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An analysis of moral shame: Implications for curriculum reform

Jay Joseph Conway, University of Massachusetts Amherst


An appealing notion is that the emotions make a significant contribution to a flourishing life. The self-regarding emotions of self-respect, self-esteem, and pride are undeniably things of great value; Aristotle proposed that a justified sense of honor was the crown of the virtues. Many public schools actively incorporate self-esteem initiatives in their curricula in the belief that positive self-evaluations enhance learning and good citizenship. One can maintain without contradiction that the self-regarding emotions with negative properties detract from a happy life. Various attempts have been made to suggest that shame, humiliation, guilt, and remorse are intrinsically bad. Many proponents from within the two leading moral education approaches—the cognitive developmentalists and the traditionalists—subscribe to this view. According to these theorists, the aforementioned emotions are viewed as counter-productive and unmotivational. I examine their positions and find them flawed. This dissertation proposes that moral shame can be conditionally good. To justify this claim requires a plausible account of what an emotion is, the formulation of a clear and precise definition of moral shame, an explication of how shame differs from other emotions of self-assessment, and an argument that shame has moral significance. Following that, the two leading educational theories of moral development will be examined to assess how they value and accommodate the emotions of self-assessment. Interviews are conducted with principals, teachers, students, law enforcement and district court personnel, members of the clergy, and social workers to support the claim that a sense of shame contributes to moral progress. In that this view might be overlooked in many of the current moral education programs, I conclude the study with suggestions for the necessary curriculum reform.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Conway, Jay Joseph, "An analysis of moral shame: Implications for curriculum reform" (1999). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9950145.