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12 My thanks are owed to Harold Skulsky for help with the material in this paragraph.
13 As Aristotle, discussing a somewhat similar issue in the Nicomachean Ethics, I.ll, said,
it would be an unfriendly doctrine to deny that one™s descendants and friends can affect
one™s own happiness, even after one™s death. See, too, his comments on external goods in
NE, I.8.
142 Michael Stocker

coreligionists or white people, I could feel ashamed of them. But that just
makes my point. Identi¬cation is needed for such shame.
We can take these cases to show that my identity is more diffuse and
is located in other places and times than is my self. As it might be put, I
have the identity “ the locus of possible shame and guilt “ that is my self.
But I also have a political identity, a cultural identity, a social identity, and
many other identities as well. They locate what is valuable, good or bad, for
me: what can make my life whole or challenged, ¬‚ourishing or troubled,
something I can feel proud or ashamed of.
(If, as I think, shame and pride are similar enough on this score, these
considerations also show that it is in part right and in part wrong to hold
that being proud of something requires one to think that one has done that
something and that it is good. We can take this as showing that the person
must think of it as, somehow, his, at least to the extent of identifying with it.
But we can also take it as showing that a person can think of something as
his, even if he does not think he has done anything to create or sustain it.)
As will be discussed in the ¬nal section, Williams holds that shame is
felt as diminishing or lessening one™s whole being. I do not know his views
on identi¬catory shame. But as I see matters, in at least some cases, I can
feel identi¬catory shame without feeling that my being is at all diminished
or lessened. My self/world boundary protects me from that. In these cases,
identi¬catory shame affects only my world, not my whole being. It makes
my world somewhat darker, somewhat unfriendlier, somewhat harder to
bear. But it does not make me worse off.
I do not think that all cases of identi¬catory shame are like this. In some
cases, especially of strong identi¬cation “ like a child™s identi¬cation with
her parents “ even if we think of this in terms of an increase in darkness of
the child™s world, we can also think that this is strong enough to lessen or
diminish the child™s very being.
I want now just to list some questions that arise here: First, is there
identi¬catory guilt, perhaps requiring identi¬catory culpability and in that
sense identi¬catory responsibility? I do not think I can feel guilty on account
of my great grandparents™ wrongdoings. I can, of course, feel guilty for
retaining my share of their ill-gotten wealth. But this is guilt for an act or
omission of mine.
But perhaps identi¬catory guilt or some other guilt without culpability
is possible. After all, agent regret involves a sort of felt responsibility without
culpability.14 To be sure, agent regret seems to require some sort or amount

14 See, e.g., Williams (1981). See also Williams (1995) reprinted from Statman, (1993).
Shame, Guilt, and Pathological Guilt

of agency that connects the person who feels it with what is regretted. This
is seen in cases of justi¬ed dirty hands and the case of the truck driver who is
in no way at fault for running over the child. The question now is whether
there are forms of identi¬cation that can make the connection needed for
identi¬catory guilt.
I have been told that many Germans born after 1945 felt not only shame
but also guilt on account of what the Nazis did.15 Perhaps this is identi¬-
catory guilt, taking on the guilt of others or feeling guilty on account of
the doings of others. But perhaps it is, rather, a way or result of accepting
responsibility for these horrors “ not responsibility in the sense of hav-
ing done those things nor in anything deserving to be called identi¬catory
culpability, but as an acknowledgment of the fact, or rationalization of the
feeling, that making reparations is their responsibility.
My second question is whether we can say anything useful about which
cases of identi¬cation and identi¬catory shame are reasonable and which
unreasonable. What are the proper limits of our world(s), when does the
absence of identi¬cation make for, or show, a world that is too unfriendly,
too solitary? When have we taken on and identi¬ed with what really isn™t
ours to be ashamed of?
Third, can we say anything useful about what determines whether iden-
ti¬catory shame affects one™s being or world too much (“You should not be
so despondent about yourself on account of what your great grandparents
did”) or too little (“How can you not care about what your great grandpar-
ents did to mine?”). Fourth, can we say anything useful about what iden-
ti¬catory shame can justify by way of other feelings or action? (“If you are
ashamed of what your great grandparents did, you might consider helping
their victims™ descendants.”)
Williams, unfortunately, is silent on these issues. He tells us that Ajax
felt that he must be true to his identity and kill himself out of his shame at
killing the sheep.16 Does Williams think that being true to one™s identity can
make the justi¬cation “ especially the ethical justi¬cation “ of such action
irrelevant or less weighty? That being true to one™s identity provides all the
justi¬cation there need be? The only time I can think of where he comes
close to holding something like this is with Gauguin in his discussion of
moral luck.
We might well agree that Gauguin would have suffered “ that he would
have experienced the world as a very hard place, a place to try his soul “ if he

15 My thanks are owed to Adrian Piper here.
16 Williams (1993), p. 75 ff.
144 Michael Stocker

had been false to his identity as a painter and remained at home. But we
can also hold that nonetheless, in many, even though not all, important
ways, he should have stayed with his family “ and perhaps should have
painted there, rather than abandoning them, going off to Tahiti to paint.
Sometimes, a correct response upon hearing what it would take to be true to
someone™s identity is “That™s too bad!” or “You must be joking!” This can be
in the ¬rst person, present: I can be appalled by what has become so central
to me.
The considerations and arguments here are dif¬cult and contentious.
But an adequate ethics must ask them.


I now turn to a different case of shame without responsibility: the case of
the deformed girl in Nathaniel West™s Miss Lonelyhearts. She suffered from
intense and pervasive shame, over a congenital facial deformity. She was
born without a nose and she was fully, indeed dreadfully, ashamed of her
appearance, of her incomplete face. But she was not guilty and did not
feel guilty. However, she wonders whether she might have done something
wrong, albeit in a past life “ something to be guilty of “ that earned her that
terrible punishment.
What I am concerned with here is the naturalness and force of her won-
dering about a wrongful act that, as she thinks, might go some way toward
justifying her shame, that is, showing that her shame is accurate, that she has
something to be ashamed of.17 It might be said, offering a psychological
account of why she is attracted to this view, that people ¬nd it easier to
accept guilt than helplessness. It might be held, making a conceptual claim,
that culpability is required for justi¬ed, accurate shame: that unless she has
done something wrong, she has nothing to be ashamed about. Claims to
the effect that where there is no culpability, no guilt, there is nothing to be
ashamed of are commonplace and are part and parcel of various therapeutic
and liberation movements.
But there is the contrary conceptual view that justi¬ed, accurate shame
does not require culpability and wrongdoing and that she does have

17 The issue here is whether the shame is accurate, not whether it is good to feel it. On this
distinction, see D™Arms and Jacobson, (2000). My thanks are owed to D™Arms and Jacobson
for discussion on this distinction and other aspects of shame.
Shame, Guilt, and Pathological Guilt

something to be ashamed of, her face.18 This view has it that her shame
is an accurate response to her face being horribly deformed, which quite
understandably, perhaps even reasonably, dashes her ideals and aspirations.
Yet another case questioning the accuracy, and in this sense the justi¬-
ability of shame without culpability comes up in one of Williams™ central
cases: the case of Ajax who, in his madness, slew the sheep having misidenti-
¬ed them as Odysseus, Agamemnon, and Menelaus, on whom he intended
to take revenge for slighting him. His madness precluded culpability for
what he did. But certainly he felt ashamed, not only of what he did, but
of himself for doing it. He certainly did extraordinary things, things that
were terrible and, in a horrible way, a suitable target of derision. Madness
does not preclude those evaluations. They may well be enough for us to
agree with Ajax that what he did was, in fact, shaming and that he made no
mistake in being ashamed of himself for doing them.
I am torn between these two accounts: that because the girl and Ajax did
nothing wrong, they have nothing to be ashamed of and their shame is not
justi¬ed; and despite not doing anything wrong, they do have something to
be ashamed of and their shame is justi¬ed.19 I am unsure which account to
accept and which Williams accepts.


In ways discussed above, shame is like moral luck in showing that the range
of the ethical and evaluative goes well beyond guilt. As I understand him,
Williams holds that various ethical theories are doubly mistaken: ¬rst in
denying that moral luck and many cases of shame reveal ethical values; and
second in their misunderstandings of their own favored notions. He does
not suggest that an adequate account of shame can provide all the materials
needed to develop an adequate account of guilt. Nor does he suggest that an
adequate ethics of shame would eliminate all need for an ethics concerned

18 This view was put to me by Charles Chastain, a philosopher, and Melvin Lansky, a psy-
choanalyst. For a psychoanalytically oriented discussion, see Lansky (1996). My thanks are
owed Chastain and Lansky for other help with this work.
19 His madness may have exculpated Ajax from doing any wrong in, having grounds to feel
guilty about, killing the animal. But there were other wrongs and grounds for guilt: his
murderous intentions and his choosing suicide at the cost of allowing his family to suffer
harm. If his shame was in order not to feel guilt about these, it may be the sort of reaction
formation discussed in note 10. My thanks are owed to Anthony Long for discussion here.
146 Michael Stocker

with guilt. But he does hold that various notions central to guilt, such as
voluntariness, can be understand only in terms of shame. As he says, “Shame
can understand guilt, but guilt cannot understand itself.”20
I agree that to understand guilt™s concerns with voluntariness, we must
understand matters in the territory of shame. It is unclear to me that we
can understand shame without going into the territory of guilt. At the least,
wrongness, responsibility, voluntariness, and autonomy are, in varying ways,
important for warranted, accurate shame.


Williams joins many philosophers in holding that it is easy enough to dis-
tinguish between shame and guilt. Somewhat in tension with this, the psy-
choanalytic theorist Helen Block Lewis says in her indispensable Shame
and Guilt in Neurosis21 that she and many other therapists and theorists ¬nd
it very dif¬cult, often impossible, to distinguish between shame and guilt
both in practice and in theory “ among other reasons, because there is a
¬‚ow and oscillation between them, they are frequently present at the same
time, and whether a patient is experiencing shame or alternatively guilt at
a given time can be determined only in light of such factors as the overall
style and character of the patient, not by the episode itself or the patient™s
experience of that episode.22
I agree with these philosophers and with Lewis and other theorists that
there are important differences between shame and guilt “ differences that
bear on conceptual issues, moral psychological issues, and also straight-out
evaluative issues, both moral and legal. But, as I will argue in this sec-
tion, Williams™ and other philosophers™ attempted philosophical distinc-
tions between guilt and shame fail.
My arguments here do not rely on the earlier arguments about patho-
logical and nonpathological guilt and shame. Nor am I concerned to inves-
tigate the relations between these two sets of arguments. Even apart from
these issues, examining these distinctions and their failures should further
our understanding of shame and guilt and dispel some all too common
mistakes about them.

20 Williams (1993), p. 93.
21 Lewis (1971).
22 For recent discussions of these dif¬culties as seen by psychologists, see Tangney and Dearing
(2002), coauthored by the psychologists June Price Tangney and Ronda L. Dearing, espe-
cially ch. 2, “What Is The Difference Between Shame And Guilt?”
Shame, Guilt, and Pathological Guilt

Williams writes,
differences in the experience of shame and of guilt can be seen as part of
a wider set of contrasts between them. What arouses guilt in an agent is
an act or omission of a sort that typically elicits from other people anger,
resentment, or indignation. What the agent may offer in order to turn this
away is reparation; he may also fear punishment or may in¬‚ict it on himself.
What arouses shame, on the other hand, is something that typically elicits
from others contempt or derision or avoidance. This may equally be an act
or omission, but it need not be: it may be some failing or defect. It will lower
the agent™s self-respect and diminish him in his own eyes. His reaction . . . is a
wish to hide or disappear, and this is one thing that links shame as, minimally,
embarrassment with shame as social or personal reduction. More positively,
shame may be expressed in attempts to reconstruct or improve oneself.23

Williams joins many other theorists in offering these as characterizing and
differentiating features.24 But I think that these features fail to differentiate
shame and guilt. In at least one case, Williams, himself, gives us materials
to think this. As just seen, he uses anger felt by others to characterize guilt
and distinguish it from shame. But several pages earlier, he says “ correctly,
in my view “An agent will be motivated by prospective shame in the face of
people who would be angered by conduct that, in turn, they would avoid
for those same reasons.”25
One way to take this is as suggesting that what arouses guilt can also
arouse shame, perhaps that doing what is wrong warrants both guilt and
shame. I think this is right. I also think that this is how it is for many of
the features Williams offers here: each of them can be found in at least
some cases of shame and also at least some cases of guilt. The other features
fare even worse. They characterize neither shame nor guilt. This leaves
open the possibility that the ¬rst features can be used to characterize and
differentiate between the concepts of shame and of guilt “ perhaps when one
of these features of, say, guilt is a feature of a case of guilt, it is so necessarily
or it helps make it a case of guilt, but when it characterizes shame, it does
so accidentally or it does not help make it a case of shame.
I think that what has been shown about the connections between guilt, espe-
cially nonpathological guilt, and shame show that this claim about concepts
is almost certainly mistaken. The present section, however, is concerned

23 Williams (1993), pp. 89“90.
24 He mentions Morris (1976) on p. 198, n. 35; Wollheim (1984), ch. 7 on p. 198, n. 35; Rawls
(1971), §§ 67, 70“75 on p. 198, n. 38; and Gibbard (1990), ch. 7 on p. 198, n. 38.
25 Williams (1993), p. 83.


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