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Shame and Blame: The Self through Time and Change

  • Jennifer Radden (a1)

Do our customary notions of shame, blame and guilt require us to adopt a particular view of the self's singularity and invariance through time? Consider the intriguing case of John Demjanjuk, tried in Israel during 1987 and 1988 for the crimes of “Ivan the Terrible,” a concentration camp guard at Treblinka in Poland, during 1942–43. John Demjanjuk, a retired factory worker living in Cleveland, Ohio, appeared banal at his trial—old, quiet, ordinary and helpless; descriptions from survivors of Treblinka cast Ivan as monstrous in his vigorous brutality. Should John be found guilty and punished for Ivan's crimes? This question takes us beyond any answers sought at the trial. Even if the spatio-temporal identity of the later John and earlier Ivan had been established conclusively, still the justice of punishing the later man for the earlier one's crimes may be questioned. For a philosophical puzzle of personal identity lingers: is the later John the same person as the earlier Ivan? In cases such as this the passage of time and radical changes of character and personality seem to invite the notion that one self or person has succeeded another in the same body. If this were so, would—or should—culpability transfer undiminished from one self to another?

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Bernard Williams , “The Self and the Future,” Philosophical Review, 79, 2 (041970): 161–80;

Samuel Sheffler , “Ethics, Personal Identity and Ideals of the Person,” Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 12, 2 (1982): 229–46;

M. Warren , “Marx and Methodological Individualism,” Philosophy of the Social Sciences, 18, 4 (121988): 447–76. I do not mean to imply that the law makes an ontological commitment to individualism but merely an explanatory one—although such a commitment must not be supposed value—neutral for that reason. The legal system has an interest i n seeing humans as agents and individuated subjects, thus methodological individualism is a normative doctrine

Bernard Williams , Problems of the Self (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973) and

M. Baron , “Remorse and Agent Regret,” Midwest Studies in Philosophy, XIII: Ethical Theory: Character and Virtue, edited by Peter French , T. Uehling and H. Wettstein (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1988)

Jennifer Radden , “Choosing to Refuse,” Bioethics, 2, 2 (1988): 83102;

Planning for Mental Disorder: Buchanan and Brock on Advance Directives in Psychiatry,” Social Theory and Practice 18, 2 (Summer1992): 165–86

The Decline of Guilt,” Ethics, 99 (101988): 6276; also

Sharon Bishop , “Connections and Guilt,” Hypatia, 2, 1 (Winter1987): 723

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Dialogue: Canadian Philosophical Review / Revue canadienne de philosophie
  • ISSN: 0012-2173
  • EISSN: 1759-0949
  • URL: /core/journals/dialogue-canadian-philosophical-review-revue-canadienne-de-philosophie
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