Zahavi: Shame and the exposed self

1. Shame and self-reflection

Aim of paper: what does shame tell us about the self?
Response to Lewis monograph accepting standard model

six basic primary emotions not self-referential
more complex emotions inc. shame held by Lewis to be self-referential
Zahavi disputes this with a dual argument

1). Lewis: mental states only become conscious when taken as objects of introspection
Zahavi says this commits Lewis to the `absurd’ claim that animals and infants lack phenomenal experience
But is this so absurd? We only think the opposite because of behavior — heuristics also an explanation — or do we want to say that sugar-eating bacteria climb the sugar gradient because it makes them happy?
2). emotions necessarily involve appraisals of what is significant for us; I experience fear of what might happen to me
But does this not commit Zahavi to denying that I can be joyful about the performance of the England cricket team — or will he just say that is also about me?

So Zahavi’s claim will be that all emotions self-referential; but primary and secondary are self-referential in different ways
Also criticizes Lewis’s claim that self-reflection is key by noting Darwin’s remark that blushes necessarily involve `thinking what others think of us’

2. Others in mind

Focus on the account in Being And Nothingness; Sartre claims:

consciousness necessarily intentional (Husserl, Brentano’s thesis)
mode of being of consciousness is for-itself
self-consciousness arises when self is own intentional object
Schopenhauer-type `eye cannot see itself’ argument
leads to subject/object split, but also either an infinite regress or non-conscious starting point
Sartre’s solution is to posit pre-reflective self-consciousness
shame: form of intentional self-consciousness based on The Other
I feel ashamed of myself before The Other
The Other constitutes myself as object; this self-as-object is the object of the shame and is therefore a precondition for shame
shame arises irrespective of whether evaluation is positive or negative
We need to remember here that the word `shame’ can, like `nausea’ or `anguish’, be a term of art for Sartre

anguish: fear of the freedom to which we are condemned
nausea: the `taste’ of facticity — which is the for-itself’s necessary connection with the in-itself
neither of these look much like common usage but can perhaps be traced back to or founded on them

The Other makes me aware of myself as in itself cf. bad faith where I disingenuously try to see my for-itself as in-itself
I have in some way become dependent on The Other for (part of) my very existence

3. Varieties of shame

Does shame have any use? Is it valuable? Can we give it any value without assuming that social conformity is valuable?
Alternative accounts considered and compared to Sartre


shame has different types; Sartre’s account allows only for one
account looks somewhat dated (Germany, 1957)
blushing virgins have `protective shame’
presence of shame indicates a level of self-respect, presumably because it indicates that one has fallen short of certain standards
assumes we know what is right after the event when we did not beforehand
rejects Sartre’s notion that shame necessarily involves others
But Sartre allows that The Other can be a house or a noise or indeed not present cf. Lucy’s `fictitious evaluator’
Apparently Scheler claims that shame is necessary for erotic interest in others so is a good thing because necessary for survival of the species – but why do we want that?


Zahavi says Taylor challenges Sartre for claiming that shame entails observer criticality
Zahavi rightly observes that Sartre cannot be challenged on this because Sartre denies it
Zahavi could also note that Sartre does not need an observer
contrast with embarrassment, which is coextensive with embarrassing situations; shame held to persist beyond shameful events
This seems questionable
Zahavi gives five examples purportedly of shame: plagiarism, racism of a relative, unfashionable, job rejection, not wearing make-up
Many of these look more like embarrassment
Zahavi also claims that it is implausible that any of these scenarios could have happened when alone — does that commit him also to saying there cannot be shameful memories?

Seidler held to have similar view to Sartre: “Das Schamsubjekt ist `ganz bei sich’ und gleichzeitig `ausser sich’ ” — The subject of shame is simultaneously wholly within himself but also outside of himself
Other jolts us out of Heideggerean absorbtion in our projects and we are faced with the facticity of our bodies: they become `present-at-hand’
Zahavi agrees with Sartre that no actual Other is required for shame
But criticizes a `negative […] characterization’ of our dealings with others

Room to argue here that Zahavi makes insufficient allowance for terms of art; also a certain inevitability in Sartre’s picture may eliminate value-judgements

Lewis held to deny that public failure relevant to shame
Model requires perceived [failure, responsibility therefor and damaged self]
Zahavi says this cannot allow a differentiation from e.g. self-criticism

Perhaps these items can overlap?

Discussion of Harre’s distinction between shame and embarrassment

others see our moral breach vs others see our convention breach
Zahavi criticizes this for being too neat and for having too clean a division between moral and conventional infractions
Zahavi says we can be ashamed of one’s red hair, weight or skin color

Hair: can we be ashamed of things we cannot control?
Weight: maybe if this is or could be our fault — claims about `fat genes’
Maybe, if this means e.g. sunburn

Zahavi’s diagnosis is to link shame but not embarrassment with self-esteem decrement
notes a Strawson (G) remark that past episodes of embarrassment can be funny but not past shame

This does look like a clean distinction

4. Back to self

Sartre’s picture of the self is that it is immediately given but lacks substance; we create an ego ‘in front of us’ because we think that something must exist to have the experiences we have
Zahavi’s criticism is that this zero-dimensional point is inadequate to accommodate the complexity of shame as revealed by his discussion
Sartre will respond that if we have the ability to create an ego, we can also give it imaginary characteristics
Mead: self-consciousness is a by-product of becoming aware of others; links to developmental milestones and theory of mind
Mead: prior to self-consciousness, feelings would be experienced as part of the environment
Zahavi says Sartre would disagree with this and would claim that there is primitive self-consciousness from the start
An argument is needed for this however; Sartre may claim that primitive self-consciousness is `prior’ (fundamental in those who have adult self-consciousness) without it being `prior’ (an earlier stage such that infants must have it)
Is shame essentially human because language is required and is it culturally mediated? Related terms in Chinese number 113
Sartre: language expresses my being-for-others in an original way because it gives the self-as-object its characteristics; these are not the characteristics of the self-as-subject

Nagel: Equality And Partiality III

Q1: Is `justice’ a concept for angels or for men?

The question asks whether Nagel is attempting to put forward a Utopian concept of justice, impartiality or equality which could not be realized by any other than perfect beings. Nagel acknowledges that this is a problem because if it is Utopian, then it is pointless discussing it, unless we can expect advantages to accrue from merely pursuing an unachievable objective, or that even moving in the direction of achieving the objective is worth something on its own.

One problem Nagel seems to have is that he suffers from the Rawlsian problem of being much too nice for the real world. Rawls was apparently described as `saintly’ by those who knew him personally, and this caused his philosophy also to suffer from an excessive faith in humanity. There remains some hope that Nagel will be able to avoid this extreme — he does manage a favorable reference to Nietzsche on p. 135 — but that remains to be seen.

Of course, angels do not actually need justice. Or at least, they would not need external sources thereof, for they would naturally treat each other in just ways. So the concept may not even be coherent.

This discussion feeds into the second question, because justice is supposed to arise from one of the two standpoints.

Q2: Are the `two standpoints’ plausible?

These are the personal and impersonal standpoints. The first one is the one with which we are familiar — it merely means the perspective from where we stand, taking account of our own interests. The impersonal one is the more general de-personalized view. It might be seen as being somewhat akin to a legal viewpoint: laws do not mention specific individuals but classes of them.

Nagel says he will argue that the impersonal standpoint produces `a powerful demand for universal impartiality and equality’; moreover, this is the case `in each of us’. This claim in the strong version is simply false, as I merely need to mention that I for one feel no such claim arising in order to falsify it. I doubt I am alone in that, but it does not matter: I am unaccompanied sufficient to disprove the claim.

Let us assume that this is somewhat poetic; perhaps Nagel can make out that many people would support him. Maybe so — but what of it? Are we to assume that what people think is right? If so, to what end do we pursue philosophy? We scarcely need some advanced theoretical underpinning to support what people are already doing.

Does this impersonal standpoint even exist? Certainly I can imagine considering a question from the perspective of unnamed individuals. Thus I can give you an answer probably on questions such as `is it right to provide tax deductions for married couples?’, or at least rehearse the arguments on both sides despite the facts that I am not myself married and could not give you the names of everyone who is. But that is just an abstract way of thinking about political questions; it cannot suffice for the strong claims that Nagel makes about a perspective having potent normative effects on our thinking. It is this latter I do not recognize.

In any case, there is a dramatic discontinuity in plausibility between the two claimed outcomes of this putative pair of standpoints. The fact that there is value in impartiality does not entail that there is in equality, and moreover, we are not told which equality we are dealing with. If it is equality of outcome, it is undesirable; if it is equality of opportunity, then it is unfeasible.

To see the former point, observe that it requires leveling down. To see the latter, consider what level of resources would be necessary to provide an equal opportunity of UCL entry to persons with an IQ of 70 and one with an IQ of 150. And what would the justification look like for taxing the latter in order to permit the equal opportunity of the former?

To some extent we must suspend judgment, for Nagel has as yet in the Introduction only claimed that he will so argue and has not yet done so. And yet we are entitled to remain skeptical pending such argument.

We are later told that `everyone has reasons deriving from the impersonal standpoint to want the world to be arranged in a way that accords better with the demands of impartiality’. It is notable that while again no argument is produced for this assertion, equality has been dropped from the text. So it is to that extent more plausible.

Yet it may be capable of being challenged. Although there is no positive reading of `partial’, despite common misconceptions to the contrary, maybe we would want it anyway. A criticism of Rawls’s views on what we would choose in the original position may equally be made of Nagel and that is that both philosophers present conceptions on which we are all immensely, in fact infinitely risk-averse.

And we aren’t. Nor should we be. If there is going to be some rolling of the dice, we may as well have some stakes to make it more interesting.

Finally, there is a further problem for Nagel in that even if he is right, we may not want him to be. These two standpoints can only conflict. His view would need to be suppressed even if it were correct, so fortunately, it isn’t.

Nagel: Equality And Partiality I

The title `Equality And Partiality’ is highly ambiguous, though not for the reasons commonly thought. We are initially invited to consider whether lack of impartiality is the cause of inequality. That assumes that inequality is a bad outcome, an error Nagel will compound in the introduction: this question is exactly the one at issue and should not be prejudged.

There is no positive reading of `partiality’. It is a synonym for `bias’ and prejudice’. When making some type of decision, perhaps as an umpire or an interviewer, impartiality is a prerequisite. That means that there should be a linear function mapping input data (e.g. relevant characteristics in the job applicant) to the output (e.g. a decision as to which candidate should get the job). Any lack of impartiality will mean that non-relevant characteristics such as sex or race have figured in the decision.

People fail to understand this because they think that partiality means the same as making a selection. This is false. They claim that sentences like `perhaps it is acceptable to be partial to your family members’ make sense. They may be being confused by the secondary meaning of `partial’, i.e. to like something. In the primary meaning, we would need an argument to show that bias in favor of one’s family members was acceptable. Of course, that happens all the time. But not in job selection processes. That type of partiality would be nepotism which would be frowned upon.

Perhaps we are intended to think that we are partial to equality. Nagel suggests this indeed — see later. But that of course could be a problem.

The figure on the cover is also highly ambiguous. It is a sketch by Goya, ostensibly of a beggar. But is it a beggar or a brigand? The stick looks very sturdy and more appropriate for attacking someone than as an aid for walking. The hat is equally well poised for suggesting indigence and lack of threat but equally well could be thrown over the eyes of a victim who comes in range of the stick. The suspicious looking gaze of the `beggar’ is directed downwards and to the left. This is, either way, not a figure to be approached or pitied.

Chapter 1

In discussion in the Introduction of current political systems, they are described as failing to reach `an ideal that we should all recognize as correct’. Really? Is not an argument required for this? Calling it an ideal prejudges the question at issue. It is not possible to support the status quo already in Nagel’s system. And what is the scope of his view? His point would be more plausible when looked at globally, perhaps. But cannot it be claimed that in the US and the UK, perhaps, it is possible for anyone who has the ability to work hard and take risks can become wealthy and no-one starves? Is that so unacceptable?

Nagel’s view is that the source of political conflict and his dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs is the existence of two viewpoints within each person. These are the personal and impersonal standpoints. Again he assumes without argument that working together is automatically the right answer. (Perhaps we will see such argument later in the book.)

But the weak always favor federal systems. Those who can survive alone prefer not to be dragged down by those who cannot swim, or cannot be bothered to. UCL is no longer part of the University of London, because no particular reason can be given for an institution which is always strong to support the weak. And failing to eliminate weaker institutions means that the average quality is held down also. Why is this good? Moreover, level playing fields harm those who can score uphill.

Why is there a value in equality? And what is meant? No one supports equality of outcome anymore, because of what the Australians call `tall poppy syndrome’. No poppies will grow tall if those are the ones that stick out and get harvested. So people retreat, weakly, to `equality of opportunity’. This of course is unfeasible. What would it cost to give someone with an IQ of 70 an equal chance of entry to UCL with someone with a score of double that? How much partiality would we need to provide that equality? And on what grounds would we take the necessary resources and the place from the second person? Why are some groups to be favored and why should they be the weak rather than the strong? Do we have no interest in overall quality of the cohort?

Apparently, we live `in a world of spiritually sickening economic and social inequality’. This is either meaningless or false. The insertion of the world `spiritual’ suggests only that Nagel has been informed of this ultimate truth by supernatural beings, perhaps fairies at the bottom of his garden. Ignoring that element, we are still left with the unfounded claim that inequality is sickening. It doesn’t sicken me. If it is justified, then isn’t it just the appropriate reward? The argument for this is that `most people feel it’. So what? Most people are wrong about most things most of the time. Even if that’s right.

Nagel is writing around the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. For a time then it appeared that a New World Order was at hand. The US would spread its benign influence unopposed by communism. Fukuyama could write about the end of history. Unfortunately, since then, al Qaeda have restarted history. Also a global financial crisis has strengthened the appeal of directed economic systems. China is one of Goldman Sach’s celebrated BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, China) from whence all growth will henceforth come. And yet, very recent events in Tunisia —

— in which an authoritarian government was forced from power by the people in a new continent provide some hope for the future.

We learn that the fundamental problem is how to do justice to the`equal importance of all persons’ — again, just asserted as a desirable objective — is that it cannot be done without making `unacceptable demands on individuals’. It is moreover not explained why any demands at all on individuals are acceptable even were this aim to be a good one.

On p. 6, we see the remark indicating that Nagel thinks we are partial to equality: `communism owes its existence in part to an ideal of equality that remains appealing however great the crimes committed […] in its name’. Just so. Of course, because partiality is wrong, we are mistaken in this attachment to equality. And communism exists either nowhere or in very few places today.

Nagel later claims that we can trust our moral intuitions even when we cannot state underlying principles. This is not argued for, which is just as well since it is completely implausible. Hard-nosed realism is castigated as well; presumably a does of irrationality or dream-like immersion in the unreal will be of more assistance. The argument that moral intuitions needs not be corrupt or self-interested because sometimes they are not is remarkable.

The aim of having everyone agree with the system of state power on a unanimous basis is laid out. This is clearly impossible. If it is a system with highly equal outcomes, those who would have done much better had they not been punished for their abilities will not consent. In an unequal system, those at the bottom will claim that their treatment has nothing to do with their abilities or efforts.

Chapter 2

It is assumed that we can take the view from nowhere by abstracting away from our beliefs, desires and characteristics and look out from behind the Rawlsian veil. But how do we know this is possible? And why would we have any motivations left in the original position?

`No one is more important than anyone else’ — what about Einstein and an imprisoned rapist costing the state significant resources in prison maintenance?

Weighting improvements in the position of the worst off above other improvements means in practice that all resources arrogated from the better off will be expended on the worst off. Globally also there is a `Singer and Pogge’ problem in that if this is true, almost all surplus economic product from the developed world must be shipped to Africa, where there is enormous deprivation. This is a consistent argument and the two responses to it are to agree that such transfers should be made or to deny the equal value of all persons. Few people have the intellectual courage to affirm the second, even though it is correct.

It is argued that from the impersonal standpoint, everyone’s life matters as much as mine. Even if that is so, it does not say anything about the personal standpoint, from which my life is more important. At least Nagel acknowledges that the personal standpoint is not to be ignored but must feature in his political theory. But the idea that we are to discuss how we should live given that some of our motives are not impersonal does not allow for the entirely coherent and in fact plausible possibility that some people may have only personal standpoints. How do we know they are wrong? Why can’t they look out for themselves? And all the more so if they are one of those who is short of resources. the very group that Nagel wishes to assist.

Nagel acknowledges the severe internal conflict likely to arise by attempting to combine personal and impersonal standpoints. Is not this prima facie cause to avoid the attempt altogether?

There is a claimed symmetry between the difficulties of resolving the conflict between the two standpoints for those at different ends of the resource spectrum. The well-off are concerned about how much is to be taken from them. But equally, apparently, the poor are worried by the extent to which they can legitimately make claims on the better off. Is this plausible? Why would they care?

Nagel also believes in something Rawls terms `the social basis of self-esteem’. It seems remarkable that someone so weak as to require validation from others should need any consideration. And what are we supposed to do for such people in any case? The claim that we would have to move a considerable distance in harming the rich before their resistance becomes legitimate needs scope setting. If the scope is global, there is another version of the Singer and Pogge problem.

But why is it legitimate to take resources legally acquired from anyone in any case? There seems to be an underlying idea that wealth is created by governments and then distributed unfairly. Were this to be the case, then we would presumably seek to arrange that it should be arranged equally. But that view is completely false. Some individuals create wealth and the state removes part of it from them for various ends, which may or may not be legitimate. In fact, they probably are not.

The idea that nothing matters from the impersonal standpoint is dismissed as an extreme skeptical viewpoint which presumably no-one reasonable could hold. This seems to be a bad case of impartiality however.

The final paragraph of chapter two includes Nagel’s acknowledgment that impartiality is the goal; this of course is a confirmation that partiality is always wrong. It also notes that we are all suppressing our sense of the impartial standpoint. Nagel thinks this is a bad thing and a denial of our humanity. But that is just the naturalistic fallacy, even if it is true. Which it isn’t.

Anscombe: Modern Moral Philosophy

1 Critical Summary

Three theses:
– moral philosophy unprofitable
– concepts like `moral duty’ useless since assume obsolete background
– all modern (1958) English moral philosophy basically similar

General assault on all moral philosophers
– Butler said to `exalt conscience’; Anscombe objects that someone’s conscience can tell them to do vile things
– But Butler can respond by denying this — perhaps people sometimes act against their consciences

Kant attacked for concept of `legislating for oneself’
– Said to be too legalistic, but this is not what Kant means
– Instead, he relies on the intuition that if action X is right in situation A, then it always will be in similar situations to A
– Anscombe does have a good response here which is to demand specifications of sufficient relevant similarity in A situations

Mill suffers from the same description problem: is it `murder’ or `mercy killing’?
– Without an answer to this, we cannot resolve conflict among utilitarian rules

Anscombe on Hume similarly bizarre to Schopenhauer on Kant i.e. sees all the right answers from all the wrong arguments
– Hume’s arguments moving from `is’ to `owes’ are as inadequate as the ones he castigates for moving from `is’ to ‘ought’; leads to a consideration of `brute facts’

Brute facts
– `He had potatoes carted to my house’ and `they were left there’ are brute facts relative to \he supplied me with potatoes”
– If xyz is a set of facts brute relative to a description A, then xyz is a set out of a range some set among which holds if A holds
– But no set among xyz entails A because exceptional circumstances can always make a difference
– Anscombe now admits the possibility of a transition from `is’ to `owes’ or to `needs’; does not sit well with her previous comments on Hume
– Injustice can now be defined as a set of sub-infringements such as `bilking’; this infraction will have a set of `brute facts’ associated
with it so we can derive a definition
– Need positive account of justice as virtue to show that an unjust man is a bad man: without this moral philosophy cannot proceed
– Legal conception of ethics inherited from religion a mistake; Aristotle believes virtue more a settled state of character than capable of being destroyed by single infractions
– Modern conceptions of obligation or ought-statements as law-like mistaken because there is no longer a law-giver { Nietzsche…
– `Less brute facts’: `is’-statements about a plant for example can lead to `needs’ statements if we want the plant to survive viz. the plant `ought’ to have water if it is going to flourish
– But this says nothing about whether the plant ought to flourish; so still no moral guidance here
– So Hume has shown just that `needs’, `owes’ statements are just variants of `is’-statements i.e. types of fact

Further claim that one cannot even derive `morally ought’ statements from each other, because the term has ceased to have other than
`mesmeric’ force
– Seems too strong; implies that we cannot get to `we ought not to torture cats’ from `we ought not to torture animals’

Utilitarianism and deontology both inadequate
– Cannot derive principle of utility from itself
– Similarly, cannot derive support for `divine law ought to be obeyed’ from within divine law
– Non-divine versions of deontology could be considered
Kant employs a deity but neo-Kantians need not

Virtue Ethics Introduced
– Since no content can be given to `morally wrong’, it would be an improvement to replace that sort of term by analogs of `unjust’
– Sometimes this would clarify viz. while we do not know whether something is `wrong’ we may know more quickly that it is unjust

Contra-utliititarianism again
– Utilitarianism as stated at that time would not allow e.g. absolute prohibition on killing the innocent for any purpose whatsoever
– Using something more modern like Nozick’s rules as side constraints might be more successful
– But unfair to criticize Anscombe for not anticipating future variants

All utilitarianisms incompatible with judaic religions since do not allow for any absolute prohibitions e.g. idolatry, adultery etc.
– Anscombe counts this as a criticism without admitting her own religious perspective; `the zeal of the converted’
– This is then taken to be so devastating as to render insignificant all other differences between the philosophers under consideration thus making out thesis three

– Criticism as `dull’ and `vulgar’ too ad hom to be useful
– Complains that Sidgwick obviously wrong when he thinks that the reason for blasphemy rules is to prevent o ense to
believers without giving an alternative

Sidgwick’s argument that one must intend all foreseen consequences of a voluntary action attacked
– A man who must choose between a disgraceful act and going to prison may not intend to withdraw child support even if that is
a consequence of going to prison
– Anscombe’s criticism fails, for the man has here weighed up the choices including the withdrawal of support and judged them better than the disgraceful act
– `a man is responsible for the bad consequences of his bad actions, but gets no credit for the good ones’ { far too gloomy/Roman/asymmetric
– Similarly, consequentialism attacked for being akin to consideration of temptation

– Previous point about `no law without a law-giver’ revisited with the aim of reviving the law-giver — this is disingenuous
– Criticism of Sidgwick et al as `conventional’ has no force because absent an argument that the conventions are wrong; some societies would be acceptable to Anscombe — nunneries perhaps
– Criticism of society as source of norms includes the consequence that `it might lead one to eat the weaker according to the laws of
nature’ indicates that Anscombe does in fact understand the naturalistic fallacy despite her protestations to the contrary

Distinction introduced between `morally wrong’ and unjust; illustrated by idea of judicially punishing an innocent man { this could be morally right but could not be just

We are not even permitted to consider execution to save millions; we have `corrupt minds’ if it is even a question!

2 Questions

1. How is Anscombe’s paper a response to Prichard?

(a) Prichard argues that contemporary (1912) moral philosophy rests on a mistake, being the belief that it is possible to answer the question `what ought we we to do?’ analytically or provide a proof that the dictates of conscience are in fact correct.
(b) Anscombe would share Prichard’s lack of faith in the current state of moral philosophy in her era, but would presumably differ from him in employing a divine law-giver to guarantee the dictates of conscience.

2. How does Anscombe think a `virtues’ approach to morality would differ from `traditional’ approaches?

(a) It avoids the errors associated with utlititarianism (not self-sufficient, no allowance for absolute prohibitions) and deontology (not self-sufficient, who is the law-giver when not divine).
(b) It is unclear why Anscombe thinks that religions are self-sufficient other than by assertion or why absolute prohibitions are good.

3. What are `brute facts’, and how do they work in her theory of evaluation?

(a) Some among a range of facts which must be true if A holds.
(b) If A is an infraction of virtue e.g. an injustice, then some set of brute facts must also be true, consideration of which should allow
discrimination of whether there has in fact been injustice.

4. Does the theory preserve the `moral ought’?
(a) The initial line appears to be that no sense can be given to the term within the context of current moral philosophy.
(b) This is later { again, disingenuously { treated as a reductio i.e. we must in fact have the law-giver because we must have the `moral
ought’ with the force of divine/external law and we cannot get that otherwise

G E M Anscombe
Modern Moral Philosophy
Philosophy Vol. 33, No. 124, Jan. 1958