Moral, Ethical and Post-Modern Guilt

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 16:30
Oral Presentation
Vessela MISHEVA, Uppsala University, Sweden
A long and authoritative tradition in the social sciences regarded guilt as the most important moral feeling that provided the basis for a higher order of morality than shame. Towards the end of last century, however, certain sociologists raised concerns that guilt was withering away in mature modernity due to increasing moral permissiveness and the breaking of previous moral restraints. This would contradict Freud’s conception that civilization both emerged and develops by virtue of an increasing sense of guilt. But Freud did not take into account the process through which the self was liberated from the sway of an over-weening super ego and transformed into a reflexive project and an object of self-governance. Giddens consequently argued that there is now a tendency to move away from guilt, and that the dynamics of guilt will be replaced on psychological center-stage by the dynamics of shame. In contrast, I argue that a transition from guilt to shame is impossible from a socio-psychological point of view. I base this position upon a sociological socio-psychological analysis of guilt as related to the Meadean I-me self, particularly given the differences between guilt and shame in respect to phenomenology, behavioral tendencies, and the structure of the self. This illustrates the difference between two different forms of guilt: primary guilt, which is a moral emotion socialized in primary socialization and often fused with shame, and secondary guilt, which is an ethical emotion socialized in secondary socialization. Accordingly, I contend that there is instead a tendency today to move from ethical guilt and the principle of equity that characterized modernity, which is unconcerned with morality and social justice, towards a higher form of post-modern guilt, which is based upon a post-modern ethics. The latter accommodates both ethical and moral allocation rules within a single principle of justice.