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

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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

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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

Scheler

  • 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?

Taylor

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

See Also:

What Is “Theory Of Mind?”

Shame vs Embarrassment: The Distinction In The Literature

Bad Arguments Against Gay Marriage

The Opposition Of Value Systems

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Author: Tim Short

I am a former investment banking and securitisation specialist, having spent nearly a decade on the trading floor of several international investment banks. Throughout my career, I worked closely with syndicate/traders in order to establish the types of paper which would trade well and gained significant and broad experience in financial markets. Many people have trading experience similar to the above. What marks me out is what I did next. I decided to pursue my interest in philosophy at Doctoral level, specialising in the psychology of how we predict and explain the behaviour of others, and in particular, the errors or biases we are prone to in that process. I have used my experience to write The Psychology of Successful Trading. In this book, I combine the above experience and knowledge to show how biases can lead to inaccurate predictions of the behaviour of other market participants, and how remedying those biases can lead to better predictions and major profits. Learn more on the About Me page.

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