Guilt and shame are unpleasant moral feelings that persons experience on particular occasions. Moral feelings, which may be pleasant or unpleasant, are a normal part of human life. Moral feelings are episodic, being triggered by particular events. Moral attitudes and sentiments, in contrast to feelings, are not episodic; they are deeper andmore entrenched features of our affective nature. While episodic, moral feelings, like guilt and shame, express and constitute evidence of less transient moral and natural sentiments and attitudes, for without these deeper andmore entrenched dimensions of our affective nature, our moral feelings would not be triggered by the events that give rise to them. In his account of the stability of a society organized on the principles of justice as fairness, Rawls endeavors to show, inter alia, that those living within such a society will develop moral feelings, attitudes, and sentiments inclining them toward justice and toward remedial action in the case of injustice.
Our affective nature includes both moral and natural feelings, attitudes, and sentiments. These are distinguished by the fact that an adequate explanation of the former, but not the latter, necessarily requires appeal to moral principles, concepts or ideals. Moral feelings are often associated with certain linguistic expressions, behaviors, and physical sensations (e.g. feeling hot or lushed). But these signs do not constitute the moral feeling and an explanation of any moral feeling is incomplete if it refers only to these signs and triggering events. An adequate explanation must make appeal to appropriate moral principles, concepts or ideals. Indeed, sometimes an adequate explanation of a moral feeling is just that a person says that she has it and that her having it makes sense in light of appropriate moral principles, concepts, or ideals.