Some theorists maintain that utilitarianism, a moral theory generallythought to be a rival to Kant's theory, is superior with regard tothis last point. A utilitarian might argue that it is sentiencerather than the capacity for rational autonomy that is the ground ofmoral recognition respect, and so would regard mentally incapacitatedhumans and nonhuman animals as having moral standing and so as worthyof at least some moral respect in themselves. Another issue, then, iswhether utilitarianism (or more generally, consequentialism) canindeed accommodate a principle of respect for persons. In oppositionto the utilitarian claim, some Kantians argue that Kant's ethics isdistinguishable from consequentialist ethics precisely in maintainingthat the fundamental demand of morality is not that we promote somevalue, such as the happiness of sentient beings, but that we respectthe worth of humanity regardless of the consequences of doing so(Korsegaard 1996, Wood 1999). Thus, some philosophers argue thatutilitarianism is inconsistent with respect for persons, inasmuch asutilitarianism, in requiring that all actions, principles, or motivespromote the greatest good, requires treating persons as mere means onthose occasions when doing so maximizes utility, whereas the verypoint of a principle of respect for persons is to rule out suchtrading of persons and their dignity for some other value (Benn 1988,Brody 1982). In opposition, other theorists maintain not only that aconsequentialist theory can accommodate the idea of respect for person(Downie and Telfer 1969, Gruzalski 1982, Landesman 1982, Pettit 1989,Cummiskey 1990), but also that utilitarianism is derivable from aprinciple of respect for persons (Downie and Telfer 1969) and thatconsequentialist theories provide a better grounding for duties torespect persons (Pettit 1989).
Philosophical discussions of respect since Kant have tended, onthe one hand, to develop or apply various aspects of it, or on theother, to take issue with it or develop alternative accounts ofrespect. Some of the discussions have focused on more theoreticalissues. For example, Kant gives the notion of respect for persons acentral and vital role in moral theory. One issue that has sinceconcerned philosophers is whether respect for persons is thedefinitive focus of morality, either in the sense that moral rightnessand goodness and hence all specific moral duties, rights, and virtuesare explainable in terms of respect or in the sense that the suprememoral principle from which all other principles are derived is aprinciple of respect for persons. Some philosophers have developedethical theories in which a principle of respect for persons isidentified as the fundamental and comprehensive moral requirement (forexample, Donagan 1977, Downie and Telfer 1969). Others (for example,Hill 1993, Frankena 1986, Cranor 1975) argue that while respect forpersons is surely a very important moral consideration, it cannot bethe principle from which the rest of morality is deduced. Theymaintain that there are moral contexts in which respect for persons isnot an issue and that there are other dimensions of our moralrelations with others that seem not to reduce to respect. Moreover,they argue, such a principle would seem not to provide moral groundsfor believing that we ought to treat mentally incapacitated humans ornonhuman animals decently, or would (as Kant argues) make a duty torespect such beings only an indirect duty—one we have onlybecause it is a way of respecting persons who value such beings orbecause our duty to respect ourselves requires that we not engage inactivities that would dull our ability to treat personsdecently—rather than a direct duty to such beings (Kant 1797,6:443).
There are many different kinds of objects that can reasonably berespected and many different reasons why they warrant respect; thuswarranted responses can take different forms beyond attention,deference, and judgment. Some things are dangerous or powerful andrespect of them can involve fear, awe, self-protection, orsubmission. Other things have authority over us and the respect theyare due includes acknowledgment of their authority and perhapsobedience to their authoritative commands. Other forms of respect aremodes of valuing, appreciating the object as having an objective worthor importance that is independent of, perhaps even at variance with,our antecedent desires or commitments. Thus, we can respect things wedon't like or agree with, such as our enemies or someone else'sopinion. Valuing respect is kin to esteem, admiration, veneration,reverence, and honor, while regarding something as utterly worthlessor insignificant or disdaining or having contempt for it isincompatible with respecting it. Respect also aims to value its objectappropriately, so it contrasts with degradation and discounting. Thekinds of valuing that respect involves also contrast with other formsof valuing such as promoting or using (Anderson 1993, Pettit1989). Indeed, regarding a person merely as useful (treating her asjust a sexual object, an ATM machine, a research subject) is commonlyidentified as a central form of disrespect for persons, and manypeople decry the killing of endangered wild animals for their tusks orhides as despicably disrespectful of nature. Respect is sometimesidentified as a feeling; it is typically the experiencing of somethingas valuable that is in focus in these cases.
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Pramukh Swami Maharaj teaches youngsters that parents must be respected, even if there may be some flaws in their attitude and behavior.
The parents of a devotee from Amdavad were in the habit of favoring their younger son who was insincere and prodigal.
We may also learn that how our lives go depends every bit as much onwhether we respect ourselves. The value of self-respect may besomething we can take for granted, or we may discover how veryimportant it is when our self-respect is threatened, or we lose it andhave to work to regain it, or we have to struggle to develop ormaintain it in a hostile environment. Some people find that finallybeing able to respect themselves is what matters most about gettingoff welfare, kicking a disgusting habit, or defending something theyvalue; others, sadly, discover that life is no longer worth living ifself-respect is irretrievably lost. It is part of everyday wisdom thatrespect and self-respect are deeply connected, that it is difficult ifnot impossible both to respect others if we don't respect ourselvesand to respect ourselves if others don't respect us. It isincreasingly part of political wisdom both that unjust socialinstitutions can devastatingly damage self-respect and that robust andresilient self-respect can be a potent force in struggles againstinjustice.
Respect has great importance in everyday life. As children we aretaught (one hopes) to respect our parents, teachers, and elders,school rules and traffic laws, family and cultural traditions, otherpeople's feelings and rights, our country's flag and leaders, thetruth and people's differing opinions. And we come to value respectfor such things; when we're older, we may shake our heads (or fists)at people who seem not to have learned to respect them. We developgreat respect for people we consider exemplary and lose respect forthose we discover to be clay-footed, and so we may try to respect onlythose who are truly worthy of our respect. We may also come to believethat, at some level, all people are worthy of respect. We may learnthat jobs and relationships become unbearable if we receive no respectin them; in certain social milieus we may learn the price ofdisrespect if we violate the street law: “Diss me, and youdie.” Calls to respect this or that are increasingly part ofpublic life: environmentalists exhort us to respect nature, foes ofabortion and capital punishment insist on respect for human life,members of racial and ethnic minorities and those discriminatedagainst because of their gender, sexual orientation, age, religiousbeliefs, or economic status demand respect both as social and moralequals and for their cultural differences. And it is widelyacknowledged that public debates about such demands should take placeunder terms of mutual respect. We may learn both that our livestogether go better when we respect the things that deserve to berespected and that we should respect some things independently ofconsiderations of how our lives would go.
The ubiquity and significance of respect and self-respect in everydaylife largely explains why philosophers, particularly in moral andpolitical philosophy, have been interested in these two concepts. Theyturn up in a multiplicity of philosophical contexts, includingdiscussions of justice and equality, injustice and oppression,autonomy and agency, moral and political rights and duties, moralmotivation and moral development, cultural diversity and toleration,punishment and political violence. The concepts are also invoked inbioethics, environmental ethics, business ethics, workplace ethics,and a host of other applied ethics contexts. Although a wide varietyof things are said to deserve respect, contemporary philosophicalinterest in respect has overwhelmingly been focused on respect forpersons, the idea that all persons should be treated with respectsimply because they are persons. Respect for persons is a centralconcept in many ethical theories; some theories treat it as the veryessence of morality and the foundation of all other moral duties andobligations. This focus owes much to the 18th centuryGerman philosopher, Immanuel Kant, who argued that all and onlypersons (i.e., rational autonomous agents) and the moral law theyautonomously legislate are appropriate objects of the morally mostsignificant attitude of respect. Although honor, esteem, andprudential regard played important roles in moral and politicaltheories before him, Kant was the first major Western philosopher to putrespect for persons, including oneself as a person, at the very centerof moral theory, and his insistence that persons are ends inthemselves with an absolute dignity who must always be respected hasbecome a core ideal of modern humanism and political liberalism. Inrecent years many people have argued that moral respect ought also tobe extended to things other than persons, such as nonhuman livingthings and the natural environment.
Despite the widespread acknowledgment of the importance of respectand self-respect in moral and political life and theory, there is nosettled agreement in either everyday thinking or philosophicaldiscussion about such issues as how to understand the concepts, whatthe appropriate objects of respect are, what is involved in respectingvarious objects, what the conditions are for self-respect, and whatthe scope is of any moral requirements regarding respect andself-respect. This entry will survey these and related issues.