“Humility and Self-Respect: Kantian and Feminist Perspectives”

In Michael P. Lynch Mark Alfano (ed.), Routledge Handbook on the Philosophy of Humility. Routledge. pp. 59-71 (2021)

Robin S. Dillon
Lehigh University
For Kant and for feminists, self-respect is a morally central and morally powerful concern. In this paper I focus on some questions about the relation of self-respect to two other stances toward the self, humility and arrogance. Just as arrogance is usually treated as a serious vice, so humility is widely regarded as an important virtue. Indeed, it is supposed to be the virtue that opposes arrogance, keeping it in check or preventing it from developing in the first place. I’ve argued elsewhere that, on Kant’s account, arrogance is a vice of disrespect for other people and for oneself. Humility is not, however, unproblematic from a Kantian perspective, and he is more concerned to identify bad forms of it than to praise it as a virtue or recommend it as a cure for arrogance. Feminist ethics draws our attention to the ways in which character traits, attitudes, beliefs, and stances take on differential moral valences in contexts of oppression, and what might be a virtue for members of dominant groups can be vices for members of subordinate groups. How, then, are we to understand and assess humility? The upshot of Kantian and feminist analyses is two-fold: First, humility is not the virtue opposing arrogance; rather, self-respect is. Second, humility is at best an ancillary, instrumental, contextual virtue and the servant of self-respect; but at worst, it is as serious a vice as arrogance, indeed, an aspect of it.
Keywords self-respect, humility, arrogance, virtue, vice
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