Volume 15, 1990
Embarrassment and Self-Esteem
Emotions are in as a philosophical topic. Yet the recent literature is bent on grand theorizing rather than attempting to explore particular emotions and their roles in our lives. In this paper, I aim to remedy this situation a little by exploring the emotion of embarrassment. First, I critically examine R.C. Solomon’s conceptual sketch and try to distinguish “embarrassment” from “shame”, “humiliation” and “being amused”. Secondly, I argue that “private embarrassment” is a coherent and useful idea and social scientists and philosophers who dismiss it as unintelligible are mistaken. Thirdly, I discuss the question why is embarrassment (unlike other emotions) catching. Fourth, I make the heretical suggestion that doing philosophy is essentially embarrassing for Socratic interlocutors. Throughout the paper there is a discussion of possible links between embarrassment and loss of self-esteem.