Respect for Persons: An Epistemic and Pragmatic Investigation

Dissertation, University of Michigan (2001)
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We can distinguish two concepts of respect for persons: appraisal respect , an attitude based on a positive appraisal of a person's moral character, and recognition respect , the practice of treating persons with consideration based on the belief that they deserve such treatment. After engaging in an extended analysis of these concepts, I examine two "truisms" about them. We justifiably believe of some persons that they have good character and thus deserve our esteem . Frequently it pays to be disrespectful; e.g., insulting those who insult us may put them in their place. By using empirical results from social and personality psychology and techniques from decision theory in addition to conceptual considerations, I argue that, surprisingly, the above two "truisms" are false. Extensive psychological evidence indicates that most persons are indeterminate---overall neither good nor bad nor intermediate---and that our information about specific persons almost never distinguishes those who are indeterminate from those who are not. The strategy of habitually avoiding disrespectful behavior maximizes long-term expected utility. In sum, we have good pragmatic reason to treat persons respectfully, but we have good epistemic reason to avoid esteeming or despising them

Author's Profile

Peter Vranas
University of Wisconsin, Madison


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