“Shame, Identity, and the Drive for Recognition” – Fredrik Westerlund

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A hybrid Seminar from the Shame and Medicine Project and the Cognition and Culture Group at the University of Exeter.

The Shame and Medicine Project and the Cognition and Culture Group at the University of Exeter are delighted to invite you to the following seminar:

“Myself in the Eyes of Others: Shame, Identity, and the Drive for Recognition”, Dr Fredrik Westerlund, University of Jyväskylä, Department of Social Sciences and Philosophy

27th March 2024, 12.30 GMT, Hybrid




In recent years, I have developed and defended a view of shame as an essentially social emotion. Shame, I have argued, is rooted in our human drive for social recognition and constituted by our ability to see ourselves with the eyes of others. Shame, at its core, is the perception of our own self as socially unworthy.

What about the role of identity in shame?

This issue has mostly been discussed among philosophers and psychologists who conceive shame as a kind of autonomous self-evaluation that does not necessarily refer to others at all (cf. Rawls 1971; Taylor 1985; Deonna et al. 2012). On this view, identity plays a decisive role in shame. Shame, such roughly is the thesis, is what we feel when we experience that we have failed to live up to the values that constitute our identity. However, what if shame is not an autonomous self-evaluation? What if it is essentially about our social worth? What, if this is the case, is the connection between shame and identity?

My proposal is that the drive for recognition motivates and charges various dimensions of our identity, and that this accounts for why our identity tends to be a central determinant of shame. I distinguish between two dimensions of identity: the persona and the self-ideal. Due to our desire for recognition, we are inclined to present ourselves as socially valuable to others. The persona signifies the public roles we take on and the public image we present of ourselves. The self-ideal is our ideal conception of our self as socially valuable – as the person we ultimately hope to be beyond our day to day displays before others. Both our persona and our self-ideal exert normative pressure on us such that we feel we need to live up to them in order not to plunge into the shame-inducing experience of our self as socially unworthy.

I argue that the persona and the self-ideal are linked to different kinds of shame. Failure to live up to or control our persona is a strong source of the kind of social shame we feel when judged by real-life others. By contrast, failure to satisfy the values of our self-ideal is a key determinant of the kind of personal shame we may feel regardless of whether anybody has witnessed our failing. Although in personal shame it is the agent herself who judges her traits and actions against the values of her self-ideal, the judgment centrally concerns her social worth.

BIO: Fredrik Westerlund is a senior researcher in philosophy at the University of Jyväskylä. In 2020, he published Heidegger and the Problem of Phenomena (Bloomsbury), which is an extensive critical study of Heidegger’s relation to phenomenology. Westerlund’s core expertise is in phenomenological philosophy, moral psychology, and philosophy of emotions. In recent years, he has developed an account of shame as rooted in our human drive for recognition and in our ability to see and assess ourselves with the eyes of others. Furthermore, Westerlund has published on themes such as moral normativity, love, self-understanding, self-deception, and phenomenological method.

The seminar is jointly sponsored by the Shame and Medicine Project and the Cognition and Culture Group at the University of Exeter.

Register here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/fredrik-westerlund-seminar-tickets-814159060667?aff=oddtdtcreator