Contempt, Community, and the Interruption of Sense

Critical Horizons 18 (2):154-167 (2017)
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In the early modern period, contempt emerged as a persistent theme in moral philosophy. Most of the moral philosophers of the period shared two basic commitments in their thinking about contempt. First, they argued that we understand the value of others in the morally appropriate way when we understand them from the perspective of the morally relevant community. And second, they argued that we are naturally inclined to judge others as contemptible, and that we must therefore interrupt that natural movement of sense-bestowal in order to value others in the morally appropriate way. In this paper I examine in detail the arguments of Nicolas Malebranche and Immanuel Kant concerning the wrongness of contempt, emphasizing the ways in which they depend on conceptions of community and of the interruption of moral sense-bestowal. After showing how each of these arguments fails to comprehend the nature and the wrongness of contempt, I argue that we can find the resources for a more adequate account in the work of Jean-Luc Nancy, and specifically in his reflections on ontology and on the meaning of community
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