The audience in shame

  • Stephen BeroEmail author


Many experiences of shame centrally involve exposure. This has suggested to a number of writers that shame is essentially a social emotion that involves being exposed to the view or appraisal of an audience—call this the Audience Thesis. Others reject the Audience Thesis on the basis of private experiences of shame that seem to involve no exposure. This disagreement marks a basic fault line in theorizing about shame. I develop and explore a simple but effective way to shield the Audience Thesis from the private shame objection, by understanding the notion of an audience in a very minimal way. Rather than conceiving of the audience in terms of an other whose appraisal is an element in shame, we can conceive of shame generally as a response to appraisals of the subject—either by others or by the subject herself. On this view, shame requires an audience in the sense that it is not a first-order self-appraisal—like disappointment in or disapproval of oneself—but rather an appraisal of appraisals. This approach yields substantial benefits: it renders the private shame objection harmless; it explains why exposure cases strike us as particularly paradigmatic instances of shame; it clarifies what is happening when we feel shame before appraisals with which we do not agree; it helps to understand how it may be possible to feel shame in the face of neutral or even positive appraisals; and it captures a significant but neglected sense in which shame might be considered a social emotion.


Shame Audience Self-assessment Social Emotion 



Special thanks to Erik Encarnacion, Andrei Marmor, Jon Quong, Alex Sarch, Mark Schroeder, Beth Snyder, Gary Watson, Aness Webster, and an anonymous reviewer for this journal, as well as to an audience at the 2017 Pacific APA and to Cecilea Mun for helpful comments on that occasion. This work has been supported in part by a University of Southern California Provost’s Ph.D. Fellowship and by an Irving and Jeanne Glovin Award given by the Oskar Schindler Humanities Foundation.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Law, Faculty of Arts and Social SciencesUniversity of SurreyGuildfordUK

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