When this fails, babies start to display signs of distress and avoid eye contact. The sorts of body postures, physical gestures and face expressions manifested by these young infants are correlates of the somatic expressions of shame in adults, such as gaze-avoidance, bodily collapse or contraction and downward head movement or position. As Heidi Maibom has argued, these bodily gestures are most commonly associated with appeasement and submissive behavior in non-human social animals : As a result it has been posited that shame behavior is a form of appeasement behavior; or in other words, withdrawing from social contact, through a bodily withdrawal, is a way to appease the other and attempt to repair or maintain social bonds.
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In this way, the expression of sad avoidance in young infants, as a result of the still or blank face test, is described by some developmental psychologists as a type of proto-shame or primitive shame Trevarthen and Aitken : 9. Primitive shame, as an affect, does not require any particular mental content, or particular set of thoughts or understandings, but rather registers as a felt experience, or affect, through the physical body.
It arises in infants when they feel their social bonds are threatened, when there is a felt sense of separation and isolation. Hence, shame, as both a signal of distress and of appeasement, is a response that arises in order to repair social bonds and ensure survival.
In fact, Colwyn Trevarthen and Kenneth J. Early experiences of primitive shame, which are deeply connected to bodily neediness and vulnerability, form the foundation of shame as it is experienced in later life, where a conscious concern about societal expectations drives the desire to maintain human connections. Concerns regarding physical survival become transmuted into concerns regarding social survival.
Namely, it reveals our necessary vulnerability with respect to others and our deep human concern to maintain social bonds and feelings of belonging. Theorizing shame as internally related to bodily vulnerability and our dependency on others yields an alternative emphasis to how we understand shame and, further, a means to assess recent philosophical writings on shame which put the emphasis on the individual. Instead, I posit that shame is fundamentally about our relations with others and our connection to our social world through our sense of embodied vulnerability and our striving for belonging.
In fact, in the case of shame, and its concomitant threat to social bonds, social death and physical death can feel imminently convergent. Through recognizing that bodily vulnerability is at the core of shame, we reveal a further layer of our ontology, namely our deep human need for belonging, an aspect of human existence that remains relatively unthematized on the level of phenomenological ontology.
Instead, we are connected to others, and necessarily so, and the task is to articulate the existing structures which are the pre-condition for our necessary relationality. Understood in this way, it seems that shame, alongside vulnerability, must be one of these structures. Furthermore, looking at more primitive forms of shame and how they relate to bodily vulnerability and our inherent dependency on others addresses a concern articulated by Guenther in relation to Sartre.
On the Cost of Shame; Comment on “Nudging by Shaming, Shaming by Nudging”
Shame is not about the lack of those relations, but instead highlights their centrality through making prominent our ontological need for social bonds and belonging. It should be noted that Zahavi posits a minimal pre-social dimension of the self as ontologically prior to the social and inter-personal self that is revealed within shame experiences.
It is commonly translated in various ways, for example as: shame; modesty; decency; respect; awe; reverence; veneration; ignominy; and disgrace see Morwood and Taylor : 8; see also Liddell and Scott : The difficulty in clearly delineating shame and guilt experiences is reflected in the extensive empirical work on this topic see, for example Tangney et al. However, it must be noted that some theorists, such as Darwin and Tomkins, do consider shame to be a primary emotion see Lewis : There are various schemata for characterizing emotion types and it is beyond the scope or interest of this work to consider which schema has most merit.
However, the schema which Michael Lewis employs and which seems to give a relevant distinction for the discussion in the present context, is to consider primary emotions those which do not require self-consciousness and secondary those which do see : 9, Bernard Williams also discusses the issue of whether shame is autonomous, in the sense that it can arise from within without the need of external assessment, or whether shame is purely heteronomous, in the sense that it is only through the eyes and values of others that shame arises see : 82— What follows in this section is a modified and updated version of that account.
For more on the difference between shame as having a physical expression as compared to body shame, or shame that is explicitly about the physical body see Dolezal a : 11f. Katherine Morris discusses this example with respect to shame about clumsiness and ugliness see : f. I also discuss the cultural history of shame and its links to the physical body in Dolezal b. See also Dolezal and Lyons Also see Klein : The psychologist Paul Gilbert, who has written extensively on shame, discusses an evolutionary account of shame, and posits that shame evolved as a means to ensure physical and social survival see While belonging, as a necessary aspect of human existence, remains relatively unthematized by phenomenologists, there is an extensive literature in psychology, sociology, anthropology, among other disciplines, that describe how our deep human need for belonging forms the foundation for all modes of social interaction.
Furthermore, there is extensive literature in evolutionary psychology discussing the human need for belonging and its central place in shaping the concerns and motivations for the embodied subject. Having a sense of belonging among other individuals and within a community is in fact a foundational aspect of our beings. These insights regarding vulnerability and shame resonate with insights in the recent work of Judith Butler.
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This vulnerability for Butler is also significantly linked to the body and our relationality to others. Through recognizing our basic dependency on others at the emergence of human life, Butler theorizes vulnerability to be central to human existence. Thank you also to the Brocher Foundation for their generous support during my residency in July Early ideas for this paper were developed during that residency. Skip to main content Skip to sections. Advertisement Hide. Download PDF. Open Access. First Online: 06 June Introduction Shame has received much attention in recent philosophical scholarship.
Before the activation of the look, the subject exists in a pre-reflective state, wholly engaged in his intentional actions. The voyeur vignette is illustrative: Let us imagine that moved by jealousy, curiosity, or vice I have just glued my ear to the door and looked through a keyhole. In this example, Sartre describes the subject as pre-reflectively engaged in the act of spying.
Philosophical Anthropology and the Interpersonal Theory of the Affect of Shame
However, Sartre argues that with the appearance of the other, this state is disrupted: But all of a sudden I hear footsteps in the hall. I suddenly realize and know that I am a voyeur; that I am spying, and so on. Furthermore, I suddenly know that the other can see all these things about me too.
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Because of shame, I no longer exist in a state of transcendent consciousness, but am now self-conscious and reflexively self-aware. However, Sartre does not stop his analysis of shame with moralistic or self-evaluative readings. While there are other self-conscious experiences, such as pride or guilt, that have a similar triangular structure to shame, and can arguably lead to the same self-reflexive didactic moments, Sartre is at pains to give shame a deeper and more symbolic significance.
While guilt and pride reveal and reflect on our actions or deeds, shame, it is argued, reveals our core identity or self. Surpassing the moralistic and self-evaluative aspects suggested by his voyeur example, Sartre argues that shame extends beyond the everyday experience of transgression in intersubjective encounters or in social settings. This ontological shame, as Sartre conceives it, is a necessary feature of every look and hence a permanent background to reflective consciousness. In this schema, shame that arises as a result of a social transgression in an intersubjective encounter or in a self-evaluative moment are meant to be conceived as examples of a more fundamental relation: the shame of having been rendered an object in the first place.
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