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April 2019
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Michael Zeleny [userpic]
no respect

Kwame Anthony Appiah derives his honor code from a universal right to respect wherein he presupposes all normal human beings to vest:

Some people think only hierarchical forms of the right to respect should be called “honor.” There’s a reason for this, beyond the insistence of a committed defender of social hierarchy like Edmund Burke: many of the most noticeable forms of honor from the Iliad to the Pashtunwali are, indeed, hierarchical. The issue here is not just a matter of a terminological stipulation, though: I think that much is to be gained by thinking about hierarchical and non-hierarchical codes that assign the right to respect together. The argument for that view is this book.
    What is democratic about our current culture, then, is that we now presuppose all normal human beings, not just those who are especially elevated, to be entitled to respect. But granting everyone recognition respect is perfectly consistent with granting greater appraisal respect to some than to others, because these are different forms of respect. From now, I’ll reserve the term dignity for one species of honor, namely, the right to recognition respect. So now we can say: Honoring some especially is consistent with recognizing the dignity of everyone else. Such dignity does not require the comparative forms of appraisal that go with more competitive forms of honor. It’s not something you earn, and the appropriate response to your dignity is not pride so much as self-respect; after all, if your humanity entitles you to respect, then it entitles you to respect even from yourself!
—Kwame Anthony Appiah, The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen, W.W. Norton & Company, 2010, p. 130
A fundamental problem with this approach to honor stems from the fact that honoring rational beings entails a recognition of their beliefs about God and life, right and wrong, good and bad. In our current democratic culture, this recognition involves an accommodation of what John Rawls calls the citizen’s comprehensive moral doctrine. One such doctrine subsumes the Christian articles of faith spelled out by Paul of Tarsus in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, which counts homosexuals amongst the unrighteous (adikoi), debarred from inheriting the Kingdom of God. Elsewhere Appiah boasts of having reconciled with his homosexuality as a Christian before he eventually stopped being a Christian. But a Pauline Christian needs must discount this reconciliation of an arsenokoites with the Christian doctrine, as proceeding pursuant to a honor code of a congenital contortionist. Notably, Appiah makes an effort to acknowledge some congenital attributes as “relevant bases for partiality”, while altogether disclaiming their suitability as grounds for moral and social superiority:
The struggle to break the tight connection between honor and birth is nearly as old as the connection itself. Recall Horace—son of a freed slave—addressing Maecenas, the richest and noblest of the private patrons of the arts in Augustan Rome, some two millennia ago. Maecenas “says it’s no matter who your parents are, so long as you’re worthy,” but Horace complains that most Romans take the opposite view.6[6. Horace, Sermones, I.6, II.7-8.] Anyone who offers himself for public office, the poet grumbles, gets asked “from what father he may be descended, whether he is dishonorable because of the obscurity of his mother.”7[7. Ibid., II.34-37.] This is the feature of the old system of honor that we have rejected, as we have grown suspicious of the idea that some people deserve better (or worse) treatment on account of identities they did not choose. Social status—class, if you like—should grant you no moral rights, people think; nor should your race or gender or sexual orientation.8[8. Ascriptive identities to which one is assigned by birth, such as family membership, can, I should insist, be relevant bases for partiality. You are entitled (indeed, sometimes required) to treat A better than B solely because A is your sister and B is unrelated to you. But recognizing something as a form of partiality is recognizing that there is nothing intrinsically superior about those to whom one is partial: if there were, one's reasons for favoring them could be impartial. See Appiah, The Ethics of Identity, Chapter 6.]
Op. cit., pp. 185, 245
For the purposes of Appiah’s argument, his moral gerrymandering is impotent in its extravagance. It is extravagant because rejecting the old system of honor based on the idea that some people deserve better (or worse) treatment on account of identities they did not choose, would leave our society with no means of legitimately honoring the fast runner or the brilliant mathematician. It is impotent in virtue of leaving room for the Christian pastoral policy of requiring that “homosexuals must certainly be treated with understanding and sustained in the hope of overcoming their personal difficulties and their inability to fit into society”, while asserting “the fact that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered and can in no case be approved of”. And notwithstanding Appiah’s insistence on “granting everyone recognition respect” irrespectively of their sexual orientation, no such granting can take place between himself and and his fellow citizens of the Pauline Christian persuasion. Within the liberal bounds of Rawlsian reasonable pluralism, these latter cannot advocate the use of coercive political power to impose conformity with their views upon non-believers. But they have every right, not only to withhold respect from their fellow citizens whom they find morally wanting, but also to subject them to public displays of contempt.
    To those who object to the incorporation of religion into the range of doctrines subject to recognition by a democratic culture, let it be pointed out that moral objections to homosexual behavior can be and have been made on rational secular grounds, from Plato and Aristotle, to Immanuel Kant and Jean-Paul Sartre. And to those who would carve out sexual orientation from the purview of moral discourse capable of grounding human entitlements to respect, let it be pointed out that secular objections of comparable gravity attach, within comprehensive moral doctrines recognized as legitimate by our democratic society, to a spectrum of divisive issues ranging from abortion to welfare. While a democratic society may warrant the security of abortionists and welfare recipients, it cannot ensure their freedom from disparagement by reasonable citizens whose moral views equate welfare with theft and abortion with murder. That is why any reasonable pluralistic society whose citizens uniformly presuppose all normal human beings to be entitled to respect, is bound to harbor no end of disagreement on the scope of this presupposition, depending on the disparate construals of normalcy within its citizens’ comprehensive moral doctrines. In short, no democratic entitlement to respect can emerge from the mere fact of humanity. Democracy is the right to shame and shun the unrighteous through faith and reason.

Crossposted to [info]larvatus and [info]philosophy.


is it possible for the relation that holds between concrete particulars, that Socrates is shorter than Alcibiades, to derive any of its properties from any relation that takes an abstract object as its term in the place of Socrates and/or Alcibiades.

Here's a relation that substitutes each one or both:
Let X denote Socrates' height in meters and let Y denote Alcibiades' height in meters (this statement is only necessary because I don't know their actual heights).
"Any man that is X meters tall" and "any man that is Y meters tall" are abstract objects.
The following relations hold:
Socrates is shorter than a man that is Y meters tall.
Any man that is X meters tall is shorter than Alcibiades.
Any man that is X meters tall is shorter than any man that is Y meters tall.

It is conceivable that fetal scan technology would enable accurate predictions of unborn humans’ athletic and intellectual capacity. Such predictions would warrant preferential allocation of scarce resources to human subjects as yet incapable of manifesting their willing choices.

Without knowing what choices the unborn human is going to make such resource allocation would be extremely risky.
It often happens that people have a talent for one profession, yet they do not enjoy it and switch to other occupations without achieving their full potential in what they have a talent for. In such cases, these preemptively allocated resources would be wasted.
Another argument is that, considering that there are many humans who are not talented (or in some cases, on the contrary, disabled) often make contributions equal to or exceeding those of extraordinary individuals, such preemptive resource allocation would be unjustified.

I have my doubts about the ways you treat variables. There is the monadic relation, or a property of some concrete individual being shorter than a certain measure of height. Then there is the dyadic relation between concrete individuals, of one being shorter than the other. Likewise a dyadic relation between numbers, of one being less than the other. The relation of being shorter than any man of a certain height is either a property of height, or a dyadic relation between a single individual and a set of concrete particulars. In the latter instance, I am not sure that the second term is an abstract object, in so far as it is fully characterized by spatiotemporal locations of its members.

Preferential allocation of scarce resources is all about mitigating risk. One such resource is respect. If we had the capacity of making accurate predictions of strangers’ moral merit, it would be a foolish betrayal of our legitimate interest in our personal ends to grant them an equal measure of respect at the outset of our acquaintance. It is only our want of insight into human character that warrants us to extend the benefit of the doubt to all comers.

In the latter instance, I am not sure that the second term is an abstract object, in so far as it is fully characterized by spatiotemporal locations of its members.

All of humanity is also a set of concrete particulars fully characterized by objective criteria. So if you wish to discount my example on that account you must also withdraw your objection regarding my initial statement regarding respect of all humans.

If we had the capacity of making accurate predictions of strangers’ moral merit, it would be a foolish betrayal of our legitimate interest in our personal ends to grant them an equal measure of respect at the outset of our acquaintance.

If we had the capacity of making accurate predictions of strangers' moral merit, we would be granting them preferential treatment based on that expected moral merit, which makes perfect sense.
But that is not what we were discussing: we were discussing preferential treatment based on unchosen circumstances that are not inherently tied to an individual's future moral merit.

Your initial statement regarding respect of all humans took for its object the the abstract humanity of an individual. We are now considering something else, namely a set of humans as concrete particulars, satisfying a certain membership condition. There is a lot of room for disagreement within applied set theory, regarding the ontological status of sets of concrete particulars. I may no longer be smart enough to solve this conundrum, if I ever were so in my salad days.

Appiah wants to vest all normal human beings in a universal right to respect. By contrast, for reasons spelled out above, I think that the relevant kind of respect is an attitude of distinction. We owe a recognition of moral agency to all men, which is what I take Kant to mean in demanding that we treat them as ends in themselves, and not as mere means. But depending on their employment of moral agency, our recognition of it is just as likely to translate into contempt, as it is into respect. There is a kind of respect due to brute power, and another granted to concern and care, but I take it to differ in kind from moral respect construed as a recognition of individual excellence, be it innate and unearned, or acquired and cultivated through focused effort. And I take it that moral excellence is at least contiguous with athletic and intellectual capacity, inasmuch as our ability to make correct moral choices depends on our reasoning ability as embodied agents.