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( 38 .)


2 To modify the title of ch. 10 of Williams (1985).
3 Williams (1993), p. 94.
4 Williams (1993), p. 93.
5 Williams (1993), p. 94.

136 Michael Stocker

Even just these quotes give rise to any number of questions: Is Williams
right that shame reveals values that are misunderstood, if they are even
noticed, by our ethical theories? Is he right that because of their overfocus
on guilt and underfocus on shame, these theories misunderstand their own
central notion, guilt? Is he right that guilt, and those theories that so focus
on guilt, cannot help understanding and rebuilding the self ?
My concern in this work will be to show that what Williams charges
our theories with are serious mistakes and inadequacies. It will ignore the
question of whether he is right that our theories make these errors. It will
also ignore other questions raised by those quotes, such as whether Williams
intends to restrict guilt to wrongs or damages to a person, instead of also
allowing, as I would, that damage to a work of art, say, can be suf¬cient;
and whether he holds, as I would “ and as he may be taken to suggest by
“wronged or damaged” “ that guilt goes beyond the realm of morality, to
“merely” evaluative harms and damages.
In the ¬rst section, I argue that inadequate attention to shame and
an overemphasis on guilt are connected with mistaken, problematic, or
pathological forms of guilt and that adequate guilt understood adequately
is deeply involved with shame. The next sections explore some other
ways shame is evaluatively important. The ¬nal section criticizes the ways
Williams and others characterize and distinguish between shame and guilt.


To show how guilt “ adequate guilt, adequately understood “ requires
shame, let us focus on guilt over a particular act, schematized by “I feel
guilt (or guilty) over doing act b,” and on shame over the same particular
act, schematized by “I feel ashamed of myself for doing act b.” It will help to
think of the shame here as well-contained shame of healthy, mature adults
of adequate ego strength. (On this, see the discussion of one™s whole being
in the ¬nal section.)
By focusing on these cases, I am ignoring or postponing discussion of
various important issues. Guilt need not be restricted to acts. I can feel
guilt over wishes to act and over “mere” thoughts, such as unkind or unjust
thoughts as in “I feel guilty that I thought that you were the thief.” So too,
there is survivor™s guilt and guilt over states of being, for example, being so
rich when others are so poor.
Further, shame need not be well contained. It can be of the whole self,
seeing the whole self as through and through bad. (Again, see the discussion
Shame, Guilt, and Pathological Guilt

of one™s whole being in the ¬nal section.) Nor need shame be connected
with acts in the simple way just schematized or at all. I can feel shame over
being uneducated or poor. So, too, I might be ashamed, not of what I have
done, but of what my country has done.
Where shame is connected with acts, I can be ashamed of myself for
being the sort of person who too often does such an act. And even where
I am ashamed of myself over a particular act, for example, making a fool
of myself, I may well not feel guilty about doing it “ because I did nothing
wrong in doing it.
Discussing all of these many cases of shame or guilt would involve untold
complexities, in part because it would involve discussing more than just
the relations between shame and guilt, but also, for example, the relations
between acts and character. Fortunately, there are many cases that do ¬t
my focus. Here is such a case: I slap my eight year-old child “ because, as
it then seems to me, he has once again been obnoxiously disrespectful to
me and my wife, his parents. I think it is obvious that I can “ perhaps even
that I should “ feel guilty about slapping him; and also that I can “ again,
perhaps even that I should “ feel ashamed of myself for slapping him. It is
in virtue of the very same thing “ my slapping my child “ that I feel both
guilty and ashamed. Here, the shame and guilt are connected by sharing
the same ground “ my slapping my child. They may also be connected by
being the ground for each other: It is wrong to do this shameful act and it
is shameful to do this wrongful act.
If this is right, the difference between shame and guilt here seems not
one of having different grounds, but what is being evaluated. In this case of
shame, the agent is focused on and evaluated. In this case of guilt, it is the
act. Perhaps, then, quite generally guilt is of acts and shame of agents.6
Williams does not go as far as this. He holds only that guilt is primarily of
acts: “What I have done points in one direction towards what has happened
to others [i.e., the province of guilt], in another direction to what I am.
Guilt looks primarily in the ¬rst direction.”7 My discussion will also be a
discussion of his more moderate claim.
To examine the claim that guilt is of acts and shame of agents “ and that
this enters into the characterization and differentiation of shame and guilt “
let us ask what can be shown by a person™s feeling guilt, but no shame.

6 This can be seen as an instance of the common, contemporary ethical view that there are no
important conceptual connections between agent evaluations and act evaluations. In what
follows, this view is rejected, as it is in Stocker (1973) and in Hegeman and Stocker (1996).
7 Williams, (1993), p. 92.
138 Michael Stocker

At times, little if anything problematic is shown. Borrowing from legal
theory, we could here consider some malum prohibita cases, where an act is
wrong because it is prohibited, especially many cases of administrative or
technical wrongs, and many cases of strict liability. In many of these cases,
feeling no shame may be consistent with feeling all a person should feel: the
person need only acknowledge guilt, not feel guilty. In fact, to feel shame
in these cases could, itself, indicate problems.
But sometimes guilt without shame can show that the person does not
understand what guilt is, or that the person really does not feel guilty, or that
the felt guilt is only partial or inadequate. For example, if a person pleads
guilty in court to a felony of, say, assault with deadly force, but expresses
no contrition, no remorse, no shame over committing the assault, that can
be taken as showing that she does not really feel guilt or that she feels only
partial and inadequate guilt. In J. M.Coetzee™s Disgrace, this is the substance
of the criticism Swarts levels at his colleague, David, for saying repeatedly
that he pleads guilty to the charge of sexual and academic impropriety with
one of his students: “Don™t play games with us David. There is a difference
between pleading guilty to a charge and admitting you were wrong . . . ”8
So, guilt “ correctly understood and adequately felt “ can require shame.
Another way to see this is by examining how guilt without shame can
show serious moral, moral psychological, and psychological defects and
One sort of person I am concerned with here is a person who, perhaps
dissociating, knows that he acts but does not think of himself as a being
who acts.9 He might “simply” not attend to this. He might be the sort of
person who says “mistakes happen” or “I™m sorry it happened” and thinks
that this says all that needs to be said. There is inadequate acknowledgment
of agency here.
Another sort of person is one who, again perhaps dissociating, thinks
of herself as a being who acts, but fails to see that the evaluative nature of
what she does bears on evaluations of herself. Again, we may have someone
who simply fails to make the connections or we may have someone who
denies the connections. A person of this last sort might see that what she
does is bad and merits guilt, but does not think, and may even deny, that this
“touches” herself. Such a person might sincerely say, “I do bad things, but
I am in no way bad. Despite the badness of my acts, I am a perfectly good
person.” Here, any number of problematic evaluative views or problematic
views about the self may be in play to account for this extraordinary claim.

8 Coetzee, (2000), p. 54.
9 For psychoanalytically-informed discussion of dissociation, see Bromberg (1998).
Shame, Guilt, and Pathological Guilt

Explanations of how one can feel guilt without feeling shame involve
different mixes of dissociation; of failures of integration of various parts
and aspects of one™s life; of failures to recognize and acknowledge agency; of
failures to draw even simple moral conclusions; of strange, perhaps perverse,
misunderstandings of what makes for a good or bad person; of a lack of
concern with one™s person or character.
Shame without guilt also deserves attention. But here I will only regis-
ter a claim and ask a question. The claim is that it, too, can show mistakes
and pathologies. In many cases of shame without guilt “ and also of being
ashamed of oneself without being ashamed of what one does “ the person
focuses excessively on himself and inadequately on (to use Williams™ char-
acterization of duty) what is done and on those “who have been wronged or
damaged” and the “demand [for] reparations in the name, simply, of what
has happened to them.”10
The question is that if shame without guilt is problematic, what con-
ditions would have to be met “ and has any culture met them, could any
culture meet them “ for a culture to be so exclusively a shame culture that
guilt plays no, or only the smallest, role in it? This raises an issue for claims,
made by Williams and others, that classical Greeks did not think of them-
selves in terms of, as subject to, guilt and that they did not have our, or even
a, conception of guilt.11
To return now to guilt without shame: The discussion of the pathologies
and mistakes that can account for guilt without shame started by examining
the suggestion that guilt is of acts and shame is of people. It was then
argued that to feel guilt at certain acts, for example, slapping one™s eight-
year-old child, without also feeling shame at oneself for doing that, can
reveal pathologies or mistakes. However, that argument can be run the
other way, showing a problem with the initial claim that guilt is of acts and
shame of people.
The problem has to do with how guilt was pictured and what was not
said about it. It was pictured as being only about the act and not also about
the person. That was needed to show the pathologies or mistakes. What
was not said is that guilt need not involve pathologies or mistakes: that in
many cases of guilt, there can and should be shame.
That guilt can and often should involve shame is important for us
in many ways. It raises the methodological question whether a proper
understanding of such notions as guilt should make reference to guilt as

10 Understood psychoanalytically, guilt without shame and shame without guilt may be reac-
tion formations, defenses against focusing on and evaluating what is given short shrift. For
this and other help, thanks are owed to the psychoanalyst Ernest Wallwork.
11 Williams (1993), p. 95“98.
140 Michael Stocker

experienced by mature, healthy people of sound moral views, or alterna-
tively whether it can include only what is common to all cases of guilt,
including guilt without shame whether with or without pathologies and
mistakes. We might think of this as a dispute between, on one side, those
Aristotelians and others who look to what is true of good instances and
deviations from this as the basis for characterizing all instances, and, on
another side, those given to a certain sort of austere conceptual analysis,
who look to what is common to all instances for this characterization.
Another issue is what we are now to make of the claim that guilt is of acts,
not people, and the subsequent claim that this can be used to distinguish
between guilt and shame. For if what I have just said is right, in many cases
guilt is of both acts and agents. And of course, in many cases, shame is of
both agents and acts. If there is a difference between guilt and shame or
between what guilt and shame are of, the act/agent distinction fails to give
it. (Other attempted characterizations and differentiations are considered
and rejected in the ¬nal section of this work.)


We have already made a start on showing how widely shame ranges by
showing some of its roles in guilt. To get a better understanding of its
range, and how in other ways it can aid understanding and rebuilding the
self “ and how any adequate ethics must go beyond guilt, even guilt with
shame “ we must add the several sorts of shame without guilt discussed
in the next sections: self-regarding and indecorous shame, identi¬catory
shame, and shame without responsibility.
Acts we consider wrong and warranting guilt are typically not self-
regarding. We need to tell a special story to make sense of such claims as
“I wronged myself” or “Because of the way I harmed myself, I acted in a
morally wrong way,” and correlatively, in regard to these acts, “I feel guilty
for doing that.” Shame, however, is not so restricted. I can feel shame over
both how I harmed you and how I harmed myself. So for example, I can
feel guilty about short-changing you in your education. But again absent a
special story, I cannot be guilty of short changing myself in my education.
But, I can feel ashamed of doing that.
Decorum, decency, honor, beauty, grace, and the like give us another
range of cases where there can be shame without guilt, without any prob-
lems, mistakes, or pathology. I can feel shame over doing what is ugly or
graceless or otherwise lacking in decorum. I can feel shame over making a
spectacle or a fool of myself. But unless in doing that I also do something
Shame, Guilt, and Pathological Guilt

wrong, there is no need and indeed no room to feel guilty. These last points,
especially when taken together, invite an examination “ with, I think, a favor-
able outcome “ of the classical Greeks™ conjoining the beautiful to the good
and offering kalokagathia as the ideal.12


These last comments have concerned shame about the agent, as in “I am
ashamed of myself for slapping my child.” Many other cases of shame involve
the agent, but seem not to be about the agent, as in “I am ashamed of my
child™s behavior” and “I am ashamed of what my country is doing.” As can
be said, instead of being about the agent, they are about other parts of the
agent™s evaluative worlds or identities. Examining these cases of shame help
show that there are such worlds and identities and what their contours are.
To be sure, “I am ashamed of my child™s behavior” can be about myself,
saying, perhaps, that I am ashamed of how I raised my child. But it can also
be used to say that I am ashamed of what I identify with: I am ashamed of my
child, not on account of what I have or have not done, but on account of his
behavior. Other examples of identi¬catory shame are easy to come by: for
example, the shame I feel over something my grandparents did; the shame
I feel over what the Americans and Australians have done to the original
inhabitants of these lands; the shame I feel over the boorish behavior on
the streets of Paris by someone I know only as a fellow American.
We can understand my shame in these cases even if the shame is in no
way of me. To be sure, it is important, indeed vital, that I somehow identify
with what I am here ashamed of. But there is no dif¬culty in this: They
are my great grandparents; I am an American citizen; I lived in Australia
and considered it my home for close to two decades. Those relations help
make up my world. A world lacking such identi¬cations would, indeed, be
The need for identi¬cations for such shame helps explain why I am
not “ and perhaps why I cannot be “ ashamed of, say, what your great
grandparents did, or what the Spanish did to the original inhabitants of the
lands they colonized, or the boorish behavior in New York of a Frenchman
I do not know. To be sure, were I to think of them and myself as, say,


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( 38 .)