'What’s a Woman Worth? What’s Life Worth? Without Self-Respect?’: On the Value of Evaluative Self-Respect

In Margaret Walker and Peggy DesAutels (ed.), Minds, Hearts, and Morality: Feminist Essays in Moral Psychology. Lanham, MD 20706, USA: pp. 47-68 (2004)

Robin S. Dillon
Lehigh University
In recent years philosophers have done impressive work explicating the nature and moral importance of a kind of self-respect Darwall calls “recognition self-respect,” which involves valuing oneself as the moral equal of every other person, regarding oneself as having basic moral rights and a legitimate claim to respectful treatment from other people just in virtue of being a person, and being unwilling to stand for having one’s rights violated or being treated as something less than a person. It is generally agreed that such self-respect is something all persons have a right to and ought to have and that it is morally objectionable for a person or a society to preclude or injure someone’s self-respect. But scant attention has been paid to another kind of self-respect, the kind that has to do not with the fact that you are a person but with the kind of person you are, that has to do not with rights but with character. I call this kind of self-respect “evaluative self-respect.” The central task of this paper is to explicate the moral value of evaluative self-respect. I do this by looking at the role it plays in the life of someone who is sincerely concerned to be a good person. This is not to deny that evaluative self-respect can go wrong, and I look at how it can go wrong. In particular, evaluative self-respect is, like everything else in human life, vulnerable to the distorting forces of oppression. But, I argue, evaluative self-respect can have moral value even when it goes wrong, and it can be a liberatory resource in the lives of the oppressed.
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