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philosophy

Shame And The Exposed Self by Zahavi

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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Categories
philosophy

Sartre’s Ontology

What Ontological Conclusions Does Sartre Present In His ‘Pursuit Of Being’ And With What Justification?

Understanding what defines and delimits consciousness for Sartre is the key to his ontology, because it defines two realms of being by reference to consciousness.

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Sartre’s ontology flows from his phenomenological heritage, within which he is more sympathetic to Husserl than to Heidegger. He begins from the standard phenomenological position of insisting that we can only consider appearances so that “we can say of the phenomenon that it is as it appears”. He then considers the implications of this in relation to Berkeley’s idealism (in the form of the claim ‘to be is to be perceived’) which would seem to be the natural next step, but which he does not wish to accept. One way he attacks this idealism is to claim that we lack capacity to constitute the world so that objects cannot be in consciousness (p. 7):

“The existence of the table is in fact a center of opacity for consciousness; it would require an infinite process to inventory the total contents of a thing.”

This has various interpretations: the idea may be that the table may be broken up into conceptual parts in an infinite number of ways, but more plausibly it may be understood via Husserl’s conception. Here, consciousness permits unification into a concept of a single object from the myriad ways or directions from which the table may be seen.

However, this argument fails in a similar way to the way Zeno’s paradoxes are defeated by Aristotle because both Zeno and Sartre rely on the false assumption that the finite cannot be in contact with the infinite. We know that material objects can be in contact with infinity in the mode of division, and it can be argued also that consciousness can be in contact with the infinite via the mode of belief generation. Some beliefs are generated not stored and the generative mechanism has infinite capacity. For example, if someone is aware that no prime number other than two is even, they will have a correct response if I ask whether 3,456,642 is prime which will not be an expression of a stored belief; they will be able to answer an infinite number of similar questions. So we know that consciousness has unlimited capacity in this way and there is no reason to believe it could not also have analogous unlimited capacity in respect of the table on either reading of Sartre’s meaning here for infinity.

The argument seems to be on much safer ground when he considers what consciousness of consciousness might be. He appeals elsewhere in the phenomenological style of argument (“Do you recognize in this description your own circumstances and your own impressions? You certainly knew that the tree was not you […]” which is suggestive of the ontological dualism he will espouse – although Barnes reminds us that Sartre considered himself a materialist monist.

Here he reminds us that to perceive itself, consciousness would have to stand outside itself. This appears to be a strong argument, but is perhaps somewhat mischievous in the light of his later definition of consciousness, and given also the Heideggerian influence which is present although less significantly than that of Husserl.

He also appeals to a regress argument, in opposition to both the Cartesian subject-object split and the formula of Alain, that to know is to know that we know (p. 8):

“ […] if we accept the law of the knower-known dyad, then a third term will be necessary in order for the knower to become known in turn”.

This has unfortunate consequences of requiring either a final term or an infinite regression; thus Sartre will claim that in order to avoid this, there must be “an immediate non-cognitive relation of the self to itself”.

Sartre accepts Brentano’s thesis, which holds that all consciousness is consciousness of something. This must be some transcendent being outside consciousness and “consciousness arises oriented towards a being which is not itself” (p.17). This line gives us our first clue as to the way in which Sartre will divide existence. Pure subjectivity is impossible on this analysis; so this line may be seen as a second attack on Berkeley. Sartre redefines subjectivity as self-awareness (p. 17):

“What can properly be called subjectivity is consciousness of consciousness. But this consciousness (of being) consciousness must be qualified in some way, and it can be qualified only as revealing intuition or it is nothing. Now a revealing intuition implies something revealed. Absolute subjectivity can be established only in the face of something revealed; immanence can be defined only within the apprehension of a transcendent.”

This gives us our second clue to how consciousness will be defined paradoxically as that which it is not. We start from subjectivity, an appealing beginning for those espousing a phenomenological perspective or confident in their own existence. We then note that consciousness must be real if it can be the subject of a revealing intuition of itself, and then we recall the Spinozistic line that all definition is negation, and so there must be items that are not in consciousness if we are to have consciousness. These two separate realms of being must be given together.

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This section is somewhat misleadingly entitled The Ontological Proof. This is generally used in Descartes and by the Scholastics to refer to an argument purporting to establish the existence of a deity. Nothing to surpass a perfect being can be imagined; existence is a property; lacking existence would mean lacking an aspect of perfection therefore the perfect being must possess the property of existence. This argues from the existence of one realm of being to another and this is the analogy Sartre wishes to pursue, with the difference that he goes from consciousness to not-consciousness and says that the former requires the latter: he will also say that the former is the latter.

This proof is also termed the “pre-reflective cogito” by Sartre. He means to contrast it with Descartes’ cogito, which is necessarily reflective in that it involves the argument that if something is reflecting it must exist. He wishes to appeal to our immediate intuitions that we are here and that we are not the world: “consciousness and the world are given at one stroke: essentially external to consciousness, the world is nevertheless essentially relative to consciousness”. There is perhaps an echo of Heidegger here. We can attempt to identify being-for-itself with Dasein; Sartre appears to collapse Heidegger’s other two categories of ready-to-hand and present-at-hand into being-in-itself – perhaps indicating that he sees the entire world as closer to Heidegger’s concept of ready-to-hand.

Sartre names his two domains (p. 19): “Since the being of consciousness is radically different, its meaning will necessitate a particular elucidation, in terms of the revealed-revelation of another type of being, being-for-itself, which we will define later and which is opposed to the being-in-itself of the phenomenon”.

In the introduction, these two realms of being are not fully described, but there is a suggestive passage:

“[…] being is what it is. This statement is in appearance strictly analytical. Actually it is far from being reduced to that principle of identity which is the unconditioned principle of all analytical judgments. First the formula designates a particular region of being, that of “being-in-itself”. We shall see that the being of for-itself is defined, on the contrary as being what it is not and not being what it is.”

This is an echo of what Heidegger terms ‘ek-stasis’ which is the familiar-feeling idea that part of who we are is what we are not, being thrown into the world from a past which has informed our abilities, knowledge and desires and projecting ourselves into a future which is the arena in which we will realize or fail to realize our aspirations and in the interests of which we make some of our decisions. The future and the past do not exist now, and yet we could not understand our own consciousnesses without including as an element within it that includes them both: thus being-for-itself is what it is not. As Spade puts it: “he explicitly describes the Law of Identity as what he calls a “regional principle.” That is, it applies to only one region of reality — to being-in-itself. It does not apply to the for-itself.” This is the fundamental division of the two realms of being in Sartre’s ontology.

See Also:

Merleau Ponty’s Phenomenology: What Is It And How Cogent Is It?

What Is “Theory Of Mind?”

Does Heidegger Establish That The Ready-to-hand Enjoys ‘Priority’ Over The Present-at-hand?

The Importance Of Forgetfulness For Nietzsche

References

  • J P Sartre, “Being and Nothingness”, trans. H Barnes, Routledge Classics 2003
  • J P Sartre, “Intentionality: A Fundamental Idea of Husserl’s Phenomenology”, trans. J P Fell, Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology, 1970, Vol.1, No. 2, p. 4-5.
  • H Barnes, “Sartre’s Ontology: The Revealing and Making of Being”, Cambridge Companion to Sartre, Cambridge University Press, 1992 (p. 14)
  • J P Sartre, “Intentionality: A Fundamental Idea of Husserl’s Phenomenology”, trans. J P Fell, Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology, 1970, Vol.1, No. 2, p 4-5.
  • P V Spade, Class Lecture Notes, Fall 1995, University of Indiana