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Tyler  Gross

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Is guilt an emotion that educated people should experience?

Guilt is defined as a "learned emotion". Unlike Joy and anger, simple thinking cannot process guilt. Through experiences we learn how to feel guilty. Does that make guilt a part of learning?


A few sub- questions:

1. If an educated rich man steals from a man of lesser backgrounds, what force should make him feel guilty?

2. If you have to exert force on a loved one to satisfy your own needs, does guilt still apply? (Think about OF MICE AND MEN)

3. If you reap the benefits of another's wrong-doing, can you still abide by moral value?

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    Apr 6 2011: Guilt is an important part of being human. It signals us when we have violated our own moral code. If we did not feel guilt when we injure another emotionally, physically, financially, whether by accident or by design we would be on our way to psychopathy. Guilt is good when it steers us back on track. It is bad when it is wrongly harboured and dwelt upon without action.
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    Apr 6 2011: Robert Hare is the world expert on psychopaths. Here is a partial definition (from Wikipedia) of psychopathy from Hare's work- I think it is relevant to this discussion.

    Psychopaths gain satisfaction through antisocial behavior, and do not experience shame, guilt, or remorse for their actions.[12][13][14] Psychopaths lack a sense of guilt or remorse for any harm they may have caused others, instead rationalizing the behavior, blaming someone else, or denying it outright.[15] Psychopaths also lack empathy towards others in general, resulting in tactlessness, insensitivity, and contemptuousness. All of this hampers their tendency to make a likable first impression; psychopaths have a superficial charm about them, enabled by a willingness to say anything to anyone without concern for accuracy or truth.
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    Apr 6 2011: Considering that it is generally accepted among secular philosophers in today's [Western] society that morals are constructed, imposed, conditioned or encouraged by society (and the individual) it is interesting that guilt would seem to govern more those whose minds are more accustomed to questioning such societal and 'natural' constructs by being more 'educated'.

    It would seem guilt must be a complex mix of emotions that crucially tie the more cognitive pre-frontal cortices of the brain to the more irrational 'limbic system', enabling morals to be created in the first place. I would argue it is [simply put] this reciprocal system that perpetuates morals, altruism, empathy and all that we hold 'good' within human inter-dependency.
    Perhaps, if it would seem that many more 'educated' people show more guilt than the same number of 'uneducated' people, guilt being a 'learned emotion' isn't a by-product of the learning process at all, but rather an enabler of such a thing? Perhaps one's brain being more developed in the identified areas causes the person to strive for a greater understanding of the world and one's fellow cohabitants and thus allows them to function more within that world?
    From an evolutionary perspective, perhaps these more developed areas of the brain create behaviour that is more attractive to a potential mate (within that society), such as showing more compassion; greater cognitive ability; and a want to care for others more. As, hypothetically, this person will also more likely encourage the behaviour of their children in such a way, so too does 'nurture' have an influence on the development of personal morals and thus guilt.

    I realise I went off on a massive tangent there, and probably didn't even answer the question. But it is interesting to speculate nonetheless! I can't wait to see what developments in psychological theory will come about from future improvements in neuroscience technology.
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      Apr 6 2011: To clear it up for myself- and others as well- what your are saying is:
      -The brain's limbic system holds altruism and irrationalities
      -People are not guilty because they're educated, but rather educated because they're guilty
      -In our evolving mind, we have childlike emotions which nurture guilt towards the people we're affectionate about?

      Does that clear it up for the most part?
  • Apr 6 2011: I know a few very well educated people who would engage in all three offenses quite contentedly. Perhaps there is a guilty conscience somewhere in the very deep recesses of their minds, but it is not demonstrated. The inability to feel guilt is a characteristic of a psychopath, sociopath or other anti-social personality disorder.
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    Apr 6 2011: 1. depends. who did he steal from? what was it? this is more of a robin hood question.

    3. yes, ethics and morals are not the same
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      Apr 6 2011: Good point. I'll sharpen those two questions.

      1. If an educated, rich man steals money from someone of a lesser background, should the rich man feel guilty?

      3.If you reap the benefits of another's wrong-doing, can you still abide by moral value?

      Thank you for helping me specify.