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What is guilt and what is it's purpose?

I threw this into Google because my thoughts on it are a mess that I cannot condense into a few statements, so this is what I found from Wikipedia.

Guilt is a cognitive or an emotional experience that occurs when a person realizes or believes—accurately or not—that he or she has compromised his or her own standards of conduct or has violated a moral standard, and bears significant responsibility for that violation.

I chose this one because most of the other definitions seem to circle around this one.
Firstly I do not believe in moral absolutes, but that we collectively shape what societal norms are and aren't. I for the most part, try to make most of the decisions in my life based on reason and logic and try to separate emotion as much as I possibly can.

But here's my pickle and why I disagree with the above definition of guilt. I sometimes find myself reflecting on decisions/actions I made in the past and"feel bad" about them, not because those actions/feeling weren't in accord with my perception of rights and wrongs, but rather because it was poorly executed. For example if I tell a lie today and get caught tomorrow, days or weeks later I feel guilty, but not because I think lying is wrong, but because it was a bad lie and i got caught. If I had successfully gotten away with that lie, then I wouldn't be feeling this right now.

So basically what i want to know is whether guilt is socially constructed to cater to peoples moral code of conduct or does it have an evolutionary purpose? Though to consider the latter, we would have to create a more definitive explanation.

I'm sorry I'll stop here, I'm new to the site.

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  • Sep 13 2013: Guilt and regret are related and based on two illusions: first, that, given who we are, we could have and should have acted differently; and secondly, that had we acted differently things would be better. The best we can actually say is that my behavior was the result of my life to that point, and had I behaved differently, something would be changed. Guilt is not the same as responsibility. When we feel guilt, it is a good idea to step back and ask what our responsibility was/is. If I can look at my choices and actions and see that something I have done or not done has caused harm, then I can act to address that harm, through apology or restitution or accepting the consequences. If I get stuck in guilt, then my focus is on me, not the problem or the harm to others; and my resolution of the guilt will also focus on me.
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      Sep 13 2013: Oh....good point David....if I get stuck in the feeling of guilt, my focus is on me, not the problem or the harm to others; and resolution of the guilt will also focus on me.....good point!

      I agree that how we behave is the result of our life experiences up to that point in time. I also agree that guilt is not the same as responsibility. If we take responsibility for our words/actions, however, there doesn't seem to be a reason to get stuck in the feeling of guilt. As you say...it's important to step back and ask what our responsibility was/is.

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