Before further explorations of personal, collective and vicarious contrition for abortion it is useful to distinguish shame from contrition. The theme is that our moral shame is of that for which we should have perfect contrition. Shame is a psychological condition* in reaction to what ought not have been while contrition is in part, at least, a moral judgment that a psychological condition of sorrow for being in conflict with the moral law specifying that for which there is shame ought not have been. I am guided somewhat by use of the prepositions “of” and “for.” Shame is of a concrete situation. Contrition is for violation of the abstract moral law. The distinction is made by observations about usage of these terms; not with precise definitions.
I begin with observations of my religious practice since that provides for me the paradigm cases of tallking of contrition.
I receive the Catholic sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession) about every eight weeks. Long ago when I was a child, I was ashamed of what I had to confess, had the so-called imperfect contrition of dreading the loss of heaven and pains of hell and felt ashamed of not having the perfect contrition of sorrow over offending God. I did not have to confess the absence of perfect contrition. I am ashamed to admit that I still lack perfection contrition.
The absence of perfect contrition was not an immoral act or the result of any immoral act. Still, I was ashamed of that lack because it indicated that I was not a very good person, or so I believed. I believed that I ought to have perfect contrition. I did not, of course, think that I ought to feel perfect contrition immediately. I believed having perfect contrition was a condition I should try to develop.
I did not then, and do not now, know clearly what it is like to have perfect contrition. Implicitly, I knew then, and explicitly now, know that I ought not dismiss pursuit of perfect contrition as an important goal. Dismissing perfect contrition as a goal worth pursuing would be tantamount to dismissing love of God as a significant goal. Here, the normative dimension of perfect contrition has emerged. Loving God is an obligatory good .
The commonly used phrases “you ought to be ashamed of that” and “you ought to be ashamed of yourself” does not indicate a similar normative dimension of shame. Shame per se is not a good to be pursued. Contrition because it involves love of God is per se a good to be pursued. Actually, the apparent obligation to have shame is to accept, have respect for, the moral law condemning that for which we should be ashamed.
My previous thoughts on You ought to be ashamed of yourself do not undercut what I have written here that shame is not a good to pursue.
I am searching for a purely moral analogue to perfect contrition as the sorrow about the violation of a moral law over and above any dread of the consequences of the violation. As noted above, an element of perfect contrition is having love of God as a significant goal. I propose, then, that an element of the moral analogue to perfect contrition is having love of, respect for**, the moral law as a significant, if not preeminent, obligatory good.
In conclusion, consider a comparison between love of God and respect for the moral law when we identify respect for the moral law as love of God.
To love God is to choose the good of God. The good of God is what God wills. Hence, to love God is to choose what God wills.What God wills is obedience to the moral laws for attainment of human happiness. So, to love God is to choose obedience to the moral laws for attainment of human happiness. If “respect for the moral law” = “love of God,” we get:
To respect the moral law is to choose obedience to the moral laws for attainment of human happiness***.
Added Oct. 31. If we do not have a command morality, which is invariably a divine command morality, we cannot really find a place for contrition. Respect for the moral law is only half of contrition. For full confession we need sorrow for disobeying the source of the moral law. If the source is impersonal as rationality or morality itself, there is nothing which our immoral choice has offended.
* “Pyschological condtion” refers to a combination of cognitive and affective states – combination of thoughts and feelings
** Respect for the moral law is preeminent in Kant’s moral philosophy. I keep returning to Kantian moral thinking in all my thinking about morality. But I am not doing Kantian exegesis.
*** Note that if the moral laws are for attainment of human happiness, the elements of happiness, the basic human goods, are obligatory goods.