Studies in Philosophy and Education

, Volume 33, Issue 5, pp 495–511 | Cite as

Is Shame an Ugly Emotion? Four Discourses—Two Contrasting Interpretations for Moral Education

  • Kristján KristjánssonEmail author


This paper offers a sustained philosophical meditation on contrasting interpretations of the emotion of shame within four academic discourses—social psychology, psychological anthropology, educational psychology and Aristotelian scholarship—in order to elicit their implications for moral education. It turns out that within each of these discourses there is a mainstream interpretation which emphasises shame’s expendability or moral ugliness (and where shame is typically described as guilt’s ugly sister), but also a heterodox interpretation which seeks to retrieve and defend shame. As the heterodox interpretation seems to offer a more realistic picture of shame’s role in moral education, the provenance of the mainstream interpretation merits scrutiny. I argue that social scientific studies of the concept of shame, based on its supposed phenomenology, incorporate biases in favour of excessive, rather than medial, forms of the emotion. I suggest ways forward for more balanced analyses of the nature, moral justification and educative role of shame.


Shame Guilt Moral education Aristotle Conceptual analyses 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Jubilee Centre for Character and Values, School of EducationUniversity of BirminghamBirminghamUK

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