"You have no shame!"

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Reply Wed 26 Mar, 2008 05:53 pm
I was talking to my dad recently and he mentioned that in Central Brazil where he grew up that, from his impressions, the most insulting thing that a person (at least among young men, whom he was around most) could say to another was "You have no shame". And the saying was used sparingly because it usually led to a fight. Obviously the insult insinuated that the other person was so far gone (morally speaking) that they did not even recognize their own faults,evilness, or imorality. The only other insult that seemed almost, but not quite, as insulting was to call a person a S.O.B. (in Portuguese of course).

When he said that, I began to wonder if that would be much of an insult in the America I live in today. Then I thought that some might even take it as a compliment. Personally I think that we in general try not to associate shame with wrong behavior. Or maybe we even try to do away with the idea of wrong behaviour at all, at least as much as we can while still fuctioning as a society... We seem to want to see good actions as reflecting the character of a person (good action=good person), but we don't want to see bad actions as reflecting their character (bad action=bad person=shame).

Hopefully without reverting to a debate over what actions are good or bad (if you believe such ideas are valid)... Do you think I'm right about this general trend in America (or the West)? And if so, do you think it's healthy or unhealthy?

Should we have shame? Should I have shame?
Didymos Thomas
Reply Wed 26 Mar, 2008 06:18 pm
Shame for what?

If you've done something shameful, then you should probably be ashamed of yourself.

Though, I do not think we should be ashamed for the sake of being ashamed. Shame should be our natural reaction to doing something unacceptable. Wallowing in our shame will be of no good to us or anyone else. What will do us, and others, some good is when we recognize that we should be ashamed for doing something shameful, we correct the mistake, and try to be more mindful of what we are doing so as to not repeated our shameful deed.

I think the problem in American, and many other places I'm sure, is that we have a tendency not to care one way or the other. If people do not care how they influence others, they will have no shame. Similarly, if people do no harm to others, they will have little, if anything, to be ashamed of; however, I do not think this optimistic lack of shame applies to very much of the population - including myself.
Reply Thu 27 Mar, 2008 03:37 am
@Didymos Thomas,
Do you think I'm right about this general trend in America (or the West)? And if so, do you think it's healthy or unhealthy?

Who among us today would disagree with the assertion that morality is nothing but a subjective thing open to each individual's interpretation? Who here would dare to assert that there exists a definitive set of moral rules which should be strictly followed by everyone? I don't think that anyone would dare to do it because it is politically incorrect.

And I say this because I can't find a basis or a foundation for morality within Western society that everyone agrees with. Anyone who claims an absolute basis for morality will be shamed by others who disbelieve in the existence of such an absolute.

Here's a living example. What in the current moral climate in America is there to stop someone from becoming a gang member on the streets? Gang styles are highly popular today and there is gang fashion in the wearing of baggy clothes and gang music is widely supported in the music industry and in the entertainment world. It's obvious that moral relativism is generally embraced today and we should look forward to the next round of highly public acts of violence from school shootings to riots in the cities because the moral relativism fosters such behaviour at its source by its permissiveness.

In fact, since the terrorist attacks in America I have heard many people say the reason why we should fight is to preserve our perversities (my word) at home. The question is what are the long term consquences of giving people the 'right' to do whatever they please without being restrained by absolute moral guidelines? I think that the business community has picked up on this freedom and has given itself dramatic license to profit at any expense of the public good.

I also see that in Washington the atmosphere has become one where greed has grown and become more commonplace. In the past there was greed in Washington to be sure, but today the greed, being widely justified by the moral openness of intellectuals and the media, has become ingrained and institutionalized. So we are awaiting the structural consequences of relativism now whose consquences will be irremediable.

The utlimate question seems to be can people live independently as single indviduals with their own self-given moralities? To what extent are we dependent upon each other? What is the nature and extent of this interdependence and what, if anything, can we conclude that is transcendent to the mere invididual and is applicable to all peoples regarding their morality?
de Silentio
Reply Thu 27 Mar, 2008 05:38 am

Who among us today would disagree with the assertion that morality is nothing but a subjective thing open to each individual's interpretation?

I would. And frankly, for no good reason. I have always had this feeling that there is something out there, be it reason or a higher power, that we base our views of morality on, and that it is often the case that our interpretation of this 'objective morality' leads to down right horrible actions. I have spent a good deal of my philosophical studies and thoughts trying to convince myself that I am crazy for feeling that there are moral absolutes, but to no avail. Maybe it is my Platonic roots, or ultimately my religious roots, who knows. All I know is that for all the power that reason has, intuition is hard to overcome.

However, I would not call myself an absolute absolutist. I do feel that much of what is we call right and wrong is open for interpretation (for example, butter side up or butter side down), but there are some areas that just are not. Some things are right and some things are wrong, always. Rape is an example of this. I challenge you to show how rape is not morally wrong.

Perhaps my absolute intuitions lie within the realm of the foundations that we use for our interpretation. What I mean is that there are absolute truths, but our human nature will not let us discover them. All we can do is try to discover them the best we can, and recognize when we are wrong.


As for shame, shame is an important aspect of our human nature. Plato felt that shame was a driving factor in being courageous. Shame is a big motivator, and can push a person to do the right thing, or stop them from doing the wrong thing (if, in fact, we can know what right and wrong are).
Reply Thu 27 Mar, 2008 09:58 am
@de Silentio,
Looking for a set of moral laws or virtues to live by? try Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography, nothing more simple than that!
If your life is right and true, there is nothing to br ashamed of, is there?

step314 phil
Reply Thu 27 Mar, 2008 12:11 pm
Pythagorean wrote:
Who among us today would disagree with the assertion that morality is nothing but a subjective thing open to each individual's interpretation?

I don't know why this bothers people so much. Who among us today would disagree with the assertion that there are various definitions of (say) the differential in calculus leading to totally different objects? But no one goes around in math fretting that the concept of the differential is "nothing but a subjective thing open to each individual's interpretation." Is there any evidence for morality being "nothing but a subjective thing open to each individual's interpretation" other than that the definitions people have of morality are vague or different from one person to the other, just as with the case with most concepts?

It's interesting that Brazilians viewed shamelessness as something horrible. We U.S. Americans don't tend to be like that now. Do many people fight duels in Brazil? From what I understand, the concept of "honor" was a big thing in the antebellum South, and it led to lots of frivolous duels, etc.
Reply Thu 24 Apr, 2008 07:37 pm
To paint a broad stroke, there are really two mechanisms personal mechanisms a culture will use to enforce proper behavior and every culture emphasizes one over the other. Shame (other people shunning or enforcing your moral code) and guilt (the internalization of a moral code). They are closely related and often confused. In many cultures especially rural cultures or recently rural cultures where population density is low shame is the controlling factor, mostly because its easy to know what everyone else is up to. In places with larger population densities or cultures stemming from large population density areas, guilt becomes the dominant mode. Hence the recent trend in the united states to (educate) for proper behavior versus, punish for not behaving properly. The guilt/shame issue has very little to do with universal ethical values, it deals with the ethical values of the dominant cultural force of the area.
Reply Thu 24 Apr, 2008 10:51 pm
I am going to argue several points. I do not agree with the bold statement that one should heed his or her shame because shame is not defined. I could be ashamed of helping an old lady across a busy street for instance. Most cultures deem such an act admirable, but there could be some who do not. People who are preoccupied with others who are supposed to think them "tough" or something might for instance. We can see clearlythat shame is about what a group has deemed "shamefull"; it is learned behavior. So what one does is learn that "A" is shamefull behavior and then feel ashamed when behaving in a way as "A". I am inclinded to agree or disagree depending on the definition of "A"; but that would say something of the behavior my society has taught me.

We can imagine two opposite cultures can deem any learned behavior ("A") as shamefull or unshamefull. Seeing as "A" can be bot shamefull or unshamefull we can conclude that the "A" is neither. "Shame" is about our definitions.

Thinking along these lines I would like to point out that the opening poster (NeitherExtreme) asked a good question: "Is it a good idea to have shame?". The thing with shame is that one devides all the possible actions one can make into two groups; shamefull and unshamefull or "good" and "bad". In doing so one creates a situation in which certain acts should be avoided at all costs because it is "bad". This reminds me of virtue ethics. This deals with a "rulebase" telling us which behavior is "good" and which is "bad". Above I clearly showed that such thing depend on the definitions used and the values are not stable, but merely "randomly picked" by a society. A side effect of this rulebase is that people tend to live by them, creating a fine "line" in society between the "rightious" and "unrightious". A good point of NeitherExtreme was that being "unrightious" at the very least leads to a shunning in the society, but can also lead to lies on what one has doen or to lies to oneself on undertaking the "bad" actions. In doing so one denies the light of day to such actions and thereby create a situation which cannot better itself (it cannot be spoken of, nor thought of).

My argument is that in doing so one creates exactly the line that one has drawn, making the "bad" act irrationally to protect themselves from the "good" (which have the moral right to "punish" the "bad"). Thereby a selffullfilling argument is made. So defining "right" or "wrong" creates "wrong". Perhaps humanity needs to think of moral skepticism?

I think the best argument for moral skepticism is the fact that the formation of a dependable "rulebase" relies heavily on a standing outside of morality. A standing outside of morality would depend on a standing outside of the human condition. What exactly this human condition is, is even unclear. An antropological study might be called for to determine anything worth saying in matters of moral "rulebases". Seeing as any human is unequipped to judge, perhaps it would be best not to judge at all; arriving at skepticism again.

Hope this helps for anybody Wink
Reply Sun 27 Apr, 2008 05:06 am
Why it is shameful to be shameless...

Maybe it takes trust in your community's competence at knowing what your nature is/what is good for you, and trust in their good will, to let them mold you with praise and shame, really let it affect how you look at yourself.

If your trust is not betrayed, it is the fullest? way to live? If it is betrayed, you're screwed somewhat.

Maybe that trust can never altogether be justified with good sense, so it takes an element of faith. So not trusting is not necessarily just a well reasoned disbelieve in peoples competence and good will, but could also be you're to yellow to take the chance to live in the best way for you.

So the shame is in the petty fear.

hm. I'm full of it????
Reply Thu 29 May, 2008 03:31 am
NeitherExtreme, This is a deep and meaningful question well woth thinking about. I will do so and contribute again in a few days time. Regards, iconoclast.
Reply Thu 29 May, 2008 08:38 am
@Didymos Thomas,
Didymos made a good point in that having shame is useless if you do nothing about it. I think what we mustn't forget is that shame can be a tool of the shamer, to shape and mold the behaviour of the one being shamed. A much more ethical question, at least in my mind, is where and when must a conscience society draw the lines on who is to be shamed and for what reason? If the individual shamed does something about their shame, then a certain power has been given to society over the individual. But doing something about shame isn't always positive; suicide, for example, springs to mind. When and how is it the responsibility of society to incurr shame or prevent shame from being incurred? Or should society, which is a rather broad target, be held accountable at all even? Does the onus for how one deals with shame, whether to positive or negative ends, or simply disregarding it, fall entirely on the individual regardless of his social parameters? If so, what does that say for the society within which the individual lives?

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