How is guilt created

From The Righteous State
by Severin Christensen

3—How is Guilt Created?

In all instances of debt by promise the feeling of guilt follows in the footsteps of the evident assuring of the existence of the debt and the will to honor it. Now, it is first apparent that the peculiarity of the feeling of guilt does not lie in the fact that I have given the exterior world any power over my will; this can lead to a feeling of dependence, not a feeling of guilt. The condition must be that one makes the promise in a moment, intent to keep it, feeling bound to one’s own will at the time (to make it out of another intent is not, as Hobbes says, absurd, it can easily be motivated, but it would not lead to guilt).

How is such a thing psychologically possible? Not that the ties are bound – that will, what most of the contracts and torts experts agree with, the common interest make certain. But that such self-imposed restrictions keep, even under circumstances when interest does not seem to demand it is far more difficult to understand. And yet, we do not need to seek further at all than to the psychological effects of the decision, to find some of the forces which are motion here. I C. Lambek’s Udkast til en sjælelig bevægelseslære, I. del, it says: “It is hard for us to release ourselves from our intended ideas, they seem to lie on the ready in us, just while walking with purposes firmly planted in the mind, we only have half an interest (spirit) of other things than those, corresponding to the purpose.” This hidden force, an intention has, explains L. rather as accumulated suppressed energy. The intention comes about, when a perception gets something like an emphasis of attention. Space does not allow for a complete explanation about the mechanism, and even if we understood it completely, we have not reached an explanation of the question posed. Since the problem is not only the psychological possibility of fulfilment; it has not been solved by the pointing out that there are true forces to make the intention happen; that I feel urged because of an intention is not the same as the peculiar psychological condition, that I feel it is my duty to do so.

The peculiarity about the guilt can lie neither in the acknowledgement of having delivered oneself unconditionally externally, that would be a feeling of dependency, nor in the will being bound by one’s own earlier decision, that would be another kind of dependency, which is dependency of myself in a certain moment, in which case the feeling of guilt would not be different from the spontaneous dragging towards the fulfilment, which follows every intention, in other words I would have had the same feeling, if I had betrayed my promise of payment at a given time and my “promise to myself” about taking a shower tonight. The peculiar about the feeling of guilt is, however, the respect for the equal compensation, which is the rule of reciprocity, on which all social relations of trust rests. The intention must be brought out, not because it has been made, but because the carrying it out from this point of view is notoriously good behaviour; the manifestation of the promise to the other must be respected, not because he thereby has gained any power over me, for instance supported by the weight of the public opinion, but because such a manifestation from the expectation it arises, creates a right, which by the honouring of the promise reaches its positive fulfilment. “Promises to oneself” is nothing but a cliché, because one cannot bestow rights to oneself, just as it is impossible to drag yourself up by the hair form a morass.

Apart from promises the feeling of guilt also arises, as we have seen it, from positive violations. In spite of this apparent difference in the character of guilt, when it is about promised compensation or not promised, it still rests on the same basis: the respect for the right to compensation; in both cases it reacts to the fact that I have made myself the master of values, which someone else has a legitimate right to be compensated for; the respect for the promise is only a special kind of respect for the principle in general.

The peculiarity of the feeling of guilt lies in the value, which social trust has as an aim in life, both in general and to me personally, and in the respect for the principle of compensation, which experience points out as the way to it. So there lies the understanding of guilt both as a basic element of feeling and as experience build upon reason.

The feeling of guilt might be said to rest steadily on or have its sufficient reason in one of the great interests, which elevates human life, a safe relation of trust to our fellow citizens; this is a general human aim, whose importance hardly ever has been questioned; and if this is the aim, one must also allow for the measures. Further reasons than this we have not dared to introduce, and it would also be outside the plan of this work, which only tries to point out the necessary conditions to achieve a fully objective morality.

It should be mentioned, however, that C. Lambek in several works has tried to point out that the construction of the human mind itself implies that there must exist a connection between our aims. In our inner selves there is an unconditional claim for integrity in life, and to this also belongs that our relations to the external world are fixed in a way, which can create security about the said aims. I then becomes apparent that there is no other solution to personal freedom than the social structure, the constitution of justice, by which the individuals are assigned spheres of disposal, within which borders anyone’s personal freedom gets its freedom of action. If there was no social order, everyone would demand that such one be founded and secured, as true as human beings cannot refrain from the creating of goals, and as true as no one would see his achieved means destroyed or taken away without having any use for them. Neither would anyone build and maintain such a costly defence over his acquisitions as the one needed in a bellum omnium contra omnes.

The said rules of order are therefore not biddings, which come to the individual from the outside, but they are nothing but its will, according to the unconditional demands of the integrity of life. Only the will of the moment, short-sightedness etc. can lead to a point of view, which denies the principle of justice Within any kind of individuality coherent with the integrity of life fixed points are logically impossible.

If Lambek is right in these interesting considerations, the reason for the moral mentality has taken yet one step further backwards and deeper into the human nature, from the simple aim to the coherence of aims; it seems self-evident that there can be no quarrel between these two explanations, which are not on the same level.

Just like the perception of replacing an advantage is imprinted in the conditions of life themselves, so is also that of retaliating a violation. It is a fact, that it is found at all times, in all countries and long before there has been any collection of regulations. The Australian gives satisfaction for a crime by allowing the violated to give him a thrust from a lance in some body part, in the arms, the legs or the calves, determined by the kind of violation inflicted. The thought of retribution kills all other considerations, that is why the Australian find himself entitled to vindicate a killing by murdering one or more individuals from the murderer’s tribe; whether the revenge befall the guilty has no greater meaning. It shows that the discouraging plays a much lesser role than the thought about gaining an equation within the mutual balance of power, reparation.