The Praiseworthy Passion Of Shame

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An Historical and Philosophical Elucidation of Aquinas’s Thought on the Nature and Role of Shame in the Moral Life

di Heribertus Dwi Kristanto

"Tesi Gregoriana" Filosofia 37

2019, pp. 424

Shame’s moral status has puzzled philosophers since antiquity: is (a sense of) shame merely a passion or is it a moral virtue? Aquinas, influenced by Aristotle, claims that shame is, properly speaking, a passion, though it can be called, broadly speaking, a virtue, insofar as it is a praiseworthy passion. 

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An Historical and Philosophical Elucidation of Aquinas’s Thought on the Nature and Role of Shame in the Moral Life

di Heribertus Dwi Kristanto

"Tesi Gregoriana" Filosofia 37

2019, pp. 424

Through careful exegesis on key passages containing the shame-related words verecundia, erubecentia, confusio, pudor, and turpitudo in Thomas Aquinas’s oeuvre, this study shows that, despite its potential to demoralize, to lead to shallow conformism, or to send the ashamed person into violent rage, shame can be praiseworthy on account of its very nature as a moral passion and its constructive role in the moral life. As fear of disgrace spoiling one in the opinion of others, shame is morally praiseworthy when it arises instantaneously in response to disgrace according to truth, i.e., to disgrace caused by voluntary defects for which one can be held responsible. Through a kind of overflow, the passion of shame constitutes a sign and an effect of a good will, since one would be liable to shame only if one has loved what is morally good and beautiful and has thus concomitantly detested what is morally evil and ugly. This passion is praiseworthy not only because its concurrence—in its prospective form—is necessary for the virtue of temperance to be habitually operative, but also because shame—in its retrospective form—can galvanize one to repent and to reform the self, thanks to shame’s intimate connection with the desire of love for union with relevant others.

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