The place of self-respect in a theory of justice

Inquiry 52 (2):127 – 154 (2009)
Abstract
This essay provides a critical examination of Rawls' (and Rawlsians') conception of self-respect, the social bases of self-respect, and the normative justification of equality in the social bases of self-respect. I defend a rival account of these notions and the normative ideals at stake in political liberalism and a theory of social justice. I make the following arguments: (1) I argue that it is unreasonable to take self-respect to be a primary social good, as Rawls and his interpreters characterize it; (2) secondly, drawing on a distinction made by Darwall, I argue that recognition respect provides a far more suitable notion of respect for a theory of justice than Rawls' notion of appraisal respect; (3) thirdly, I argue that Rawls' treatment of self-respect and the social bases of self-respect as empirical conceptions should be rejected in favor of normative notions of a reasonable or justified self-respect and equality in reasonable social bases of self-respect; (4) I argue that Rawls' notions of political liberalism and public reason provide a way of grounding a notion of the reasonable social bases of self-respect in political ideals of the person implicit in modern economic institutions, and family relations, ignored by Rawlsians—but as central to reasonable social bases of self-respect and justice, as Rawlsians' ideal of persons as free and equal citizens.
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