In Defense of Shame: An Ethical, Psychological, and Cultural Perspective

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This dynamic work explores shame and other moral emotions from a multidisciplinary perspective. Shame has long been perceived as a negative emotion, not unlike anger, and critics therefore push to minimize or banish it. This work starts off by defining and outlining a vocabulary for shame and moves into a re-articulation and analysis of many different conceptions of the shame emotion throughout time, notably those laid out by ancient Chinese philosophers Mengzi and Kongzi as well as ancient Greek conceptions. Following this foundation, more modern perceptions of shame and the shame family of emotions are discussed. Much effort is devoted to differentiating shame from guilt, a distinction which philosophers have been wrestling with for some time in the contemporary rhetoric. Additional themes explored within are Eastern to Western cross-cultural comparison of moral emotion and the corresponding socialization of second-level emotions in young children. Psychological study of these phenomena and the hurdles faced in the traditional study of these complex emotions are also pervasive topics throughout. The psychological and behavioral explanations of shame discussed offer adaptive explanations for why shame may have evolved, and tangible benefits to the individual and community alike for cultivating a proper sense of shame.






Wilson, Shane Taylor (2019). In Defense of Shame: An Ethical, Psychological, and Cultural Perspective. Honors thesis, Duke University. Retrieved from

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