Christian Wolff on Common Notions and Duties of Esteem

Journal of Early Modern Studies 8 (1):171-193 (2019)
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While contemporary accounts understand esteem and self-esteem as essentially competitive phenomena, early modern natural law theorists developed a conception of justified esteem and self-esteem based on naturally good character traits. This article explores how such a normative conception of esteem and self-esteem is developed in the work of Christian Wolff. Two features make Wolff’s approach distinctive: He uses the analysis of common notions that are expressed in everyday language to provide a foundation for the aspects of natural law on which his conception of natural duties of esteem depends. He develops a non-competitive conception of esteem and self-esteem into a cooperative conception, according to which enhancing the esteem in which others are held is seen as a tool for promoting self-perfection. Wolff’s ideas offer a solution to the well-known problems connected with competitive life-styles, and at the same time assign a central role in moral motivation to the desire of being esteemed and of having high self-esteem. Moreover, due to his emphasis on presenting a philosophical analysis based on common notions, he offers a solution that is meant to be persuasive from the perspective of everyday morality.

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Andreas Blank
Alpen-Adria Universität Klagenfurt


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