The Respect Fallacy: Limits of Respect in Public Dialogue

In Christian Kock & Lisa Villadsen (ed.), Rhetorical Citizenship and Public Deliberation. Pennsylvania State University Press (2012)
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Deliberative politics should start from an adequate and differentiated image of our dialogical practices and their normative structures; the ideals that we eventually propose for deliberative politics should be tested against this background. In this article I will argue that equal respect, understood as respect a priori conferred on persons, is not and should not be counted as a constitutive normative ground of public discourse. Furthermore, requiring such respect, even if it might facilitate dialogue, could have negative effects and lead to fallacious paths of thought –as seems to happen on matters of deep disagreement such as the Colorado Fundamentalist/Gay HIV issue I discuss in paragraph 6. I will put forward this argument from the standpoint of argumentation or discourse theory, drawing consequences for dialogical theories of politics. Basing my argument on a pluralistic notion of public discourse – understood as a mixed discourse of persuasion, information-seeking and negotiation – I will argue that respect is a dynamic, situational phenomenon, and that the norm of equal respect for persons is contextually contingent in political deliberation: equal respect should be considered as a potential outcome, a discursive achievement – which I understand as a second order consensus achieved dynamically on a provisional basis – rather than as an universal condition for dialogue.

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Italo Testa
University of Parma


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