Welcome to the Nexus of Ethics, Psychology, Morality, Philosophy and Health Care

Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, technology, health care, and philosophy
Showing posts with label Shame. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Shame. Show all posts

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Moral injury in post-9/11 combat-experienced military veterans: A qualitative thematic analysis.

Kalmbach, K. C., Basinger, E. D.,  et al. (2023). 
Psychological Services. Advance online publication.


War zone exposure is associated with enduring negative mental health effects and poorer responses to treatment, in part because this type of trauma can entail crises of conscience or moral injury. Although a great deal of attention has been paid to posttraumatic stress disorder and fear-based physiological aspects of trauma and suffering, comparatively less attention has been given to the morally injurious dimension of trauma. Robust themes of moral injury were identified in interviews with 26 post-9/11 military veterans. Thematic analysis identified 12 themes that were subsumed under four categories reflecting changes, shifts, or ruptures in worldview, meaning making, identity, and relationships. Moral injury is a unique and challenging clinical construct with impacts on the individual as well as at every level of the social ecological system. Recommendations are offered for addressing moral injury in a military population; implications for community public health are noted.

Impact Statement

Military veterans who experienced moral injury—events that violate deeply held moral convictions or beliefs—reported fundamental changes following the morally injurious event (MIE). The MIE ruptured their worldview, or sense of right and wrong, and they struggled to reconcile a prior belief system or identity with their existence post-MIE. Absent a specific evidence-based intervention, clinicians are encouraged to consider adaptations to existing treatment models but to be aware that moral injury often does not respond to treatment as usual for PTSD or adjacent comorbid conditions.

The article is paywalled, with the link noted above.

My addition:

The thematic analysis identified 12 themes related to moral injury, which were grouped into four categories:
  • Changes in worldview: Veterans who experienced moral injury often reported changes in their worldview, such as questioning their beliefs about the world, their place in it, and their own goodness.
  • Changes in meaning making: Veterans who experienced moral injury often struggled to make meaning of their experiences, which could lead to feelings of emptiness, despair, and hopelessness.
  • Changes in identity: Veterans who experienced moral injury often reported changes in their identity, such as feeling like they were no longer the same person they were before the war.
  • Changes in relationships: Veterans who experienced moral injury often reported changes in their relationships with family, friends, and others. They may have felt isolated, misunderstood, or ashamed of their experiences.

Friday, April 21, 2023

Moral Shock

Stockdale, K. (2022).
Journal of the American Philosophical
Association, 8(3), 496-511.


This paper defends an account of moral shock as an emotional response to intensely bewildering events that are also of moral significance. This theory stands in contrast to the common view that shock is a form of intense surprise. On the standard model of surprise, surprise is an emotional response to events that violated one's expectations. But I show that we can be morally shocked by events that confirm our expectations. What makes an event shocking is not that it violated one's expectations, but that the content of the event is intensely bewildering (and bewildering events are often, but not always, contrary to our expectations). What causes moral shock is, I argue, our lack of emotional preparedness for the event. And I show that, despite the relative lack of attention to shock in the philosophical literature, the emotion is significant to moral, social, and political life.


I have argued that moral shock is an emotional response to intensely bewildering events that are also of moral significance. Although shock is typically considered to be an intense form of surprise, where surprise is an emotional response to events that violate our expectations or are at least unexpected, I have argued that the contrary-expectation model is found wanting. For it seems that we are sometimes shocked by the immoral actions of others even when we expected them to behave in just the ways that they did. What is shocking is what is intensely bewildering—and the bewildering often, but not always, tracks the unexpected. The extent to which such events shock us is, I have argued, a function of our felt readiness to experience them. When we are not emotionally prepared for what we expect to occur, we might find ourselves in the grip of moral shock.

There is much more to be said about the emotion of moral shock and its significance to moral, social, and political life. This paper is meant to be a starting point rather than a decisive take on an undertheorized emotion. But by understanding more deeply the nature and effects of moral shock, we can gain richer insight into a common response to immoral actions; what prevents us from responding well in the moment; and how the brief and fleeting, yet intense events in our lives affect agency, responsibility, and memory. We might also be able to make better sense of the bewildering social and political events that shock us and those to which we have become emotionally resilient.

This appears to be a philosophical explication of "Moral Injury", as can be found multiple places on this web site.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Are there really so many moral emotions? Carving morality at its functional joints

Fitouchi L., André J., & Baumard N.
To appear in L. Al-Shawaf & T. K. Shackelford (Eds.)
The Oxford Handbook of Evolution and the Emotions.
New York: Oxford University Press.


In recent decades, a large body of work has highlighted the importance of emotional processes in moral cognition. Since then, a heterogeneous bundle of emotions as varied as anger, guilt, shame, contempt, empathy, gratitude, and disgust have been proposed to play an essential role in moral psychology.  However, the inclusion of these emotions in the moral domain often lacks a clear functional rationale, generating conflations between merely social and properly moral emotions. Here, we build on (i) evolutionary theories of morality as an adaptation for attracting others’ cooperative investments, and on (ii) specifications of the distinctive form and content of moral cognitive representations. On this basis, we argue that only indignation (“moral anger”) and guilt can be rigorously characterized as moral emotions, operating on distinctively moral representations. Indignation functions to reclaim benefits to which one is morally entitled, without exceeding the limits of justice. Guilt functions to motivate individuals to compensate their violations of moral contracts. By contrast, other proposed moral emotions (e.g. empathy, shame, disgust) appear only superficially associated with moral cognitive contents and adaptive challenges. Shame doesn’t track, by design, the respect of moral obligations, but rather social valuation, the two being not necessarily aligned. Empathy functions to motivate prosocial behavior between interdependent individuals, independently of, and sometimes even in contradiction with the prescriptions of moral intuitions. While disgust is often hypothesized to have acquired a moral role beyond its pathogen-avoidance function, we argue that both evolutionary rationales and psychological evidence for this claim remain inconclusive for now.


In this chapter, we have suggested that a specification of the form and function of moral representations leads to a clearer picture of moral emotions. In particular, it enables a principled distinction between moral and non-moral emotions, based on the particular types of cognitive representations they process. Moral representations have a specific content: they represent a precise quantity of benefits that cooperative partners owe each other, a legitimate allocation of costs and benefits that ought to be, irrespective of whether it is achieved by people’s actual behaviors. Humans intuit that they have a duty not to betray their coalition, that innocent people do not deserve to be harmed, that their partner has a right not to be cheated on. Moral emotions can thus be defined as superordinate programs orchestrating cognition, physiology and behavior in accordance with the specific information encoded in these moral representations.    On this basis, indignation and guilt appear as prototypical moral emotions. Indignation (“moral anger”) is activated when one receives fewer benefits than one deserves, and recruits bargaining mechanisms to enforce the violated moral contract. Guilt, symmetrically, is sensitive to one’s failure to honor one’s obligations toward others, and motivates compensation to provide them the missing benefits they deserve. By contrast, often-proposed “moral” emotions – shame, empathy, disgust – seem not to function to compute distinctively moral representations of cooperative obligations, but serve other, non-moral functions – social status management, interdependence, and pathogen avoidance (Figure 2). 

Monday, July 25, 2022

Morally Exhausted: Why Russian Soldiers are Refusing to Fight in the Unprovoked War on Ukraine

Tіmofеі Rоzhаnskіy
Originally posted 23 July 22

Here is an excerpt:

I Had To Refuse So I Could Stay Alive

Russia’s troops in Ukraine are largely made up of contract soldiers: volunteer personnel who sign fixed-term contracts for service. The range of experience varies. Other units include troops from private military companies like Vagner, or specialized, semiautonomous units overseen by Chechnya’s strongman leader, Ramzan Kadyrov.

The discontent in Kaminsky’s 11th Brigade is not an isolated case, and there are indications that Russian commanders are trying different tactics to keep the problem from spiraling out of control: for example, publicly shaming soldiers who are refusing to fight.

In Buryatia, where the 11th Brigade is based, dozens of personnel have sought legal assistance from local activists, seeking to break their contracts and get out of service in Ukraine, for various reasons.

In the southern Russian town of Budyonnovsk, on the home base for the 205th Cossack Motorized Rifle Brigade, commanders have erected a “wall of shame” with the names, ranks, and photographs of some 300 soldiers who have disobeyed orders in the Ukraine war.

“They forgot their military oaths, the ceremonial promise, their vows of duty to their Fatherland,” the board reads.

In conversations via the Russian social media giant VK, several soldiers from the brigade disputed the circumstances behind their inclusion on the wall of shame. All asked that their names be withheld for fear of further punishment or retaliation by commanders.

“I understand everything, of course. I signed a contract. I’m supposed to be ready for any situation; this war, this special operation,” one soldier wrote. “But I was thinking, I’m still young; at any moment, a piece of shrapnel, a bullet could fly into my head.”

The soldier said he broke his contract and resigned from the brigade before the February 24 invasion, once he realized it was in fact going forward.

“I thought a long time about it and came to the decision. I understood that I had to refuse so I could stay alive,” he said. “I don’t regret it one bit.”

Friday, May 27, 2022

What to Do If Your Job Compromises Your Morals

R. Carucci and L. N. Praslova
Harvard Business Review
Originally posted 29 APR 22

Here are two excerpts:

The emerging scholarship on reconciling the various terms used to describe responses to moral events points toward a continuum of moral harm. Of course, the complexity and variety of moral situations make any classification imperfect. Situations involving committing moral transgressions are more likely to lead to shame and guilt, while being a victim of betrayal is more likely to result in anger or sadness. In addition, there are also individual differences in sensitivity to morally distressing events, which can be determined by both biology and experience. Nevertheless, here is a useful summary:

  • Moral challenges are isolated incidents of relatively low-stakes transgressions. For example, workers might be instructed to use lower-quality materials in creating a product (e.g., substituting a non-organic product when running out of organic). A manager may require an employee to stay late, as a rare exception. This may result in a somewhat distressing but transitory “moral frustration,” with moderate levels of anger or guilt.
  • Moral stressors can lead to more significant moral distress. This may involve more substantial and/or regular moral transgressions — for example, a manager pushing employees to stay late several times every month, or an HR professional administering a morale survey knowing that the results will never be used, just like all the previous surveys. A dental practice may upsell patients on unnecessary, but not harmful treatments. This may result in negative moral emotions that are bothersome and might be lasting, but do not interfere with daily functioning. (However, in some nursing research, the experience referred to as “moral distress” is seen as very intense, possibly meeting the criteria for moral injury).
  • Injurious events are the most egregious. Executives could pressure a manager into manipulating burned-out employees to regularly sacrifice their time off and well being, while the organization intentionally keeps positions open for months. A health care worker might be required to provide medical treatments that are likely to lead to more treatments even though a cure is available. Situations like these could result in a highly distressing moral injury in which negative moral emotions are sufficiently intense and frequent to interfere with daily functioning. In particular, a person may experience intense shame leading to self-isolation or self-harm, or may quit their job in disgust. This level of moral stress response is similar to and at least partially overlaps with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Moral injuries can leave lasting impacts on our psyche, but they don’t have to remain debilitating. Like other trauma and hurt, we can grow from them. We can find the resilience we need to rise above the injury and restore our moral centers. Sometimes we’re able to take the environments along on that journey, and sometimes we have to leave them. Either way, if you’re carrying the weight of moral injury, don’t wait until it overtakes your whole outlook on life, and yourself. Find the courage to face what you’ve experienced and done, and with it, reclaim the values you hold most dear.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Forms and Functions of the Social Emotions

Sznycer, D., Sell, A., & Lieberman, D. (2021). 
Current Directions in Psychological Science. 


In engineering, form follows function. It is therefore difficult to understand an engineered object if one does not examine it in light of its function. Just as understanding the structure of a lock requires understanding the desire to secure valuables, understanding structures engineered by natural selection, including emotion systems, requires hypotheses about adaptive function. Social emotions reliably solved adaptive problems of human sociality. A central function of these emotions appears to be the recalibration of social evaluations in the minds of self and others. For example, the anger system functions to incentivize another individual to value your welfare more highly when you deem the current valuation insufficient; gratitude functions to consolidate a cooperative relationship with another individual when there are indications that the other values your welfare; shame functions to minimize the spread of discrediting information about yourself and the threat of being devalued by others; and pride functions to capitalize on opportunities to become more highly valued by others. Using the lens of social valuation, researchers are now mapping these and other social emotions at a rapid pace, finding striking regularities across industrial and small-scale societies and throughout history.

From the Shame portion

The behavioral repertoire of shame is broad. From the perspective of the disgraced or to-be-disgraced individual, a trait (e.g., incompetence) or course of action (e.g., theft) that fellow group members view negatively can be shielded from others’ censure at each of various junctures: imagination, decision making, action, information diffusion within the community, and audience reaction. Shame appears to have authority over devaluation-minimizing responses relevant to each of these junctures. For example, shame can lead people to turn away from courses of actions that might lead others to devalue them, to interrupt their execution of discrediting actions, to conceal and destroy reputationally damaging information about themselves, and to hide. When an audience finds discrediting information about the focal individual and condemns or attacks that individual, the shamed individual may apologize, signal submission, appease, cooperate, obfuscate, lie, shift the blame to others, or react with aggression. These behaviors are heterogeneous from a tactical standpoint; some even work at cross-purposes if mobilized concurrently. But each of these behaviors appears to have the strategic potential to limit the threat of devaluation in certain contexts, combinations, or sequences.

Such shame-inspired behaviors as hiding, scapegoating, and aggressing are undesirable from the standpoint of victims and third parties. This has led to the view that shame is an ugly and maladaptive emotion (Tangney et al., 1996). However, note that those behaviors can enhance the welfare of the focal individual, who is pressed to escape detection and minimize or counteract devaluation by others. Whereas the consequences of social devaluation are certainly ugly for the individual being devalued, the form-function approach suggests instead that shame is an elegantly engineered system that transmits bad news of the potential for devaluation to the array of counter-devaluation responses available to the focal individual.

Important data points to share with trainees.  A good refreshed for seasoned therapists.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Treating “Moral” Injuries

Anna Harwood-Gross
Scientific American
Originally posted 24 March 20

Here is an excerpt:

Though PTSD symptoms such as avoidance of reminders of the traumatic event and intrusive thought patterns may also be present in moral injury, they appear to serve different purposes, with PTSD sufferers avoiding fear and moral injury sufferers avoiding shame triggers. Few comparison studies of PTSD and moral injury exist, yet there has been research that indirectly compares the two conditions by differentiating between fear-based and non-fear-based (i.e., moral injury) forms of PTSD, which have been demonstrated to have different neurobiological markers. In the context of the military, there are countless examples of potentially morally injurious events (PMIEs), which can include killing or wounding others, engaging in retribution or disproportionate violence, or failing to save the life of a comrade, child or civilian. The experience of PMIEs has been demonstrated to lead to a larger range of psychological distress symptoms, including higher levels of guilt, anger, shame, depression and social isolation, than those seen in traditional PTSD profiles.

Guilt is difficult to address in therapy and often lingers following standardized PTSD treatment (that is, if the sufferer is able to access therapy). It may, in fact, be a factor in the more than 49 percent of veterans who drop out of evidence-based PTSD treatment or in why, at times, up to 72% of sufferers, despite meaningful improvement in their symptoms, do not actually recover enough after such treatment for their PTSD diagnosis to be removed. Most often, moral injury symptoms that are present in the clinic are addressed through traditional PTSD treatments, with thoughts of guilt and shame treated similarly to other distorted cognitions. When guilt and the events it relates to are treated as “a feeling and not a fact,” as psychologist Lisa Finlay put it in a 2015 paper, there is an attempt to lessen or relieve such emotions while taking a shortcut to avoid experiencing those that are legitimate and reasonable after-wartime activities. Continuing, Finlay stated that “the idea that we might get good, as a profession, at talking people out of guilt following their involvement in traumatic incidents is frighteningly short-sighted in more ways than one.”

The info is here.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Three Unresolved Issues in Human Morality

Jerome Kagan
Perspectives on Psychological Science
First Published March 28, 2018


This article discusses three major, but related, controversies surrounding the idea of morality. Is the complete pattern of features defining human morality unique to this species? How context dependent are moral beliefs and the emotions that often follow a violation of a moral standard? What developmental sequence establishes a moral code? This essay suggests that human morality rests on a combination of cognitive and emotional processes that are missing from the repertoires of other species. Second, the moral evaluation of every behavior, whether by self or others, depends on the agent, the action, the target of the behavior, and the context. The ontogeny of morality, which begins with processes that apes possess but adds language, inference, shame, and guilt, implies that humans are capable of experiencing blends of thoughts and feelings for which no semantic term exists. As a result, conclusions about a person’s moral emotions based only on questionnaires or interviews are limited to this evidence.

From the Summary

The human moral sense appears to contain some features not found in any other animal. The judgment of a behavior as moral or immoral, by self or community, depends on the agent, the action, and the setting. The development of a moral code involves changes in both cognitive and affective processes that are the result of maturation and experience. The ideas in this essay have pragmatic implications for psychological research. If most humans want others to regard them as moral agents, and, therefore, good persons, their answers to questionnaires or to interviewers as well as behaviors in laboratories will tend to conform to their understanding of what the examiner regards as the society’s values. That is why investigators should try to gather evidence on the behaviors that their participants exhibit in their usual settings.

The article is here.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

What can we learn from Dartmouth?

Leah Somerville
Originally posted November 20, 2018

Here are two excerpts:

There are many urgent discussions that are needed right now to address the cultural problems in academia. We need to find ways to support trainees who have experienced misconduct, to identify malicious actors, to reconsider departmental and institutional policies, and more. Here, I would like to start a discussion aimed at the scientific community of primarily well-intentioned actors, using my own experiences as a lens to consider how we can all be more attuned to the slippery slope on which a toxic environment can be built.

Blurry boundaries. In scientific laboratories, it can be easy to blur lines between the professional and the personal. People in labs spend a lot of time together, travel together, and in some cases socialize together. Some people covet a close, “family-like” lab environment. For faculty members, what constitutes appropriate boundaries is not always obvious; after all, new faculty members are often barely older than their trainees. But whether founded on good intentions or not, close personal relationships can be a slippery slope because of the inherent power differential between trainee and mentor.


Shame and isolation. It is harder to appreciate the sheer dysfunctionality of an environment if you believe you are experiencing it alone. Yet even if multiple individuals have similar experiences, they may hesitate to share them out of fear and shame or a sense of pluralistic ignorance. The result? Toxic environments can remain shrouded in secrecy, allowing them to perpetuate and intensify over time. For example, a friend of mine from this era did not tell me until years later that she was the recipient of an unwanted sexual advance. This event and its aftermath had an excruciating impact on her experience as a graduate student, yet she suffered through this turmoil in silence.

It is crucial that people in positions of power appreciate the shame and isolation that can accompany being a recipient of inappropriate behavior and the great personal cost of coming forward. Silence should not be interpreted as a signal that the events were not serious and damaging. Moreover, students need to perceive that clear channels of support and communication are available to them.

The info is here.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Moral Injury and Religiosity in US Veterans With Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms

Harold Koenig and others
The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease: February 28, 2018


Moral injury (MI) involves feelings of shame, grief, meaninglessness, and remorse from having violated core moral beliefs related to traumatic experiences. This multisite cross-sectional study examined the association between religious involvement (RI) and MI symptoms, mediators of the relationship, and the modifying effects of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) severity in 373 US veterans with PTSD symptoms who served in a combat theater. Assessed were demographic, military, religious, physical, social, behavioral, and psychological characteristics using standard measures of RI, MI symptoms, PTSD, depression, and anxiety. MI was widespread, with over 90% reporting high levels of at least one MI symptom and the majority reporting at least five symptoms or more. In the overall sample, religiosity was inversely related to MI in bivariate analyses (r = −0.25, p < 0.0001) and multivariate analyses (B = −0.40, p = 0.001); however, this relationship was present only among veterans with severe PTSD (B = −0.65, p = 0.0003). These findings have relevance for the care of veterans with PTSD.

The paper is here.

Friday, November 18, 2016

The shame of public shaming

Russell Blackford
The Conversation
Originally published May 6, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

Shaming is on the rise. We’ve shifted – much of the time – to a mode of scrutinising each other for purity. Very often, we punish decent people for small transgressions or for no real transgressions at all. Online shaming, conducted via the blogosphere and our burgeoning array of social networking services, creates an environment of surveillance, fear and conformity.

The making of a call-out culture

I noticed the trend – and began to talk about it – around five years ago. I’d become increasingly aware of cases where people with access to large social media platforms used them to “call out” and publicly vilify individuals who’d done little or nothing wrong. Few onlookers were prepared to support the victims. Instead, many piled on with glee (perhaps to signal their own moral purity; perhaps, in part, for the sheer thrill of the hunt).

Since then, the trend to an online call-out culture has continued and even intensified, but something changed during 2015. Mainstream journalists and public intellectuals finally began to express their unease.

The article is here.

Friday, June 24, 2016

War Wounds That Time Alone Can't Heal

by Jane E. Brody
The New York Times
Originally published June 6, 2016

Here are two excerpts:

Therapists both within and outside the Department of Veterans Affairs increasingly recognize moral injury as the reason so many returning vets are self-destructive and are not helped, or only partly helped, by established treatments for PTSD.

Moral injury has some of the symptoms of PTSD, especially anger, depression, anxiety, nightmares, insomnia and self-medication with drugs or alcohol. And it may benefit from some of the same treatments. But moral injury has an added burden of guilt, grief, shame, regret, sorrow and alienation that requires a very different approach to reach the core of a sufferer’s psyche.


Therapists who study and treat moral injury have found that no amount of medication can relieve the pain of trying to live with an unbearable moral burden. They say those suffering from moral injury contribute significantly to the horrific toll of suicide among returning vets — estimated as high as 18 to 22 a day in the United States, more than the number lost in combat.

The article is here.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Shame and Blame in the Therapeutic Relationship

Ami Schattner
JAMA Intern Med. Published online April 04, 2016.

Here is an excerpt:

[The physician-patient relationship] requires full commitment providing information, empathy, and bonding obligatory for patient-centeredness, patient satisfaction, trust, and adherence which translate into "hard" health outcomes. Because clinical care is strongly dependent on this human interaction, it is also susceptible to inherent biases (mostly unintentional) that are one major cause of variation in care. In this context, providers' reactions to certain patients may involve negative feelings adversely affecting the degree of effort invested in their care, diagnostic accuracy, treatment decisions, and level of communication, empathy and support. Stigmatized patients may get different (less than optimal) care, just as "nice" patients may be preferred and receive better care. Instead of empathy and bonding, which have a positive impact on outcomes, censure, absent compassion, diminished bonding, and poor support toward patients who caused their own wretched state are likely, as well as actual variation in care, all compromising patient outcomes. For example, poor provider's empathy and bonding on the part of the clinician was linked to low patient adherence and may be associated with actual discrimination and rationing.

The article is here.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The ‘blame and shame society’

Jean Knox
Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy
Volume 28, Issue 3, 2014


In this opinion piece, I explore some of the social and cultural factors that contribute to the creation of feelings of shame in those members of society who are vulnerable or disadvantaged in various ways. I suggest that a ‘blame and shame’ attitude has become pervasive in today's political culture, reassuring the comfortable and privileged that they deserve their own success and allowing them to blame the disadvantaged for their own misfortune. Those who feel that they must become invulnerable in order to succeed therefore project their own vulnerable child onto the vulnerable in our society and attack and condemn in others what they most fear in themselves.


One of the most intractable problems all therapists encounter is shame – the persistent negative sense of self that is evident when patients persist in describing themselves as disgusting, bad, dirty and all the other words of self-loathing which reflect a deeply painful self-hatred that the person clings to in spite of all attempts to shift it. These feelings are often accompanied by self-harm of various kinds – repeated cutting or overdosing, alcohol or drug abuse, eating disorders and by difficulty in affect regulation, mentalisation, attachment and sexuality.

An understanding of the unique personal relationships that have contributed to this kind of self-disgust and shame is vital if psychotherapists are to help their patients as effectively as possible. Herman (1992) first identified this as one key part of complex PTSD, suggesting that it arises from chronic developmental trauma.

The entire article is here.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

A tale of vigilante justice

Adulterers, hackers, and the Ashley Madison affair

By Russell Blackford
The Conversation
Originally published on August 23, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

Whatever you think about adulterous liaisons – even if you regard them as outrageous, destructive, morally wicked breaches of trust – this sort of vigilante justice is unacceptable. When vigilantes set out to punish sinners or wrongdoers, the results can be perverse, disproportionate, sometimes extreme and often irreversible. Even the supposed victims of wrongdoers may end up worse off.

It is difficult enough to judge the wisdom of revealing an adulterous affair to an affected individual when the facts are fairly clear and the consequences are possibly manageable. Indiscriminately letting loose this kind of data, affecting millions of personal situations, is atrociously arrogant and callous.

I’m sure that customers signed up to Ashley Madison for a wide range of reasons. Some may have done little or nothing wrong, even by conventional standards of sexual morality, but will now be held up for public shaming. Some may have been sufficiently interested in a phenomenon such as Ashley Madison to want to research it from the inside. Many may simply have been curious.

Others may have toyed with the idea of an affair, but not in a serious way – they may have been driven by their curiosity and other emotions to browse the site, but gone no further. Some may have been in open relationships of one kind or another: but even so, they could be embarrassed, shamed and otherwise harmed by revelations about their memberships.

The entire article is here.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Moral Emotions: Reclaiming the Evidence of the Heart

Book reviewed by John J. Drummond, Fordham University

Anthony J. Steinbock, Moral Emotions: Reclaiming the Evidence of the Heart, Northwestern University Press, 2014, 339pp., $34.95 (pbk), ISBN 9780810129566.

Here is an excerpt:

In this context, the other emotions of self-givenness -- shame and guilt -- function both as self-critique and as challenges to pride. Shame and guilt are diremptive experiences that clearly reveal the interpersonality of one's personhood. In shame "I am not only given as exposed before another, but as receiving myself from another" (76). Shame self-critically apprehends a loss of self-value, but, more importantly, shame reorients the self toward its positive value insofar as it motivates one to modify one's self-understanding of who one is. This self-revelation is what enables shame to serve as a critique of the prideful self, and its futurity points to a Myself as what I ought to be and can be. Shame thereby annuls pride and orients us toward an interpersonal (even if only myself and Myself) normativity. Guilt similarly involves a diremption, but guilt focuses not on what I am but what I did. I stand before you accused by you and responsible to you for what I have done and will do.

The entire book review is here.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Moral Injury

By David Wood
Huffington Post
Originally published March 17, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

It is what experts are coming to identify as a moral injury: the pain that results from damage to a person’s moral foundation. In contrast to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which springs from fear, moral injury is a violation of what each of us considers right or wrong. The diagnosis of PTSD has been defined and officially endorsed since 1980 by the mental health community, and those suffering from it have earned broad public sympathy and understanding. Moral injury is not officially recognized by the Defense Department. But it is moral injury, not PTSD, that is increasingly acknowledged as the signature wound of this generation of veterans: a bruise on the soul, akin to grief or sorrow, with lasting impact on the individuals and on their families.

Moral injury raises uncomfortable questions about what happens in war, the dark experiences that many veterans have always been reluctant to talk about. Are the young Americans who volunteer for military service prepared for the ethical ambiguity that lies ahead? Can they be hardened against moral injury? Should they be?

The entire article is here.

There will be an upcoming podcast on morality and the moral self.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Doctors shame women more than men about their bodies and behavior

By Rachel Feltman
Originally published January 16, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

Both studies found that women were significantly more likely to experience these incidents than men were: In the first cohort, which was made up of university students, 26% of women reported being “shamed” by a physician, while only 15% of the men surveyed said the same. The most common topics of this shaming were sex, dental hygiene, and weight. The second study, which included a much broader age and demographic range, showed similar results: While only 38% of men reported feeling guilt or shame because of something their physician said, 53% of women could recall such behavior.

The entire article is here.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange: our new heroes

As the NSA revelations have shown, whistleblowing is now an essential art. It is our means of keeping 'public reason' alive

By Slavoj Žižek
The Guardian
Originally published September 3, 2013

Here is an excerpt:

Back in 1843, the young Karl Marx claimed that the German ancien regime "only imagines that it believes in itself and demands that the world should imagine the same thing". In such a situation, to put shame on those in power becomes a weapon. Or, as Marx goes on: "The actual pressure must be made more pressing by adding to it consciousness of pressure, the shame must be made more shameful by publicising it."

This, exactly, is our situation today: we are facing the shameless cynicism of the representatives of the existing global order, who only imagine that they believe in their ideas of democracy, human rights etc. What happens in WikiLeaks disclosures is that the shame – theirs, and ours for tolerating such power over us – is made more shameful by publicising it. What we should be ashamed of is the worldwide process of the gradual narrowing of the space for what Kant called the Immanuel "public use of reason".

In his classic text, What Is Enlightenment?, Kant contrasts "public" and "private" use of reason – "private" is for Kant the communal-institutional order in which we dwell (our state, our nation …), while "public" is the transnational universality of the exercise of one's reason: "The public use of one's reason must always be free, and it alone can bring about enlightenment among men. The private use of one's reason, on the other hand, may often be very narrowly restricted without particularly hindering the progress of enlightenment. By public use of one's reason I understand the use that a person makes of it as a scholar before the reading public. Private use I call that which one may make of it in a particular civil post or office which is entrusted to him."

The entire article is here.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

It’s Too Late to Apologize: Therapist Embarrassment and Shame

By Rebecca Klinger, Nicholas Ladany, and Lauren Kulp
The Counseling Psychologist
For reprints, contact Rebecca Klinger via the hyperlink provided

The purpose of this study was to identify events in which therapists felt embarrassment, shame, or both in a therapy session and to investigate the relationship of the embarrassing-shameful events with the therapist reactions. Ninety-three therapists participated in this study, and the most frequent events reported were having a scheduling mistake, forgetting or confusing client information, being visibly tired, falling asleep, and arriving late. Implications and need for further research, particularly concerning the effects of therapist embarrassment and shame on therapy process and outcome, are discussed.


Embarrassment and shame are common self-conscious emotions often addressed in the psychotherapy literature (Gilbert, 1997; Leith & Baumeister, 1998; Lewis, 1971; Tangney, 2002; Tracy & Robins, 2004). In fact, exploring the embarrassment and shame felt by clients is frequently an integral part of thetherapeutic process (Gilbert, 1997; Pope, Sonne, & Greene, 2006; Sorotzkin, 1985). Therapist embarrassment and shame, however, have rarely been inves- tigated even though therapist embarrassment and shame are believed to have an important effect on the therapeutic relationship (Pope et al., 2006) and cli- ent outcome (Covert, Tangney, Maddux, & Heleno, 2003; Leith & Baumeister, 1998; Pope et al., 2006). The primary purpose of our study was to identify events in which therapists felt embarrassment, shame, or both in a therapy session and the corresponding reactions of the therapist.

For reprints, contact Rebecca Klinger via the hyperlink provided above.

Thanks to Gary Schoener for this information.