Guilt is usually viewed as a backward-looking emotion – someone did something wrong in the past and has now come to understand the full gravity or the wrong and feels really bad about it. The aim of my talk is to challenge this common assumption and to expand our understanding of guilt by defending the existence, uniqueness, and importance of present- and future-focused instances of guilt. As I will show, those kinds of guilt are unique in that they must involve a peculiar kind of tension between caring about morality and nevertheless knowingly acting, or intending to act, against it. This kind of tension is especially evident in cases of weakness of will, where it may often escalate into a ‘guilty pleasure’, kinds of emotional ambivalence, and in tragic dilemmas and other situations where one is torn between plural values and loyalties.
HEIDY MERISTE is a PhD candidate in philosophy in the University of Tartu. Her research is focused on emotions and their role in morality and the good life. In particular, she has been working on, and taught courses on emotions like contempt, pride, shame, and guilt.