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148 Michael Stocker

to show how the features Williams and others offer fail to differentiate or
characterize cases of guilt and shame.

Reparations: If I am ashamed of how I have treated a student, I may well
think or be told that I should make amends, to make things right. The
reparations the Germans think they owed can certainly be connected with
their shame, not just their guilt.
Punishment and Indignation: It is completely ordinary to expect punish-
ment from others, and to mete it out to yourself, for doing what they or
you think is shameful, for example, revealing family secrets. So, too, other
family members may well feel indignation at what you have done.
Derision: Wrongdoing, which gives rise to guilt in me, can often be met
by the jeers and derision of others.
Self-improvement or reconstruction: These seem quite naturally associated
with guilt, too. Indeed, one way to acknowledge one™s guilt is to commit
oneself to self-improvement.
Wanting to disappear: It seems common enough that those who feel guilty
want to hide and avoid being seen. Indeed, if a person does not want to hide,
to be unnoticed and unremarked on, it is dif¬cult to sustain the claim that
the person feels guilty “ unless we also hold that the person is trying to
brazen it out. But such brazenness seems possible in cases of shame, too.
Audiences and Shame: There is, I think, a common, somewhat inchoate
view that shame is more outward and guilt more inward. Shame™s outward-
ness has to do with shame being over failure to live up to community values,
or with shame being generated or warranted by some part of the community
witnessing failures, or both. Guilt™s inwardness has to do with guilt™s values
and failures being the agent™s own, in origin or acceptance, or with guilt
being generated or warranted by the agent™s own recognition of failure, or
both. Some of what I say about Williams™ view joins him in rejecting this
At one point, Williams claims that audiences are important for shame:

The basic experience connected with shame is that of being seen, inap-
propriately, by the wrong people, in the wrong condition. It is straightfor-
wardly connected with nakedness, particularly in sexual connections. The
word aidoia, a derivative of aidoos, “shame,” is a standard Greek word for
genitals and similar terms are found in other languages.26

26 Williams (1993), p. 78.
Shame, Guilt, and Pathological Guilt

I say “at one point,” for despite the clarity of what we just read, it is dif¬cult
to determine Williams™ ¬nal view on shame and audiences. His sentence
about the “basic experience connected with shame” ends with a footnote
referring us to “a rather more complex account of the basic experiences of
shame.”27 In this account, he says that his earlier claim about shame and
being seen, especially when naked, was too simple and misleading; that the
more accurate view is that nakedness and being seen naked are signs of
being at a disadvantage and suffering a loss of power; and that recognition
of disadvantage and suffering is what is central to shame.28
He also writes, “The internalised other [viz., the audience needed for
shame] is indeed abstracted and generalised and idealized, but he is poten-
tially somebody rather than nobody, and somebody other than me.”29 As I
see matters, this eliminates even the vestiges of the claim that shame, unlike
guilt, involves an audience. At most, it seems to invoke an “observing other”
as that is found in self-examination, re¬‚ection, conscience, all of which seem
as relevant for guilt as for shame.
Of course, shame often does involve other people, often in an audience-
like way. Repute, face, and one™s standing with others often ¬gure impor-
tantly in shame. But our account of shame should not be put simply that
(one believes that) one has been seen failing to achieve one™s value(s). Often
enough, shame is neither experienced nor warranted even though (one
believes that) one has been seen failing to achieve one™s value(s).
That account also fails to note that in many cases, where (one believes
that) one has been seen to fail and this does engender or warrant shame,
what we value (or also value) includes another person(s): for example, we
value (or also value) meriting and enjoying others™ esteem. Many of the
values important for shame do involve relations with others: for example,
how one is to be, how one is to act, and how one is thought of, by, with,
or in the presence of, others. Some of these relations can involve other
values that do not, themselves, directly involve other people: for example,
to merit others™ esteem for being a good member of a building team, one
may have to do well at, say, driving nails. When shame is warranted by
failing to achieve these values that involve other people, often enough it
is warranted not (or not only) because we do something shameful in the

27 Williams (1993), p. 194.
28 Williams (1993), p. 220. In Taylor (1985), she, too, says that shame needs an audience and
then almost immediately denies that shame needs an audience, p. 38.
29 Williams (1993), p. 84.
150 Michael Stocker

presence of others, but because (or also because) we fail to achieve these
values, which involve others.
Furthermore, shame can be warranted by the failure to achieve values
that do not involve other people at all. They can be the agent™s own, even
idiosyncratic, values and the failure need not be (believed by the agent to
be) witnessed by anyone else, not even by an “abstracted and generalised
and idealized “ potentially somebody rather than nobody, and somebody
other than” himself.
My claim here is that shame does not require this observing other; nor,
I would add, does guilt. But, as suggested earlier, both shame and guilt can
involve this observing other.
Indeed, some cases of guilt can involve an audience. I can harm and
wrong others by, and feel guilt about, the way I present myself to others,
where the wrong or harm involves not just doing something, but by doing
it in public, in front of others. And a stock scene of guilt and feeling guilty
is being stared at or pointed at “ stared or pointed at in accusing ways, as
one may guiltily think.30 (This may reenact some of how we develop our
conception of guilt.)
Moving away from others functioning as an audience, cases of wronging
or harming another are among the clearest cases of warranted guilt. This
helps explain why what warrants shame may well not warrant guilt “ because
shame, but not guilt, can be warranted where there is no wrong and any
damage is self-regarding. My loss of others™ esteem is a loss for me. Such
a loss can, of course, involve harm to others: for example, to my family by
my having to leave the team. And what leads to the loss of esteem “ hitting
the wood, not the nails “ can involve harm to other team members, slowing
them down, diminishing their pay, and damage to what we were building.
These failures can warrant shame, or guilt, or both.
Nakedness: I am unsure what to make of Williams™ use of nakedness.
There are so many ways that the body and nakedness are taken up by
different peoples, even by people like us, that the usefulness of this charac-
terization of shame must be questioned.
If I understand what Williams is suggesting by his talk of being caught
naked, especially in sexual contexts, and his claim about a “recognition of
disadvantage and suffering,” he seems to be thinking of serious, major cases
of shame. But there are many cases of minor shame, where both the occasion
and the feeling are minor.

30 My thanks are owed to Joseph Ullian for discussion here.
Shame, Guilt, and Pathological Guilt

I can be ashamed in a minor way of the somewhat naughty behavior of
my dog, or of wearing a stained shirt to a department meeting, or of having
spoken somewhat too harshly to a colleague at that meeting. I am unable to
understand these and other minor cases of shame in terms of what I think
Williams had in mind when he talked of what it is like to be caught naked,
especially in sexual contexts, or to involve a recognition of “disadvantage
and suffering.” Indeed, were I to understand those cases of shame in either
of these ways, I would have to reclassify them as cases of major shame.
(Discrepancy between the extent of the shame and what gives rise to it is
often a matter of concern.)
One™s whole being: These last considerations about major and minor
shame also tell against a claim made by Williams and many other theorists:
“in the experience of shame, one™s whole being seems diminished or less-
ened.”31 Making what seems a similar point in an especially strong, even
¬‚orid, way, the psychologists Merle A. Fossum and Marilyn J. Mason write,
“Shame is an inner sense of being completely diminished or insuf¬cient as a
There are three parts, easily run together, to these claims. The ¬rst is
that it is one™s being, one™s self, that is involved in shame. The second is that
it is the whole self that is involved in shame. The third is what is felt about
the whole self: that all of it is bad, that it is through and through bad.33 I will
take these in turn.
Nothing but the self: Williams writes that “in the experience of shame,
one™s whole being seems diminished or lessened.” I can be ashamed of
myself. But, as discussed above, I can also be ashamed of what I identify with.
Wholeness: The claim that if I am ashamed, I am ashamed of my whole
self can, perhaps, be understood as pointing out that just as in “I am angry
at John,” so too in “I am ashamed of my whole self,” it makes little sense to
ask “At which parts?”
That claim can also be understood as saying that the self involved in
shame is an undifferentiated whole, all of it taken at once. Many psychoan-
alytic theorists “ and relying on them, many other theorists “ hold that this
is how shame is experienced by infants.34 In many cases, this theoretical
view is connected with seeing infantile shame as a failure of the ego ideal
taken as a whole, rather than, say, the failure of a particular ego ideal. It is

31 Williams (1993), p. 89.
32 Fossum and Mason (1986), 5, my emphasis.
33 The last two issues are discussed more fully in Hegeman and Stocker (1996), 222 ff.
34 See, e.g., Gerhart Piers™ contribution to Piers and Singer (1953), which has in¬‚uenced
many philosophers.
152 Michael Stocker

also connected with a contrasting view of infantile guilt, which is seen as
developmentally a later, less primitive, and more particularized response to
failures of particular, nonglobal superego requirements.
No matter what we think of these theoretical views about infantile
shame, I think it beyond doubt that adults™ shame is often enough not
like this. Adults™ shame can be of particular failures, which can be (concep-
tualized as) ego ideal failures, superego failures, or both: I can be ashamed
of, and feel guilty about, failing to ful¬ll a particular requirement. I can be
ashamed of and feel guilty about not living up to my ideal of being obedient
to that requirement. For these and other reasons, the in¬‚uential psycho-
analytic theorist Roy Schafer holds that adults™ shame and guilt typically
involve “composites” of both failures.35
But no matter how we conceptualize adult shame “ in particular, as an
ego-ideal failure, a superego failure, or both “ it need not be of the whole
self. If I am ashamed of myself for something I have done, for example,
speaking mean spiritedly to a colleague, I can be ashamed just of that. I need
not be ashamed of all of myself, of every aspect of myself, or of myself as an
undifferentiated whole. I need not be ashamed of everything or anything else
about me. While ashamed of myself because of my mean spirited remark, I
can also be proud, for example, of how I treat my friends; I can be overall,
on the whole, all things considered, proud of myself. (This in no way is
meant to deny that even such well-contained, limited shame can trigger,
develop or degenerate into one of these other forms of shame.)
The self as through and through bad: Shame as experienced by adults can
involve feeling oneself through and through, perhaps utterly, inadequate;
as calling into question one™s whole being. The cases of shame that come
most readily to mind here are cases, not just of shame, but of morti¬ca-
tion. Many of these involve a narcissistic injury or even a narcissistic melt
down. Many involve severe, aggressive, harshly punitive attacks on the self.
Portrayals of these sorts of shame are found in psychoanalytic accounts
of seriously neurotic and pathological shame, and, as noted, of infantile,
primitive shame.
There are these sorts of shame. But, especially if an adult experiences
such shame over something minor, that is diagnostic of a problem: for
example, of a borderline personality, of hysteria, of a disturbing lack of
ego strength, or some other less-than-healthy state. Such shame, especially
over something minor, shows that the person experiencing the shame is in
trouble, in need of rest, help, or other succor.

35 Schafer (1967), p. 138.
Shame, Guilt, and Pathological Guilt

Williams recognizes that shame need not be so major. Earlier, we read
him as saying, “More positively, shame may be expressed in attempts to
reconstruct or improve oneself.” It can hardly be this way while it is also
felt as a serious narcissistic wound, or as lessening or diminishing the whole
self, or as calling the whole self into question.
It might be of interest to explore why in their general discussion of shame
many theorists focus on cases of shame at the self seen as an undifferentiated
whole, on primitive, infantile shame, on ¬‚orid, pathological, major shame,
or the shame of troubled people. But whatever their reasons for this, we
must recognize that in mature adults of adequate ego strength, shame can
be well-contained and limited.
These arguments against the commonly offered, philosophical distinc-
tions between shame and guilt “ especially when coupled with the dif¬cul-
ties Lewis talks about of determining whether it is shame or guilt that
a patient is experiencing “ might suggest that there are no differences
between shame and guilt. But I think they show only that those particular,
attempted distinctions fail. Considerations offered in the earlier sections “
about pathological, nonpathological, correct, and mistaken guilt and shame,
about self-regarding and indecorous shame, identi¬catory shame, shame
without responsibility, and shame™s and guilt™s understandings of each other
and of themselves “ help show that there are important differences between
shame and guilt. Whatever we say about how Williams distinguishes them,
we must thank him for emphasizing the many ways “ too often ignored “
that shame is evaluatively important.36


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D™Arms, Justin and Jacobson, Daniel (2000). “The Moralistic Fallacy,” Philosophy
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Fossum, Merle A. and Mason, Marilyn J. (1986). Facing Shame: Families in Recovery
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Hegeman, Elizabeth, and Stocker, Michael (1996). Valuing Emotions (Cambridge:
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36 My thanks are owed to those who heard and helped improve earlier versions of this work,
in particular to John Deigh and Elizabeth Hegeman.
154 Michael Stocker

Lansky, Melvin (1996). “Shame and Suicide in Sophocles™ Ajax,” Psychoanalytic Quar-
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