Collective guilt feeling revisited

Dialectica 61 (3):467–493 (2007)

The aim of the present paper is to evaluate the notion of collective guilt feeling both in the light of research in affectivity and in collective intentionality. The paper is divided into an introduction and three main sections. Section 1) highlights relevant features of guilt‐family emotions such as the relation between feeling guilt and objective guilt, the relation between feeling guilt and its content, and the relation between feeling guilt and the ‘self’. Moreover, the distinction between feeling guilt and feeling regret is given due attention. Section 2) examines Margaret Gilbert's arguments in favor of a collectivist view of collective guilt feeling , according to which groups do genuinely feel guilt. Against the collectivist position I argue for an individualist ‘membership account’ of collective guilt feeling in terms of individual members' we‐feeling of guilt. The membership account of collective guilt feeling is vindicated on grounds of a naturalist and non‐judgmentalist understanding of emotions, as well as on the logic of personal pronouns. It combines individualism regarding the subject of the feeling with collectivism regarding the irreducibility of we‐feelings and provides, as I further argue, the required moral force attributed to collective guilt feeling. The concern of section 3) is the question of the appropriate emotional response to collective wrongdoing. I argue against the view that group members are categorically ‘committed to feel guilt as a body’ for wrongdoings committed by the group. Given that individual members often do not participate in their groups' wrongdoings, it seems unjust to impose a requirement for feeling guilt upon them. I suggest that in a general account of the appropriate assessment of collective wrongdoing, feeling regret is the better candidate than feeling guilt for the role of the minimally required emotional response.For us collectively to feel guilt over our action A is for us to be jointly committed to feeling guilt as a body over our action A. [. . .] The parties [. . .] constitute, as far as possible, a single subject of guilt feelings .[A] collective cannot respond affectively [. . .], only its constitutive members can. The lack of an affective counter‐response is troubling, because the efficacy of responses of accountability partially depends upon affect. The response of shame, guilt, and regret help to register the significance of the harm
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1111/dltc.2007.61.issue-3
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

Our Archive

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 40,796
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

The Construction of Social Reality.John R. Searle - 1995 - Ethics 108 (1):208-210.
An Essay on Belief and Acceptance.Joseph Moore & L. Jonathan Cohen - 1994 - Philosophical Review 103 (4):705.
Complicity: Ethics and Law for a Collective Age.Larry May - 2002 - Philosophical Review 111 (3):483-486.
Modelling Collective Belief.Margaret Gilbert - 1987 - Synthese 73 (1):185-204.

View all 20 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Epistemic Perceptualism and Neo-Sentimentalist Objections.Robert Cowan - 2016 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy 46 (1):59-81.
Emotionally Guiding Our Actions.Mary Carman - 2018 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy 48 (1):43-64.
Happiness, Pleasures, and Emotions.Mauro Rossi - 2018 - Philosophical Psychology 31 (6):898-919.
Blameless Guilt: The Case of Carer Guilt and Chronic and Terminal Illness.Matthew Bennett - 2018 - International Journal of Philosophical Studies 26 (1):72-89.

View all 6 citations / Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Collective Guilt.N. Westendorp Boerma - 1949 - Synthese 8 (1):213 - 221.
On God and Guilt: A Reply to Aaron Ridley.Mathias Risse - 2005 - Journal of Nietzsche Studies 29 (1):46-53.
Guilt-Free Morality.Gilbert Harman - 2009 - Oxford Studies in Metaethics 4:203-14.
Group Wrongs and Guilt Feelings.Margaret Gilbert - 1997 - The Journal of Ethics 1 (1):65-84.
Collective Guilt and Collective Guilt Feelings.Margaret Gilbert - 2002 - The Journal of Ethics 6 (2):115-143.


Added to PP index

Total views
29 ( #281,719 of 2,244,034 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
5 ( #398,873 of 2,244,034 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes

Sign in to use this feature