acknowledgement of the rights of others. Nussbaum (2004) argues that guilt is so much better than shame, because it can be atoned for. However, says Nussbaum, if what you feel is shame, the avenue of escape is to become a different sort of person. But she argues that since shame is a diminished sense of oneself, it can easily undermine ones capacity to accomplish anything at all, let alone “the daunting task of becoming another sort of person” (Nussbaum 2004: 216). Shame has a certain tendency to be self-defeating.

Both shame and guilt appear when people recognize that a cultural code has been broken or that someone has failed to live up to such a code.  Despite the similarities between shame and guilt, there are some differences between them that are substantial. Lewis (1971) argues that shame includes the whole self. Shame makes people feel small and worthless, both in terms of self-evaluation and in looking at themselves through the eyes of others. They try desperately to hide, escape, or to strike back. Shame damages the self and is so painful that defence mechanisms try to protect the self from it. This often leads to anger and violence directed toward others, giving a sense of control (Lewis 1971; Retzinger 1991; Scheff and Retzinger 1991). 
Kaare T. Pettersen

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