Author(s)Thomason, Krista Karbowski
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Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2009.
My dissertation defends the place of shame in moral psychology. I critique the two dominant accounts of shame in the current literature: the optimistic view, which states that shame is the experience of failing to live up to a virtue or excellence that one values, and the pessimistic view, which states that shame is always a distorted emotion like malice or envy. I argue that both views give unsatisfactory accounts of shame because they fail to distinguish circumstances when shame is intelligible from circumstances when it is appropriate. I offer an account of shame in which the key feature of the experience is loss of power or standing. I show that shame falls into a category of what I call dismissive moral emotions along with pity and contempt. Unlike guilt and resentment, which are ways of demanding justification or redress from other moral agents, the dismissive moral emotions are ways of refusing these types of engagement. The questions arise whether these dismissive emotions are ever morally appropriate to feel towards others and towards oneself and whether extirpating shame from one's moral psychology counts as moral progress. The objections to shame are usually Kantian: since all persons are owed respect, it is morally impermissible to take dismissive attitudes toward them. I argue, however, that Kant rightly gives shame an important place in his moral theory, particularly in the &quot;Doctrine of Virtue,&quot; and that according to a Kantian moral theory shame is essential to one's ethical life. I argue that feeling shame is morally appropriate, and I consider to what extent shame has a role in practices like punishment.