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The Rationality of Valuing Oneself: A Critique of Kant on Self-Respect CYNTHIA A. STARK IN RECENT DECADESseveral philosophers have examined the notion of selfrespect and illustrated its moral importance. Thomas E. Hill Jr., for instance, argues that the failure to properly value one's moral rights, which is exhibited by such characters as the Deferential Wife and the Uncle Tom, is a violation of a duty to oneself.' Robin Dillon shows the connection between self-respect and moral goods such as integrity, autonomy, and responsibility. She chronicles the suffering and diminishment of character experienced by those who lack self-respect, such as the Self-Doubter, the Slavishly Dependent, the Vaguely Self-Defining, the Complacent, and the Shameless, to name only a few? And John Rawls tells us that self-respect is the most important primary social good; it is something that any rational agent would want, regardless of the content of her conception of the good.3 In spite of the effort to illustrate the significance of self-respect and its place in moral theory, very littleattention has been given in contemporary views to justifying the idea that self-respect is an important moral good.4 This omission is remarkable, given that self-respect is often appealed to as a means of justifying various other philosophical claims or views. For example, Bernard Boxill argues that the disempowered ought to protest their subordination because this is a means of publicly claiming their self-respect.5 Joel Feinberg maintains that the value of moral rights rests in ,Thomas E. Hill,Jr., "Servilityand Self-Respect,"Monist 57 (January 1973):87- lo4. Robin Dillon,"Howto LoseYour Self-Respect,"American Philosophical Quarterly 29 (April 1992): 195-39. ~JohnRawls,A Theory ofJustice (Cambridge:Harvard UniversityPress,1971), 178-83,44o-46. 4An exception is Larry Thomas, "RawlsianSelf-Respectand the BlackConsciousnessMovement ," Philosophical Forum 9 (Winter 1977-78): 3o3- 14Bernard Boxill,"Self-Respectand Protest," Philosophy and Public Affairs 6 (Fall 1976): 69. [65] 66 JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY 35"1 JANUARY ~997 their being necessary for the securing of self-respect, and B. C. Postow critiques the gendered division of labor that renders women economically dependent upon men on the ground that this practice has a negative impact on women's self-respect. 6 The most famous philosophical expression of the idea that persons ought to respect themselves is given by Kant, who believed that self-respect is a duty. He says in The Metaphysics of Morals: "Humanity in [one's] person is the object of the respect which he can demand from every other man, but which he must also not forfeit. Hence he can and should value himself.... And this self-esteem [self-respect]7 is a duty of man to himself. ''8 Though most contemporary writers on self-respect tend to regard it as a right or an entitlement, rather than a duty, their characterizations of self-respect reveal that they are working more or less within the Kantian tradition.9 No doubt part of the reason they neglect to address the issue of justification is that they are covertly relying on Kant's justification of the value of self-respect. My aim in this paper is to offer a criticism of that justification. My criticism has two parts. First, I argue that Kant's argument for the duty of self-respect commits him to an implausible view of the nature of self-respect. In particular, I show that Kant holds, and indeed must hold, that failures of self-respect are deliber6Joel Feinberg, "The Nature and Value of Rights,"Journal of Value Inquiry 4 (a97o): 952; B. C. Postow, "Economic Dependence and Self-Respect," Philosophical Forum 1o (Winter/Spring 1978-79): 181-2o5. 7Kant typicallyrefers to our duty to properly value our own humanity not as a duty of selfrespect (Selbstachtung), but as a duty of self-esteem (Selbstschiitzung).See The Metaphysicsof Morals, trans. Mary Gregor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 435 and Vorlesungen iiber Moralphilosophie, Gesammelte Schriften, Band 27 (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter & Co., 1979), 148687 . (The page numbers in the former refer to the Akademie edition.) In his translation of the latter, Louis Infield is not consistent in translating Selbstschiitzungas "self-esteem...


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