Morality and our self-concept

Journal of Value Inquiry 12 (4):258-268 (1978)
Abstract
One of the most important aspects of our lives is the conception which we have of ourselves. For the way in which we view ourselves fundamentally affects how we interact among others and, most importantly perhaps, how we think others should treat us. For instance, one will not expect others to regard one as having a high mathematical acumen if one. realizes that one's mathematical skills are very minimal. Of course, persons may be mistaken in their assessment of themselves. And it is not clear, at least to me, that we are for the most part morally justified in trying to get persons to have an accurate assessment of themselves, especially in the case of those whose mistaken assessment of themselves is in their favor. To deal someone a severe blow to their self-esteem comes very close to being cruel. Yet, it is very difficult to tell someone that he is not as good as he thinks he is without dealing such a blow to his self-esteem. Again, one will not expect others to regard one as a talented artist if one realizes that one is not. And so on. What is more, not every person can rightly take him-or herself to be talented in this or that area. And given that this is so, what inevitably follows is that the self-esteem of some will be lower than the self-esteem of others, and rightly so.See note 7 above.But if I have argued soundly in this essay, we have seen that there is a respect in which no person rightly thinks less of him-or herself vis à vis any other person. For each person, it has been shown, is deserving of fair treatment in virtue of the fact that he or she is a person. I have called the sense of worth which corresponds with having this conviction self-respect. Whatever a person's abilities are, whatever a person's moral character is like, he should not lose sight of the fact that he is deserving of fair treatment in any case. The social institutions of a society are fairly arranged, I have argued, when they are conducive to persons having this conviction.Little has been said on the connection between morality and our self-concept. And if anything, I have only touched the surface of what needs to be said. I should like to acknowledge the recent appearance of Stephen L. Darwall's important essay “Two Kinds of Respect,” Ethics, Vol. 88 (1977), although I have not been able to take into account the differences between his views and mine
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