Tomiwa Owalade's defence of shame as antidote to shameless politicians (Times, 10 April) deserves a nuanced rebuttal. But the opening point is simple: If I were an American I could be ashamed of Trump's activities even if I had never worked for him, never voted for him, and indeed even if I had worked to secure his conviction. Shame is not the same as guilt, just because it does not have to be connected to my responsibility - although it can be. That is why shame might not help Owalade combat the tendency of politicians and officials to blame someone else for failure, or worse. We have an excellent recent example with the infected blood scandal where thousands of people were shamed when they had done nothing wrong at all. The wrongs were done to them. In cases like that, and many others, the fear of being shamed prompts cover-ups rather than readiness to admit responsibility.

A major failure of psychoanalysis was not to draw attention to cases where shame and guilt differ - or indeed where they are similar. 20th century European philosophy has relied too much on psychoanalysis. The hidden nugget of wisdom in Anglo-American 'analytic' philosophy is to warn us to take care about what we say, as well as what we do. The problem with Owalade, like many moral traditionalists, is not that he is stupid (he is not), but that he is careless about concepts. Shame looks like a good short cut to higher standards in public life - certainly needed - but in reality harsh justice might produce better results. The same point applies in a different way with honour which Owalade pleads for. Honour is a complex notion. Owalade is looking for confidence whilst being prepared to face the possibility of being wrong. Fine, but honour cultures often turned that virtue into social standing right or wrong. Yet again I shall make what seems like a conservative warning: Be careful what you wish for.

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