Shame and Social Causation

It may seem like being a social causal realist, the way I’m shaping up to be, would be a weird thing to be. But I just found an interesting lecture on causal explanation in the social sciences, and it includes a discussion of causal realism. I don’t have a fully formed theory I want to advance, but I want us to think a minute about social shame.

Shame is something that many people with schizophrenia can relate to because schizophrenia is a stigmatized illness. But let’s look at something other than schizophrenia. Let’s take a look at The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. In this work, the main character, Hester Prynne, has to wear a scarlet ‘A’ (for adultery), and is publicly shamed by the community.

There’s a reason we don’t shame people in this way anymore. For one thing, ethically, it’s wrong. For another, and perhaps the reason it’s wrong, is because it can cause psychological damage to a person, especially a vulnerable person; a lone person with no social supports.

In this day and age, when adultery is common, it may seem like no big deal; that one could take the public shaming. But I invite you to read the work, and see whether, if you were living in the 1600’s, if you could withstand being made to be a social outcast, and publicly marked for a private affair.

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