Book 04
Chapter 09
Shame is not a virtue.

Shame is not a virtue. Shame does not really have to do with choice, and yet virtue always has to do with choice, so, again, shame is not a virtue. Nor does shame come from a state of character (i.e. the moral values the person holds), but rather it is a feeling that arises. Shame is a kind of fear of dishonor, and it has the same kind of effect as the fear of danger. People who feel disgraced turn red and people who fear death turn pale. Turning red and turning pale are both bodily conditions, and it is unlikely that the one (fear) is about feelings and the other (shame) is not.

The feeling of shame is not good to have at every age in life, but it is good to have when one is young. Young people should be prone to feel shame, because they live by feeling, and their feelings carry them on to many errors, but their sense of shame holds them back beforehand or brings them back after. We praise young people who show themselves as being ashamed at having done something bad. But as to an older person, on the other hand, no one would praise them like that, because they should not be doing anything disgraceful anyways.

A sense of disgrace is not something normally part of the character of a good person. Why? Because it goes with, it comes after, doing bad things, and the good person does not do bad things. It is bad to do bad things, and having a sense of disgrace does not change that. So it is absurd to think that someone can keep doing bad things, but then it is all good and all right because they hang their head in shame for a bit afterwards. It is true that if a good person somehow were to voluntarily do something bad then they would have this sense. But just copying what the good person would do in such a case (and they do it to show they know the thing is wrong and are sorry for it), this does not make a person good on account of that. A good person almost always will voluntarily do the right thing and almost never have a time or reason to show that they are ashamed of something. The virtues are not about doing wrong things, and then trying to make up for it, they are about seeing what is the right thing to do and then doing it.

If shamelessness, not being ashamed at bad actions, is a bad thing, still it does not follow that shamefulness is a good thing. All-in-all, shame is not a virtue (and neither is continence), but rather it is a kind of mixed state. We will talk more about this later. But now let us move on and begin our discussion about justice.


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