The primary thesis of British philosopher (later Mills Professor at Berkeley) Bernard Williams’s Sather 1989 Lectures at Berkeley, published in 1993 as Shame and Necessity, is convincing: the distance between post-modernist “Westerners” and Homeric-to-Euridipean Greece is not so great. We have less clear models of what causes fate, but far less confidence in reason and progress and the possibility of establishing justice than did Kant or Hegel-or Plato. “We know that the world was not made for us, or we for the world, that our history tells no purposive story, and that there is no position outside the world or outside history from which we might hope to authenticate our activities…. In important ways, we are, in our ethical situation, more like human beings in antiquity than any Western people have been in the meantime” (p. 166).
Despite making no reference to the empirical literature on shame cultures, he also convinces me that the shame/guilt dichotomy is not as strict as I have supposed, and that more is internalized in honor than I have supposed. This is inconvenient for my argument about private sexual pleasure in Muslim societies (generally considered “shame cultures”). The solace he provides is rejecting interpreting non-existence from absence of lexical specification, the “x don’t have a word for y” claims (p. 25).
I find it hard to imagine following some of his argument (more that on necessity than that on shame, selfhood, or tragedy) in oral presentation. I’m just as glad that read it instead of hearing the lectures.