Modesty as an excellence in moral perspective taking

European Journal of Philosophy 26 (3):1120-1133 (2017)
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I argue for an egalitarian conception of modesty. Modesty is a virtue because an apt expression of what is, and is not, morally salient in our attitudes toward persons and is important because we are prone to arrogance, self‐importance, and hero worship. To make my case, I consider 3 claims which have shaped recent discussions: first, that modesty is valuable because it obviates destructive social rankings; second, that modesty essentially involves an indifference to how others evaluate one's accomplishments; and third, the wide spread but normatively fraught assumption that the modest person is deserving of credit. Although the first two features identify something significant about modesty, they fail to ground it. I argue that appeals to deserved credit bear a larger explanatory burden than has been supposed; they can smuggle in the illegitimate social hierarchies that modesty is supposed to counter. I make my case for modesty as an excellence in moral perspective by arguing that prominent, nonegalitarian, accounts of modesty allow for or promote illegitimate forms of social privilege. Modesty is valuable because it expresses a commitment to fair distribution of basic moral recognition and a skillful response to unjust social hierarchies at odds with this fair distribution.

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Emer O'Hagan
University of Saskatchewan


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