Shame and pride are interesting examples of cognitive and behavioral features that have invited a variety of functional explanations in recent research. They are widely considered to be complex emotional responses that only occur in social beings, but that might be all there is in terms of consensus about them. Within the psychological and anthropological literature there are different functional explanations of shame and pride to be found, ranging from claims about adaptive biological functions of regulating dominance and subordination within a hierarchically structured group via embodied signals, to the specific social functions that shame and pride can come to play in the stabilization of social norms, e.g., via prestige or public shaming. I will show in this paper that functional explanations of pride and shame, as they are offered by psychologists and anthropologists, entail holistic assumptions about what kinds of beings we are, why we do what we do, what is beneficial for us, and how we structure our social surroundings. I take it that this is a typical - if not unavoidable feature of functional explanations of cognitive and behavioral features. The psychologist Jessica Tracy for example in her recent book sums up a discussion about the adaptive function of pride thus: "We've now seen how pride makes people who they are: how it motivates them to achieve and be moral, or aggressive and demanding, and to seek power, status, and climb the social ladder" (Tracy 2016, 143). Tracy's theory of the function of pride includes the claim that pride is an evolved fundamental part of the self, that it can be felt and expressed as authentic pride or hubristic pride, where authentic pride motivates us to "achieve and be moral" (examples are Bill Gates and Barack Obama) and hubristic pride motivates us to be aggressive and dominant (examples are Lance Armstrong and Donald Trump). Both facets of pride function to increase our social status within a social hierarchy, such that hierarchical organization is taken to be an essential part of human social life. Where such claims are presented in the form of functional explanations, we can reasonably expect them to be bolstered by evidence pointing to an underlying causal mechanism. On closer look, however, there is an obvious tension between the holistic aim of the theory and the evidence that is actually available. Where claims about the function of emotions such as pride and shame are offered as if they were bolstered by solid evidence for the kind of causal mechanism needed for a functional explanation, they tend to make overgeneralizing and reifying claims about the human condition, giving such claims an ideological flavor. I suggest that the functional explanations of pride and shame (and presumably of cognitive and behavioral features in general) are eclectic explanations that entail elements of rational and interpretive modeling. Accordingly, oftentimes we should not expect functional explanations to result in successful prediction or manipulation (or other typical criteria for measuring the quality of causal explanations). Claims about the human condition in the background of functional explanations should not be understood as causal claims about our very essence and what we can and cannot change about it. Rather, the quality of explanations involving causal, rational, and interpretive elements depends on criteria such as coherence, increasing self-understanding, and inspiration of future research.
The plan of this chapter is as follows. In a first step, I will give an overview of current empirical work on the functions of pride and shame. Second, I will distinguish etiological and causal role explanations as the two main kinds of explanations offered within research on pride and shame, and I will argue that, while these are both seen as types of causal explanations, functional explanations do in fact often entail elements of rational and interpretive modeling and should therefore be described as eclectic explanations. In the third and fourth sections, I look at the scientific literature and argue that claims about the functions of pride and shame fail to offer enough evidence for both of the mechanisms that are supposed to underlie etiological and causal-role functional explanations. Given this finding, the final section reevaluates functional explanations of shame and pride to show that they often end up on a slippery slope towards ideological claims that overgeneralize and reify very particular empirical findings into general claims about the human condition. I suggest that authors should make explicit the eclectic nature of their explanations and point out which parts are the result of rational and interpretive, rather than causal, modeling. That avoids the reification and overgeneralization that often gives current functional explanations of shame and pride an ideological spin. Instead it invites readers to use the theories on offer as contributions to our self-understanding and inspirations for future research.