Shame and the question of self-respect

Philosophy and Social Criticism (forthcoming)
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Despite signifying a negative self-appraisal, shame has traditionally been thought by philosophers to entail the presence of self-respect in the individual. On this account, shame is occasioned by one’s failure to live up to certain self-standards—in displaying less worth than one thought one had—and this moves one to hide or otherwise inhibit oneself in an effort to protect one’s self-worth. In this paper, I argue against the notion that only self-respecting individuals can experience shame. Contrary to the idea that shame presupposes the presence of self-worth, I contend that shame merely requires that one have the desire, rather than the expectation, that one is worthy. Furthermore, I suggest that the desire for concealment fueled by shame is not an inherently self-protective mechanism but can alternatively be understood as an effort to safeguard one’s connection with others.

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Madeleine Shield
University of Queensland


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