Self-conscious emotions without a self

Monima Chadha, Shaun Nichols

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Recent discussions of emotions in Buddhism suggest that one of the canonical self-conscious emotions, shame (the received translation of the Pāli term ‘hiri’), is an emotion to be endorsed and indeed cultivated. The canonical texts in the Abhidharma Buddhist tradition, endorse hiri as one of the wholesome (kusala) factors “always found in all good minds” and as one of “the guardians of the world”. Shame is widely taken to be a self-conscious emotion, and so if hiri counts as shame, this seems to be in tension with the central Buddhist claim that we should rid ourselves of the idea that there is a self. Buddhist moral education seems to promote an emotion that fundamentally presupposes something that Buddhist metaphysics fundamentally rejects: a self. This puzzle provides the motivation for our paper, and we will argue for a new understanding of hiri that also has implications for how we should think about one important “self-conscious” moral emotion, guilt. This puzzle about the Buddhist tradition also raises a basic philosophical question: What kinds of moral emotions are theoretically consistent with the denial of a self? We argue that anticipatory guilt might be such an emotion, and that it provides a plausible interpretation of hiri in key Buddhist texts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalPhilosophers Imprint
Issue number38
StatePublished - Sep 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy


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