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Guilt Reaction Paper

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Guilt Reaction Paper

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Guilt is defined as any tension, discomfort, sense of shame, or other unpleasant feeling that humans experience. Kenneth Burke argued that guilt is the central motive for human action, specifically communication. According to Burke, the ability to feel guilt is an emotion only felt by humans, and is possible because we are symbol using animals. Burke argued humans always feel guilt thus are always trying to purge themselves of the discomfort that guilt causes us.

Kenneth Burke identifies three ways in which he felt symbolic abilities cause guilt: hierarchy, perfection, and the negative. Hierarchy is a system of ranking and organizing things or people, where each element of the system (except for the top element) is subordinate to a single other element. Hierarchy explains the human tendency towards war and conquest. Guilt is created by being both above some people and by not being higher in the social hierarchy. In either situation humans are divided from others by their position in the social hierarchy.

Perfection is a state of completeness and flawlessness. Burke, in defining humans, said that we are "rotten with perfection." He argued that because symbols allow us to concieve and name perfect forms or ideals at the top of the hierarchy. Humans experience guilt due to the perceived

gap between what actually is and what humans have defined as perfect. That is because humans can imagine perfection, yet never achieve it, so they feel rotten.

For Burke, the negative referred to the moral capacity for humans to say "no'" "not," and "thou shalt not." He argued that humans ability to name negative, or what should not be, is the basis of moral judgement. Humans are the only animals to make these judgements. Because we have created so many negatives in our lives and judge ourselves by those negatives, it is impossible to avoid disobeying some rule we have created. When we disobey one of the rules we have created, we feel guilt.

By looking at Kenneth Burke's ideas about guilt, we can use them to look at why we do the things that we do. If we follow Burke's

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