Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, Vol 7, No 2 (2011)

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Guilt: Facing the Problem of Ethical Solipsism

Sami Pihlstrom

Abstract


Abstract: This article deals with the constitutive role played by the emotion of guilt, or the capacity of experiencing such emotions, in our moral life. The deeply personal nature of moral guilt (or remorse) leads to the problem of ethical solipsism: it seems that guilt can in the end concern only me, not anyone else, in a morally profound sense. Echoing Dostoevsky, the truly ethical thinker ought to acknowledge that everyone is guilty in front of the entire mankind, “and I more than anyone else”. This problematic feature of our moral perspectives on the world is examined through comments on a number of authors, including Kant, Wittgenstein, Levinas, Gaita, and Todorov. While we do need to avoid solipsism, there is a “truth” hidden in it: morality is something that we are individually and personally deeply responsible for.

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