The Positive Function of Shame: Moral and Spiritual Perspectives

  • Thomas RyanEmail author


While shame can be both destructive and constructive, healthy shame, with its roots in personal conviction, is inherently associated with values and self-evaluation. Understood thus, it is an integral part of wholesome human functioning in the personal, social and cultural realms. This chapter investigates these statements in four stages drawing on relevant scholarship both past and present. First, it examines briefly the relational foundations of shame. Second, in the moral area, it taps into the tradition of virtue ethics as represented by Thomas Aquinas and approached through the virtue of charity. Third, it investigates shame’s educative aspect in two forms: personally, in terms of shame’s correlative quality, namely, honour; collectively, through three examples of cultural learning in relation to shame and injustice in the Australian context. Fourth, from spirituality, it uses insights from James and Evelyn Whitehead’s (and others’) discussion of shame in relation to spiritual growth. In doing so, it suggests briefly individuals who have transcended social shame and directed it to be a subversive and transforming influence.


Constructive shame Destructive shame Moral perspective Spiritual perspectives Australian context Thomas Aquinas 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Australian Catholic UniversitySydneyAustralia

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