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Shame, Violence, and Morality

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Abstract

Shame is most frequently defined as the emotion we feel when we fail to live up to standards, norms, or ideals. I argue that this definition is flawed because it cannot explain some of the most paradigmatic features of shame. Agents often respond to shame with violence, but if shame is the painful feeling of failing to live up to an ideal, this response is unintelligible. I offer a new account of shame that can explain the link between shame and violence. On my view, shame arises out of a tension between our identity and our self-conception: those things about which we feel shame are part of our identities, but they are not part of our self-conception. I conclude by arguing that this account of shame is a valuable moral emotion.

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