I have beliefs which seem irrational and trivial to me. These beliefs diminish my freedom. But still, guilt is produced when I am not acting in accordance with these beliefs.

I am not speaking about abandoning essential beliefs necessary to avoid the asylum or the prison.

Is it possible?

Do I have to violate these beliefs (and thus suffer from the resulting guilt), for a period of time in order to abandon these beliefs forever?

  • 2
    This is the purpose of doing philosophy, Thus Bradley calls metaphysics an 'antidote to dogmatic superstition'. It works and I'd recommend it.
    – user20253
    Jul 4, 2018 at 12:44
  • I am not sure a human can change him-/herself with no limits. Some people are able not to feel guilt of things they believe not to be rational. Some can't. But I think it's connected with self-control.
    – rus9384
    Jul 4, 2018 at 18:39
  • This reads more like a request for life advice than a philosophy question. The beliefs you say you "have" you do not actually have by your own admission. That acting against them produces "guilt" does not make them into beliefs, and how to get rid of unwanted emotional responses is better addressed to psychologists.
    – Conifold
    Jul 5, 2018 at 19:13

4 Answers 4


Emotional reactions to things are an automated response to your own underlying values. The fact that you experience a feeling of guilt from your rejection of these beliefs therefore suggests that you have not fully abandoned them, or at least, you have not fully abandoned associated beliefs that underpin them. If you are taking a course of action that is contrary to a behavioural standard that you reject as irrational, there should be no guilt. If you experience guilt, this means that you have not fully integrated your rejection of the behavioural standard in question --- there is still some underlying acceptance of the standard which is causing you to feel bad when you break it, or some associated normative rule that is inducing guilt.

In my experience, the solution to this kind of problem is to inquire more deeply into the source of your emotional reaction (i.e., engage in introspection) and identify why you feel guilt at breaching a behavioural standard you reject. Once you have identified this, you will be able to determine if the source of your guilt is rational, and then either reject further irrational beliefs (removing the guilt), or conclude that your initial feeling of guilt was the correct response and alter your beliefs accordingly.

Since you have not specified the beliefs at issue in your struggle, it is hard to give specific advice on the path of proper introspective inquiry. However, reading between the lines a bit, I presume you are talking about adherence to some social convention which you regard as irrationally restrictive, but which is regarded as valuable and desirable in "the culture". If this is the case then it is possible your guilt comes from a sense that you should be obeying the dominant values of your culture, and should not put yourself at odds with the majority. If that is the case, then there may be philosophical questions other than the specific behavioural issue that you need to examine.

You might find the following quote by Rand (1964) (emphasis added) to be useful in discussion of the interface of emotions and values:

An emotion is an automatic response, an automatic effect of man’s value premises. An effect, not a cause. There is no necessary clash, no dichotomy between man’s reason and his emotions—provided he observes their proper relationship. A rational man knows—or makes it a point to discover—the source of his emotions, the basic premises from which they come; if his premises are wrong, he corrects them. He never acts on emotions for which he cannot account, the meaning of which he does not understand. In appraising a situation, he knows why he reacts as he does and whether he is right. He has no inner conflicts, his mind and his emotions are integrated, his consciousness is in perfect harmony. His emotions are not his enemies, they are his means of enjoying life. But they are not his guide; the guide is his mind. This relationship cannot be reversed, however. If a man takes his emotions as the cause and his mind as their passive effect, if he is guided by his emotions and uses his mind only to rationalize or justify them somehow—then he is acting immorally, he is condemning himself to misery, failure, defeat, and he will achieve nothing but destruction—his own and that of others.


Cognitive dissonance

The phenomena you are describing is called cognitive dissonance.

In the field of psychology, cognitive dissonance is the mental discomfort (psychological stress) experienced by a person who simultaneously holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values. The occurrence of cognitive dissonance is a consequence of a person performing an action that contradicts personal beliefs, ideals, and values; and also occurs when confronted with new information that contradicts said beliefs, ideals, and values.


Advice that aims to reduce the discomfort of cognitive dissonance is likely to help you.

Here is one example:

According to Festinger, we can attempt to overcome cognitive dissonance in three ways:

  • Change the belief, attitude or behavior

  • Acquire new information that outweighs the dissonant belief

  • Reduce the importance of the beliefs and attitudes

But now we are coming dangerously close to making this be about self-help or about seeking professional help, which is not in the scope for Philosophy SE.

Therefore my final advice to you is: if cognitive dissonance continues to cause you discomfort, seek the advice of a licensed psychiatrist/therapist.


Here's a trivial example:

In college my school's rival was red, so we never wore red. I was in the band, and they took this position to an absurd extreme: members would get rid of clothes with a red dot, a red tag, a red thread, etc.

Now when I graduated from college I knew the truth, that there is nothing wrong with wearing red. But it took some of my personal feelings some time to become resolved enough on this so that I would actually buy a red shirt again.

People who view morality as part of reality take feelings of guilt as actual evidence of something. But feeling guilty is not always rational! In my case, I had felt guilty because I was afraid that some friends would be unhappy with my choice--- but when I realized that wasn't true, the feeling went away.

When you care about somebody, it's sufficient to cause guilt if you fear that he or she won't like something you're doing. I think it's necessary, too.

So I say that persistent guilt is when someone you care about wouldn't be happy about what you are doing, and that you can't see how that would ever change.

  • what if "caring about others being happy about what i'm doing" seems irrational to me? Jul 5, 2018 at 1:43
  • Although irrational, guilt is produced from caring about what others think of me. Jul 5, 2018 at 1:46
  • I don't think that's irrational at all, provided that you really do care about these people! Jul 5, 2018 at 6:24

Your question is associating two things. A belief about the world, and guilt about behaviour.

Guilt is about hurt we are causing to others, and frameworks of behaviour which tell us this behaviour is wrong. Guilt is an emotion, related to ones conscience and things we hold dear to ourselves.

From the question it appears the desire to not have guilt about some behaviour, which is something ones feels, but rationally it is felt the behaviour should not create guilt.

I saw a story of a man who travelled the world and had a good relationship with his wife, which was his emotional anchor. While travelling he fell into relationships with women along the way. This finally resulted in divorce, but he had never resolved his need for his wife and his disregard of how she would feel about his affairs. After his divorce he found he was changed and he started to need reassurance in a way he did not before. It is these foundational feelings and links we build up and do not recognise, which when hurt, cause us harm, which are not based on beliefs but on who we are and how we belong.

It takes time to work these things through, and learn who we are and how we are put together. Anyone who starts to work this through, will then be able to answer the why of the feeling of guilt and how to work out news ways and find resolutions, rather than dismissing something that obviously still matters to them.

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