, Volume 16, Issue 4, pp 431-439
Date: 13 Jul 2010

Shame and Philosophy

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Shame is a ubiquitous and highly intriguing feature of human experience. It can motivate but it can also paralyse. It is something which one can legitimately demand of another, but is not usually experienced as a choice. Perpetrators of atrocities can remain defiantly immune to shame while their victims are racked by it. It would be hard to understand any society or culture without understanding the characteristic occasions upon which shame is expected and where it is mitigated. Yet, one can survey much of the literature in social and political theory over the last century and find barely a footnote to this omnipresent emotional experience. The two books under review aim to rectify this lacuna.

These two works have much in common. Both are concerned with the relationship between shame and the great genocides of the last century. Morgan’s focus is upon the perpetrators and bystanders while Hutchinson’s interest is in the experience of survivors, such as Primo Levi. Both are troubled by p ...