Tag Archives: Respect

Passions and Society: Do we need a new Galateo?

In this paper I will try to define a possible way to respond to the increase of violent passions and violent reactions in our societies. It might well work in everyday life, but perhaps mostly at a political level.

In the first part, the focus will be devoted to the idea (and practice) of Galateo, that is kindness or politeness. We will later wonder if and how a new Galateo (etiquette) could be an effective tool for social action, in view of overcoming the current violence of language and political passions.

Our main character, author and source is Melchiorre Gioia. Between the Revolutionary age and the Restoration period, between the 18th and 19th centuries, Melchiorre Gioia, an Italian economist who was at first a Jacobin thinker and would later become a civil servant during the Cisalpine Republic and the Napoleonic Regno d’Italia (Kingdom of Italy), published a first, then a second reviewed edition of his Nuovo Galateo (New Etiquette).

His aim was to spread civil education among the citizens of a democratic nation. Perhaps, the connection between a civil ethics and the developing (or the survival?) of democratic and liberal societies could also be a topic for moral and political philosophy in our contemporary age.

 

The old Galateo

As is well known, Gioia recalled the older Galateo, the work by Monsignor Giovanni Della Casa (1558), a treatise able to define socially acceptable behaviours in the town milieu during the early modern age.

In the Galateo the advice of the master, un vecchio idiota (an old illiterate man), is addressed in a friendly way to a young man of a very noble family: some critics have said that Della Casa’s audience could only be noble, that is, the courtesan elite of the Renaissance age. But it is precisely Della Casa to affirm that his teachings are valid for all, to arouse la benivolenza di coloro co’ i quali viviamo  (the benevolence in those with whom we live; Della Casa 2013 [1558]: 4), a benevolence that is earned by eliminating any ugliness or any nastiness from the body, from speech and behaviour.

It is the space of the city and not the court where the giovanetto (young man), to whom these teachings are directed, must behave cleanly together with the members of the same brigata[1].

For those who live nelle città e tra gli uomini  (in cities among other human beings, ibid.: 5) Della Casa offers not simply cleanliness, but a sensitive aesthetic, a set of behaviours that will also be inettie (trifles) compared to great moral values, but which can make life more beautiful. They are virtù o cosa molto a virtù somigliante (virtue or something very similar, ibid.: 3). This applies if we consider the frequency with which “the sweetness of customs and the pleasantness of manners and words” are practiced, “since everyone must many times each day deal with others and converse with them daily” (ibid.: 4). Instead, virtues such as Justice and Fortitude are much more noble but they are practiced more rarely: the world that Della Casa outlines does not seem to need heroes or saints.

Not cleanliness, therefore, in the sense of physical and moral hygiene, but beauty and pleasure in sight, in the sense of smell, in touch, in each of the five senses. Pleasure of living in civitas compared to the savagery of living wild.

If we wished to give a political reading, we could say that it is the praise of the civil urban community (Scarpati 2005), a civitas whose regulating principle should be grace, measure, sobriety and ultimately order. After all, this too could be a form of utopia, if we think about what the level of violence in sixteenth-century cities actually was. Let us think of Rome from the years in which Benvenuto Cellini armed with a knife killed an opponent in a fight (c. 1530) or half a century later that saw Caravaggio equally commit a knife assassination (1606).

The (Aristotelian?) measure seems to become the basic theme of this aesthetic morality and good manners as declined by Della Casa.

It is not the case here to follow his path up to praise of discretion and, according to some, of conformism and hypocrisy. When we read “a man must try to adapt himself as much as he can to the wardrobe of other citizens and let custom guide him” (Della Casa 2013: 15) we can consider it a tribute to conformity and certainly not to eccentricity. We can read a transcription at the level of daily life of the (religious and political) practice of dissimulation. In my opinion, what matters most is the connection between pleasure, aesthetics and behavioural rules, the praise of beauty, the emphasis on measure and against excesses and not least the importance of the word. The word must be clear, perspicuous, but also beautiful:

Le parole sì nel favellare disteso come negli altri ragionamenti, vogliono essere chiare, sì che ciascuno della brigata le possa agevolmente intendere, ed oltre acciò belle in quanto al suono ed in quanto al significato (Both in polite conversation and in other types of speech, words must be clear enough that everyone listening can easily understand them, and equally beautiful in sound and in sense; Della Casa 2013: 49).

So, even for the words as for all the other acts of everyday life, good manners are also beautiful manners. Making yourself understood without risking any misunderstanding, not by means of rough or slang words, but with beautiful sentences is once again a way not to offend the senses and minds of others.

Della Casa wrote for a young man with high hopes, who lived in the city during the early modern age. He himself consciously uses the word modern: moderna usanza, uso e costume moderno (modern usage and custom). With the acquisition of beautiful and polite manners, we therefore fully enter into modern society.

The sixteenth-century treatises on behaviour, to which Della Casa’s work gave the starting point, have long been the subject of study by social historians and sociologists as well as scholars of literature and linguistics[2]. But we are not interested in following these developments or studies: our topic is the connection between everyday behaviour and the public and political sphere. We therefore prefer to take into consideration the reinterpretation, if we may say so, of the Galateo by Melchiorre Gioia, according to some critics, a not very original epigone of Monsignor Della Casa.

 

The Nuovo Galateo

Two and a half centuries pass from the drafting and publication of Giovanni Della Casa’s Galateo to the Nuovo Galateo of Melchiorre Gioia: the age of revolution and of “great fears” have finally arrived, the theorisation and the establishment of democratic republics. Therefore, the audience of a thinker and a publicist of the revolutionary age, as Gioia was, is a free citizen of a more or less democratic republic: a new system, new values, new behaviours?

But overall, we can say that, also according to Gioia, the so-called “small virtues” are the way to remove everything disgusting from the social milieu. Even the way to establish rules of conduct in public, based on the aesthetics of the five senses, not on great values. Indeed, Melchiorre Gioia sometimes seems to take up certain passages from Della Casa’s Galateo word for word (even though he openly mentions it only two or three times). For example, talking about “common eating rules”, about a toothpick, Gioia takes up the effective image of Della Casa: “It is not a polite habit to carry a stick in one’s mouth, when getting up from the table, like a bird making her nest” (Gioia 1827: 146 and Della Casa 2013: 73).

The problem arises when one wants to understand how the relationship between the small and the great virtues is articulated for Gioia. An answer can be inferred considering the different editions of the Nuovo Galateo, which involve not only formal but also conceptual changes. Indeed, the treatise was published in many editions during Melchiorre Gioia’s lifetime: a first in 1802, when Northern Italy suffered the Napoleonic influence, a second in 1820, when the pre-revolutionary European political status quo had been established again, and finally in 1822 in the middle of the Restoration period[3]. The different political climates influenced the author’s perspective; a relevant factor that leads us to affirm that the Nuovo Galateo is not simply a treatise on politeness but also a book for civil education.

It could be interesting to analyse the slippages and conceptual shifts from the first to the last edition. We find ourselves faced with the passage from an idea of secular and sensualistic politeness to emphasising politeness as a tool and at same time a product of civilizzazione, which is civilisation in both English and French. Finally, we would discover in the Nuovo Galateo the forms of an ethics capable of guaranteeing happiness and social peace.

 

Senses, civilisation and social reason 

The transition takes place from an aesthetically natural policy, which responds to the pleasure of the senses, to a process of controlling nature by social reason. Hence there seems to be a shift from the purely sensitive plane of the refusal of the repulsive (disgusting) – which we have already read in Della Casa – to the dimension of reason.

This can also be understood from the articulation of the matter of the treatise. In the first edition the target is a single man in the world; so we can read the “Politeness of the private man”, the “Politeness of the man as citizen” and the “Politeness of the man of the world”.  Instead, from the second (1820) the point of view is social. The three parts of the treatise are entitled “General Politeness”, “Particular Politeness” and “Special Politeness”: in which subjects of collective importance are discussed, from the education of children to the relationship between officials and citizens, to the relationship between the sexes up to the comparison with other nations or cultures – as we would say now.

So, the Nuovo Galateo became a treatise in two volumes – more than 600 pages – in the last edition and we will focus our analysis on this edition. Text analysis is made easy by the author himself: in the last version of the work he indicates with an asterisk the additions in the text and accompanies it with a very wide range of notes. Thus, we are faced with a hypertext ante litteram.

The proposal for a new Galateo implies the mixing of senses, passions and reason, a reason that moves from sensitivity, cleansed of all roughness. The senses are therefore the first measure of civilisation or the rudeness of behaviour and social relations.

Some acts that produce nausea, schifo, disgusto (nausea, loathing and disgust) have an immediate action on the senses; in other cases, the cause of disgust is imagination, produced by some act by others. Indeed, “the human disposition is like a mirror: it reproduces in itself those sensations it supposes in others” (Gioia 1827: 24). In this simple sentence we could even read a sort of mirror neuron theory. More modestly we see a happy metaphor of the psychology of imitation.

Therefore, in this relational framework between human beings, all “urban or harassing acts to other people’s sensibilities”, but also those harassing to others’ memory, to other people’s desires and to self-love of others, are to be avoided[4].

The degrees of urbanity correspond to the degrees of pain combined with the excited remembrances (Gioia 1827: 37)

We must know the feelings of the people with whom we converse, in order not to expose ourselves to the danger of offending or embittering them even unwillingly (Gioia 1827: 38).

So far, we have not moved away from a sensory psychology based on the principle of avoiding pain and increasing pleasure, for oneself and others. It is not only about physical pleasures and pains, but also about psychic ones. Hence attention to desires, but above all to self-love, that is, to the desire for the esteem of others and to the fear of their contempt. There is therefore an uninterrupted continuity from the physical to the psychic to the social plane. Contempt may mean being harmed for a physical or intellectual or moral defect, but also seeing your abilities diminished. The action proposed as an example of social contempt will not be accidental: to offer a gift to an honoured public official (Gioia 1827: 65). The case is also re-discussed with regard to the politeness of the subjects towards magistrates. Acts of servility degrade human nature, offend the honest magistrate and do not guarantee abuse of authority. If they were habitual in a servile regime, they cannot be admitted to a society of citizens. The statement comes from a civil servant of the Napoleonic era (Gioia himself), but it is certainly valid in the 21st century as well.

The picture becomes more complicated when the author introduces the time factor. These behavioural rules, although based on human nature[5], which tends to pleasure and shuns pain, are not natural but are the result of a process. Gioia calls it civilizzazione (civilisation), not unlike Norbert Elias in his famous Über den Prozeß der Zivilisation (Elias 1939). Gioia speaks at length in the preface and in many “additions” to the third edition of the Nuovo Galateo. As has been observed, much of Special Politeness is a historical reconstruction of this process (Gipper 2011: 30).

Civilisation: Man, naturally crude, personal, semi-barbarian, changes himself, humanises, softens, under the influence of social reason, as metal abandons rust under the action of cleaning (Gioia 1827: 3)

Civilisation therefore consists of the victories that the principles of social reason obtain over the disordered impulses of nature (emphasis in original, Gioia 1827: 4).

Politeness is a branch of civilisation; it consists of the art of modelling a person and his actions, feelings and speech in order to make others happy with us and themselves, that is, acquiring the esteem and affection of others, within the limits of the just and honest, that is, of the social reason (Gioia 1827: 5).

This is if we take into consideration the Preface. In the concluding parts of the treatise, interest in the social and historical dimension of civilisation is even more evident, and is expressed well in the adoption of the term incivilimento (civilizing process). Gioia’s contemporary age is an age of civilisation as opposed to the barbarity[6] of the previous ages.

Incivilimento, considered from his point of view, is the triumph of politeness over dirt, of science over ignorance, of industriousness over indolence, of peace over war, of solid and durable public interest over frivolous and momentary private interests (Gioia 1827: 501).

In this series of juxtapositions of individual and social conditions which become norms and values lies the whole meaning of the process of civilisation: the philosophies of history, during the 19th century (but already Condorcet did it) will call it progress. Politeness, knowledge, labour, peace: in short, public interest before the private one.

In the barbarian condition, all passions are usually at the highest level. Not only negative passions such as envy, ambition, hatred, resentment or indolence, but also love of one’s country, love between the sexes, filial love and religious sentiment are expressed in violent and ignorance-based forms. They find expression in the emphasis of the body over the mind, in the passion for body ornaments, in the abuse of strength and pleasures. Instead, “civilisation represses and directs the excess and irregular ways of natural barbarism, and opens the field to virtue” (Gioia1827: 506).

But for Gioia civilisation does not destroy nature; therefore, Rousseau’s contrast between nature and civilisation, between nature and artifice does not apply. A civilised society is a society of men (and women) who have abandoned rough and violent customs for “polite” and thereby virtuous behaviour. Social virtues are increasingly artificial even if based on the natural human disposition.

Not all societies have reached the pinnacle of civilisation. Indeed, it cannot be said that it is a spontaneous process. Against Smith’s and Say’s theses, Gioia (who is an economist and knows theories well) believes that the process must be aware: there is no invisible hand.

What is certain is that the past was worse than the present: it is not identifiable with the mythical golden age, but rather with the age of savagery. In those fierce times, even religious sentiment was so wild: a philosophy that defends the rights of tolerance has broken the daggers of religious fanaticism. And fanaticism is the shortest way to prejudicially identify an enemy to destroy. Because “at all times it is always easier to apply a hateful name to a person than to prove facts” (Gioia 1827: 593).

In a sort of arithmetic balance of pleasures, man’s sensitivity is considered a constant quantity, divided between physical, intellectual and moral pleasures. Hence, the growth in the number of affections, which occurs in civilised societies, corresponds to a decrease in their intensity.

So the society of its time can overcome the “excess of social unhappiness of the past centuries” (Gioia 1827: 573ff.), where civil pleasures were scarce, few objects of convenience or luxury, minimum the sum of intellectual pleasures.

Among the tools for the growth of social happiness it is easy for Gioia to place the development of publishing, the spread of books and literacy. They are all ways of growing arts and education and decreasing roughness and ignorance, ultimately corruption.

The civilising function of fashion is analogous, of which Gioia wrote an apology: economic (fashion develops industry) social (increases work, therefore overcoming pauperism), even moral (fashion does not corrupt but reduces corruption). Comments on fashion fluctuations that seem to anticipate the pages of Georg Simmel, but instead brought him harsh criticisms from the young catholic philosopher Antonio Rosmini[7].

 

Social reason[8]

In civilised society social reason is expressed and increased. What is social reason?

From the dynamic of affections (perhaps it would be better from the dynamic of senses) a social equilibrium can derive, a pleasant society. This idea of society is based on pleasure and utility and not on decency; or rather decency derives from pleasure.

But, in the summary of the principles of social reason there are:

  1. Exercise your rights with the least displeasure of others;
  2. Respect their rights even if harmful to ourselves;
  3. Recognise their merit, even though they were our enemies;
  4. Do not harm them without just reason and legitimate authorisation;
  5. Promote their good also with the sacrifice of ours;
  6. Give up momentary resentments that would yield greater future sorrows;
  7. Sacrifice personal affections in the public interest;
  8. Achieve maximum public benefit with the least harm to members of society (Gioia 1827: 3-4).

In this secular “decalogue”, social reason has the task of expressing the principles of public ethics as universal as possible, according to which everyone respects the rights of others, recognises their merits and promotes their good. The aim of everyone will be public interest: the maximum of public benefit with the minimum of damage to every member of society. It is not even appropriate to point out the utilitarian imprint of this formulation of private and public ethics, almost a utilitarian translation of the golden rule.

It is not negligible to recall that Gioia is also the author of a treatise Del merito e delle ricompense (Gioia 1818-19). But above all that he was a theorist of the use of statistical investigation for the knowledge of the real conditions of a nation and its inhabitants. The description of a State provides the scientific tools to define collective interest. This is what we read in Filosofia della statistica (Gioia 1826)[9].

It matters little if in the nineteen-twenties a political Age of Restoration opened, for Gioia his times and future times are those in which a new form of civil coexistence can develop, “distinct from monarchical servility as from democratic roughness”. Neither the ceremonial distinctions and the distance between servants and masters, nor the ways of the good savage or the mountaineer of Rousseau are acceptable models for Gioia. Roughness is not synonymous with sincerity and virtue.

A social perspective is built on the politeness and civilisation of customs, strongly marked by utilitarianism, therefore by the senses but also by reason, social reason. Up to the rational self-regulation of rights and esteem between equal individuals that we have just described (Sofia 2000).

 

Politeness and virtues

This process is possible because, in the new (by Gioia) as well as in the old Galateo (by Della Casa), the well-being, the not offending lifestyle is a lower grade of morality. Here we have the answer to the initial question. The cleanliness considered in its purpose and in its means does not differ from morality except in gradation. All human actions, even the most minute ones, aim at the cessation of pain and the satisfaction of a need, to “spare uncomfortable sensations and afflictive memories” (Gioia 1827: 6).

Avoiding the offences of others’ sensitivities is a healthy, virtuous way of living corporeality, because cleanliness derives from physical and perhaps even moral health. With almost the same words of Della Casa, Gioia affirms: “virtues win in size and, so to speak, in cleanliness; but this wins those in the frequency of its acts” (Gioia 1827: 9).

Virtue, according to Gioia, is nothing else than living well, pleasantly and usefully for oneself and for others. If the goal, as we have already read, is “to acquire the esteem and affection of others, within the limits of the just and honest” (Gioia 1827: 5), perhaps the great virtues that civilised contemporary society and its members do not even need.

Yet with the idea of politeness combined with the idea of health, the soul is prepared for the exercise of virtues. To a fair and honest action, according to the canons of classicism revisited in a utilitarian key.

Nonetheless a problem persists in this progressive vision of the fate of humanity. In our contemporary societies we are not so sure that the same feelings are hosted by human hearts everywhere and across time. Is that of Gioia an ethnocentric proposal even if it is portrayed as universalistic?

As we read in the Preface, Gioia’s attitude seems much more open than that of many of our contemporaries. One of the objectives that is proposed is “Knowing the various uses and customs of peoples” (Gioia 1827: 22) in order to adapt to social relations different from our native habits.

 

The kindness rebellion

Anyway, the rule of this Galateo is not to offend, not to harass others from the senses to the memory, desires, self-love of others. In other words, be polite, respectful and kind. Why, in our democratic societies, should we think of kindness as taboo or only as a display of hypocrisy?

Now, after two centuries, when the Jacobin revolutionary wave and the nineteenth-century restoration are very far from the common conscience and the revolutionary and counter-revolutionary waves of the twentieth century seem equally distant – and forgettable – with their tragic events, we are faced with languages media and politicians based on violence and abuse, on the basis of new Revanchism. Could the “small virtues” of good education act as a barrier not in large political scenarios but in the modest dimension of daily interpersonal relationships, such as good practices of tolerance and respect?

We might think that face to the rhetoric of fear and violence the arts of kindness and courtesy are very blunt and ineffective weapons. We can be persuaded of the need of equally strong passions. What could be the passions or rather the feelings to be opposed to fear and resentment? Surely hope, confidence, compassion, but they are not characterised by strong colours; it is not easy to think of a rhetoric of winning trust over the communication of hatred and fear.

If it is difficult to implement a rhetoric of good feelings, perhaps it is possible instead to apply an ethic of small virtues, to rediscover a Galateo of small virtues. One that would allow us to live in a kinder and more respectful social environment. Perhaps kindness, in word and deed, is not enough to win the battle against populist rhetoric, which sees in roughness the expression of the veracity of popular sentiment. But it is a mystification – as Gioia said.

So, we should not consider Galateo as an ensemble of etiquette rules for an elite society. We have to consider it as education and habit to kindness, that is to the respect for the sensitivity of others. Hence, we can understand that it could be just a way to start from the bottom, from respectful practices, at micro or meso level, in social relations to make a revolution, the kindness revolution.

And one could also demand, as the Sardine’s youth movement in Italy or some pop stars on the Internet did, a more respectful and perspicuous language by politicians, media and social networks.

 

An unwanted conclusion

In the early months of 2020, a shock event struck all over the world: the spread of Covid-19, a very contagious disease with deadly effects on the most fragile components of the population. It has reversed habits, lifestyles and habitual behaviours, especially in large cities. Governments have introduced several (more or less) strict confinement measures with the aim of limiting contagion.

Humanity almost in its entirety has been faced with the awareness of the risk of death even more than the risk itself. How did you react? How did we react?

Although there have been cases of hunting for the plague spreader, the most widespread reaction has been that of species solidarity. For some time, habitual haters have been silent.

At the time I write, the exit from confinement seems (and I say seems) to be lived in respect of one’s own and others’ needs, in the awareness that only an attitude of respect for the rules and health of others is the way to safeguard one’s own.

Is fear always necessary to establish a public ethics of respect?

Endnotes

[1]The use of the word brigata (brigade) is, at least for the Italian reader, an obvious reference to Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron. Together with numerous other literary allusions, it shows that ignorance of the protagonist pedagogue is also a literary fiction.

[2] Among contemporary cleanliness scholars Douglas Biow, American scholar in Italian Renaissance, in the wake of some well-known statements by Burckhardt, proposes the treatises on cleanliness by extending to literary and visual sources. Cf. Biow 2006.

[3] Precisely there were four editions of the Nuovo Galateo from 1802 to 1827 (1802, 1820, 1822, 1827), without including the counterfeits. The book had more than 40 editions during the 19th century.

[4] This is the sequence of titles of the chapters of the first part of the work, General Politeness.

[5] “It is not a ceremonial convention […] its precepts are not obtained from the whims of the use and fashion, but from the feelings of the human heart, which belong to all times and places” (Gioia 1827: 5).

[6] It would be interesting to subject the text to a systematic quantitative lexical analysis. It is sufficient to note here that in the Nuovo Galateo 1827 the term incivilimento (civilizing process) appears seven times; while we record 11 occurrences of civilizzazione (civilisation)  and 6 of  civiltà (civility) as opposed to 7 of  barbarie (barbarity).

[7]  Cf. Gioia (1827, I: 161-179) and Rosmini (1828, II: 107-168).

[8] The topic of social reason was discussed in depth from the point of view of linguistic pragmatics by Salmacchia – Rocci 2019: the two authors note the presence of the lemma “reason” in the different editions of the Nuovo Galateo and discuss its function in the argumentative structure of the text.

[9] Cf. Gioia 1826 and Pasini 1975.

References

Berger, H. (2000), Sprezzatura and Suspicion in Two Renaissance Courtesy Books, Stanford UP, Stanford.

Biow, D. (2006), The Culture of Cleanliness in Renaissance Italy, Cornell UP, Ithaca-London.

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Della Casa, G. 1994, Trattato nel quale, sotto la persona d’un vecchio idiota ammaestrante un suo giovanetto, si ragiona de’ modi che si debbono o tenere o schifare nella comune conversazione, cognominato Galateo overo de’ costumi [1558], a cura di S. Prandi, Einaudi, Torino.

Della Casa, G. 2010, Galateo…. Or rather, A treatise of the ma[n]ners and behaviours, it behoveth a man to use and eschewe, in his familiar conversation A worke very necessary & profitable for all gentlemen, or other. First written in the Italian tongue, and now done into English by Robert Peterson, [Imprinted at London, for Raufe Newbery, 1576] Eebo editions Proquest, Ann Arbor.

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Gioia, M. (1827), Nuovo galateo di Melchiorre Gioja, autore del Trattato Del merito e delle ricompense, Pirotta, Milano, 4th ed.

Gioia, M. (1837), Primo Galateo e Nuovo Galateo, in Opere Minori, voll. 16-17, Ruggia, Lugano.

Gioia, M. (1826), Filosofia della statistica, 2 vols., Pirotta, Milano.

Gipper, A. (2011), Dal giovin signore al cittadino borghese. Melchiorre Gioja, il Nuovo Galateo e la filosofia francese, in H. Meter-F. Brugnolo, eds, Vie lombarde e venete. Circolazione e trasformazione dei saperi letterari nel Sette-Ottocento tra l’Italia settentrionale e l’Europa transalpina, 27-40, Gruyter, Berlin.

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Rosmini A. (1828), Argomento di Melchiorre Gioia in favore della moda  risguardo alle classi popolari, in Opuscoli filosofici, Pogliani, Milano, II, 107-168.

Saccone, E.  (1987),  Monsignor Della Casa Tra Galateo e Bosco, Modern Language Notes, vol. 102, n. 1, 96–127.

Saltamacchia F.-Rocci A. (2019), The Nuovo Galateo (‘New Galateo’, 1802) by Melchiorre Gioja, politeness (pulitezza) and reason, in Politeness in Nineteenth-Century Europe, A. Paternoster-S. Fitzmaurice (eds.), J. Benjamins Publishin Company, Asterdam, 75-106: https://www.academia.edu/39299492/The_Nuovo_Galateo_New_Galateo_1802_by_Melchiorre_Gioja_politeness_pulitezza_and_reason

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Social bases of self-esteem: Rawls, Honneth and beyond

Introduction

This paper starts from John Rawls’s (1972) well-known thesis that the social basis of self-respect is one of the primary social goods that are to be distributed fairly in a just society.1 Self-respect, self-esteem or sense of one’s worth is, alongside rights and liberties, money and other material goods, one of the necessary preconditions of a citizen’s pursuit of a good life. Such positive relations to self are dependent on one’s social environment in many readily understandable ways, researched in more detail by social psychology. A just state, importantly, does not or cannot provide self-esteem directly, but only the adequate social conditions for forming it (see also Walzer 1983, 273).

The paper will first of all point out that while the central element of such social conditions consists in the attitudes of others (respect or esteem) which are readily linked to self-respect or self-esteem, the social basis may include also possession of various goods, such as a clean linen shirt which enabled the creditable day-labourers of Adam Smith’s time to appear in public without shame (Smith, 1776, Vol. 2, p. 466).

Secondly, Rawls’s point can be made more specific by distinguishing, following Axel Honneth (1995), universalistic basic respect from differential esteem based on individual differences in achievements, capacities and other valuable features, and further from loving care which is neither universalistic nor conditional on achievements or performance. This paper will focus on social bases of esteem.

Thirdly, the paper will further identify three challenges to any politics of esteem, and distinguish three important varieties of esteem (anti-stigmatization; contributions to societal goods, projects of self-realization) and notes that issues of recognition of cultures and cultural identity would be an equally interesting fourth variety.

In the final three sections the paper will then examine these three varieties of esteem, and study the normative implications of the social bases of different kinds of esteem. Do others or the state have duties to provide such social bases of self-esteem, and indeed under what conditions do they have a permission to “stick their nose” in the individual’s life in this way? Instead of asking which of these varieties of esteem are normatively relevant for justice, the idea is to argue that all of them are of social if not societal relevance in one way or another.2

  1. Social esteem and other social bases of self-esteem

Let us start with Rawls’s characterization of the kind of positive relations-to-self in question:

We may define self–respect (or self–esteem) as having two aspects. First of all … it includes a person’s sense of his own value, his secure conviction that his conception of the good, his plan of life, is worth carrying out. And second, self–respect implies a confidence in one’s ability, so far as it is in one’s power, to fulfil one’s intentions. When we feel that our plans are of little value, we cannot pursue them with pleasure or take delight in their execution. Nor plagued by failure and self–doubt can we continue in our endeavors. It is clear then why self–respect is a primary good. Without it nothing may seem worth doing, or if some things have value for us, we lack the will to strive for them. All desire and activity becomes empty and vain, and we sink into apathy and cynicism. Therefore the parties in the original position would wish to avoid at almost any cost the social conditions that undermine self–respect. The fact that justice as fairness gives more support to self–esteem than other principles is a strong reason for them to adopt it.”(Rawls 1972, 440).

Rawls points out that self-respect depends on respect from others:

Now our self–respect normally depends upon the respect of others. Unless we feel that our endeavors are honored by them, it is difficult if not impossible for us to maintain the conviction that our ends are worth advancing …. Moreover, one may assume that those who respect themselves are more likely to respect each other and conversely. Self–contempt leads to contempt of others and threatens their good as much as envy does. Self–respect is reciprocally self–supporting.”(Rawls 1972, 178–9).

The paper connects the notion of social basis of self-esteem or self-respect (inspired by Rawls) to the discussion of social esteem or respect proper (Honneth). The former notion is broader. To analyze this, the notion of the social basis of social esteem/respect is needed. A commodity, like a clean shirt (which has use-value and exchange value), can be part of the social basis of (social or self-) esteem (and have what can be called symbolic status-value), if it gives directly or indirectly reasons for esteem (or similarly for disesteem). (Interpersonal) status consists of attitudes of others, whereas the social base gives reasons for it.

The qualification ”directly or indirectly” points towards the following: Esteem always relies on some criterial grounds (A holds B in esteem on the grounds that B has the feature C), and so the actual attitude of esteem presupposes a couple of other implicit judgements (an empirical one: A thinks that B has the feature C; and a normative one: A thinks that C gives grounds for esteem), which again have some epistemic bases (e.g. A thinks that B is C, because of B’s further feature D, for example his clothes and other appearances conventionally or non-conventionally manifest C-ness; and perhaps C just seems to be a valuable feature). Often, the opinion that being D manifests C-ness can be contested (colour of skin does not manifest trustworthiness) as well as the opinion that C-ness is a proper ground for esteem (say, being tall or not should not matter).

Social esteem is a matter of others having the relevant attitudes, whereas the social basis of esteem consists in having (publicly, openly for A) the features (C, D) which serve as the grounds of esteem directly (C), or provide evidence for it (D). Others may of course lack the attitudes even when the social bases are present (or have the attitudes when social bases are not present). In many cases it is the actual attitudes of esteem or disesteem that affect one’s self-esteem; but in some cases anticipation is enough: having publicly the social bases of esteem/disesteem affects one’s self-esteem already because one’s appearance gives manifest reasons for esteem/disesteem by others (whether or not others actually respond in that way); and of course one’s self-esteem may directly depend on one’s private judgements concerning C and D, even when these are not publicly manifested to others. These three cases on how the social bases stand to self-esteem can be called dialogical, anticipational, and private. In the dialogical case, the actual attitudes of others make a difference, in the second, the reasonably anticipated attitudes of others are at stake, whereas in the third, one’s own mind is made up directly based on the evidence, unmediated by the views of others. Note that only in the first case is recognition from others at stake. Calling the second case “merely” imagined recognition may mislead in suggesting that something merely imagined is the case – by contrast, it is a very real condition in which one’s appearances give others reasons to respond in one way or another. Noticing or acknowledging that this is so is not merely a matter of imagination.

Struggles for recognition can concern general stereotypes (e.g. an unfounded assumption that D-ness manifests C-ness) or normative opinions concerning esteemworthiness (whether C-ness matters), or contingent lack of relevant responses from relevant others (e.g. if B is manifestly C, why does not A hold B in esteem?), but also distribution of the relevant goods with symbolic status value (D-ness conventionally or non-conventionally manifests C, so D-ness ought to be distributed fairly).

A good society, then, will both provide social bases of (self-)esteem (goods with status value), and – within appropriate limits – social esteem (attitudes of others towards the individual, constituting social status). By contrast, the society cannot and should not try to provide actual self-esteem, as it depends on the individual’s reaction to the social environment.3

  1. Kinds of recognition and three challenges to any politics of esteem

Axel Honneth (1995) distinguishes between three main forms of mutual recognition. One is universal respect which is unconditional on merits, desert or other particularities, and another is that of love or care which is also unconditional on merits, desert or other particularities, but is not universal either, but concerns individuals as irreplaceable. The third one then is esteem which is conditional on merits, desert or other particularities. These three forms of social relations (respect, love, esteem) correspond to three kinds of relations to self (self-respect, self-confidence, self-esteem). These self-relations again concern oneself as an autonomous agent who is equal amongst others, or as a singular being with a need to be loved, and as a bearer of abilities or traits that others can value.4

Things can however be further complicated by distinguishing different kinds of esteem. In this section I start by mentioning three (or four) different kinds of cases related to esteem and in the next sections I ask how a good society would respond to these kinds of cases, and how duties and permissions of others fall in these different cases. Implicitly this is an argument also for the broader definition of esteem of two candidates discussed elsewhere (cf. Ikäheimo & Laitinen 2010), but these issues matter whether or not they are called “esteem”. (The narrower definition will face the further challenge of what it says in these different contexts and why.)

The next section concerns the ethical and political consequences of the claim that full human agency is dependent on positive relations to self, including self-esteem, and that these relations are deeply dependent on the recognition from other individuals and institutions such as the state. Say, stigmatizing practices may lead to an internalized sense of inferiority and low self-esteem. The basic idea is that a good society is sensitive to the dynamics of self-relations and recognition (Honneth, Hegel, Margalit). For example, the invisible housework by women should get due recognition, and welfare services should not be delivered in a stigmatising or demeaning fashion (Honneth & Fraser 2003, Margalit 1996).

There is something in the spirit of esteem that is egalitarian: no-one should be treated as an inferior, treated in a demeaning fashion, as a second class citizen, as a priori incompetent in this or that manner. Everyone’s contributions to the societal good should be registered. But there’s a twist. Unlike basic respect or unlike concern for one’s basic needs, the grammar or logic of esteem seems to be conditional on one’s merits, achievements, or doing one’s share or other positive particular features. Esteem has to be deserved, or grounded in one’s valuable particular features, one must be worthy of esteem. Granting esteem, according to Charles Taylor (1992) at least, is genuine and differs from mere lip-service only if it is based on genuine judgements or evaluation or grading if you like. Especially when cultural differences are involved, such judgements may be difficult to form and take a lot of time and effort – coming to understand other cultures may take years. (That is, if the problem of rival standards of evaluation does not pre-empt the very idea of intercultural comparison even in principle. I believe that in principle there is a solution to this, but the epistemic and practical difficulties are often rather great.)

This gives rise to three challenges to any politics of esteem: First, perhaps politics of esteem tends to lead to a wrong kind of meritocracy, to a Nietzschean vision of the power of the noble, or what Fukuyama (1992) calls megalothymia, and serves to undermine modern egalitarianism? The defenders of basic equality and basic respect who also defend the importance of social esteem will have to tell us what kinds of social and political arrangements would both respond to the need for differential esteem and be compatible with an egalitarian ethos of mutual respect and basic care. It must not lead to the formation of second-class and first class citizens. (For example Honneth and Taylor are trying to do this, Nancy Fraser stresses egalitarian participatory parity in a sense as the only metaprinciple.) So the first issue is compatibility of esteem with the egalitarian ethos of mutual respect5. All of the kinds of esteem discussed below are to be compatible with equal moral standing of everyone, as well as the right for self-determination and personal autonomy. But the need for esteem is not merely about the right to engage in certain kinds of activities and projects, or about the right to define oneself in certain ways as opposed to others, it is also about differential feedback concerning the concrete choices one has made. Further, one can ask about the compatibility of esteem and respect with universal forms of loving care such as impartial concern for human well-being.6

Second, compatibility with egalitarianism might point towards a universalistic norm of absence of certain kind of disesteem. But mere lack of disesteem does not meet the need for differential esteem. Presumably there is a need for genuine esteem. If genuine esteem is difficult, and takes time and energy, there is a question of whose, if anyone’s, positive duty is it to engage in the ”esteem-services” (as Pettit and Brennan, in The Economy of Esteem call it) of forming and expressing a well-founded judgement at all? I may be pretty confident that a book by a colleague is brilliant, but I will need to read it properly before I can publish a review, and this will take time and energy etc. So perhaps there’s no duty to do it?

Perhaps there is only a negative duty not to disesteem, not to stigmatise a priori (”this author is of such and such ethnicity, gender, age so I need not read the book – it must be rubbish”) plus an a posteriori duty that if one takes part in esteem-services one does it in an unbiased manner (basically, writes a review based on the qualities of the book) plus perhaps a general positive professional duty to do one’s share, in this case write a sufficient number of reviews and serve as referee for journals sufficiently often. There are a number of intricate issues involved, from down to earth question such as whose talk to go to in conferences to pressing issues of deeply sedimented invisibility of the contributions of some groups (Honneth’s prime example is the invisible work of women). On a more positive note, engaging in mutual and honest esteem-services can enhance solidarity between the parties. That’s the second issue – the burdens of positive efforts. Whose tasks are these?7

As a flipside of the same question, we can ask about permissions – who is entitled to stick their nose in my business and form an opinion on my esteemworthiness? Is it a proper business of the state, for example? And while it’s ok for people to judge that my conference talk is half-baked, and quite ok to say it aloud as well, what about, say, my general orientation in life or my sexuality or my personal pet projects?

Third, a different kind of problem is to identify the phenomena where the logic of esteem is appropriately at work. Conceptually, one can also always ask: is such and such really a case of esteem at all; or is something first and foremost a case of esteem (for example cultural differences may not be first and foremost a matter of esteem, but nonetheless secondarily so)?

  1. Contexts of esteem: stigmas, contributions, self-realization (and culture)

In pursuing these questions concerning esteem I will now differentiate and discuss three kinds of phenomena, all of which are arguably related to esteem, but which may call for different socio-political solutions and different distribution of duties and permissions – there may be different answers to the three questions posed in the three contexts (and in passing I point out a fourth context which is yet different, but will not be discussed here).

The first context is really a negative case against stereotypical stigmatising, or for freedom from unfounded and unjustifiable disesteem. This is arguably a Maslowian “deficiency need”. There is a strictly egalitarian or universalist normative norm against allowing second order citizenship to emerge (see section 4).

The second case is positive esteem based on contributions to the societal good (or to the aims of a system of cooperation), perhaps related to division of labour, and what Durkheim called organic solidarity. In an ideal society no-one is excluded from making useful contributions to the common good. (Full employment is one version of this ideal; but a decent or an ideal society may well have structures such as basic income which make full employment an irrelevant arrangement for the goal of letting everyone contribute). In an arrangement of horizontal (non-hierarchical) complementarity everyone has a positive status or rank with role-expectations to contribute to the common good.8 I would go so far as to reverse the Kantian dictum to read also: ”never treat anyone as a mere ends, but give them a chance to be useful means to the good of others”. For example disabled people should get a chance to participate. This is still quite egalitarian in requiring at least equal opportunity (and anticipating limited inequality in the actual contributions) and being sternly against fixed hierarchies of overall ranks or statuses, and against what Taylor has called hierarchical complementarity of the premodern kind (see below, section 5).9

The third context concerns personalized, differential feedback concerning merits and achievements, in the context of individual self–realization via projects that may or may not be related to the societal good. (This may and often will concern the same socially useful activity as above, but now considered as a project of self-realization). Arguably self-realization is a deeply dialogical business, and esteem plays a role in it. This may or may not be beneficial to the common good, but the normative basis seems to be different – what matters may be either that the individual realizes his or her potentials, or does something intrinsically worthwhile, where these criteria do not reduce to contributions to the societal good. Here one can draw from the Hegelian idea that self–realization requires deeds, and that one cannot be a privileged authority in the unbiased evaluation of such deeds: evaluation is public, and there is always at least an implicit relevant audience involved. (Here, Hegel’s argument resembles Wittgenstein’s argument against private language). Without any friction provided by the feedback from others, we all could be victims of an illusory sense of self–grandeur: we could be great poets in our own self–image whether or not we bother to realize our great ideas, and bother to actually write the poems and subject them to evaluation by others. In Maslow’s terminology, this is a “growth need” at the highest end of need hierarchy. The political implication is to support competitive pockets of esteem, such practices or associational activities as arts, sciences and hobbies, but prevent general rank-formation in wider society outside such pockets. Here’s Rawls’s idea of the role of state as a social union of social unions is of relevance. (see section 6).10

  1. The case against stereotypical stigma

The first case is a negative case of esteem, against stereotypical stigmatising, which would lead to lowered self-esteem. Everyone has a “deficiency need” not to be classified as a second–class citizen, and to be able to appear in public without shame.11 At this lower level, the main struggle is to remove unfounded stereotypical, stigmatising images of inherent inferiority of some groups or individuals, and it aims at equality, or “participatory parity” (Fraser). No trait is an excuse for second–order citizenship.

This is related to such cases of “recognition of difference” (cultural differences, ‘race’, ethnicity, group memberships, sexual orientation, disabilities) which are not directly cases of achievements or merits. Perhaps it is not a case of positive “esteem” strictly speaking – but arguably a claim against undeserved disesteem. It would be a case of disesteem to stigmatise some group of people as such that “they will not contribute anything in any case” or “they will not excel in any case”. Here the relevant principle is universalistic, perhaps Fraser’s (2003) principle of participatory parity does the work – note however that it is not egalitarian in the comparative sense (that each should get their fair share, and the fair share depends on what others get), but demands that everyone is equally entitled to full freedom from oppression of this kind; and indeed it is everyone’s business in the moral community to prevent anyone from being stigmatized. So note that here too, positive measures are needed over and above refraining from stigmatising oneself – the state should not only avoid discrimination, it should prevent intersubjective discrimination by people; and individuals should not only avoid discrimination, but should favour and support a political society or state which also refrains from discrimination. Arguably everyone has a positive moral duty to do one’s share in taking a public stand against racism, sexism, etc. What one’s share is depends on the circumstances.

The ideal is to have guaranteed freedom from unfounded disesteem. In these cases, the tension with universal respect or with care for the needy and the vulnerable does not arise, as elements of both are included in the idea. One term commonly used for the “inferiority” in question is “second-order citizenship”. This term may be misleading for what we have in mind here. Some aspects of “second–order citizenship” betray a lack of respect because the members of this group are denied certain rights or claims to respect that they are entitled to. Indeed this may be the core of what we typically have in mind when we talk about second–order citizenship. But especially the ability to appear in public without shame seems to connect to esteem rather than to respect.

This claim has two kinds of repercussions: i) a rightful claim not to be looked down upon on the basis of such irrelevant things as colour of skin (corresponding to the demand on others to refrain from looking down in this way), and ii) a rightful claim to the possession of goods (such as clean clothes, or access to personal hygiene) which are in the historical situation perceived necessary, and whose lack can make one’s appearance an “affront to senses” and will connote an inferior status (cf. Feinberg 1984). In the latter case, (case ii), the fault need not lie so much with the person whose senses are affronted, and who responds, or with the person who is the bearer of the “offending” features, but on whatever factor (say, the unjust basic structure of society) that is responsible for the lack of goods in question.12 This will, of course, affect what sort of responses are appropriate on behalf of those who “suffer” from the presence of someone.

Some features are irrelevant and it would be arbitrary to denigrate people on their basis; some other features are meaningfully related to how to appear in public, but one’s lack of means of decent appearances may be unjust.

The reason to think that we have here a separate subclass of esteem, is that we can think of cases where one is discriminated on the basis of irrelevant features (in Nancy Fraser’s example, an African American Wall Street banker can’t get a taxi in NYC) while at the same time correctly esteemed for his contributions or achievements, in the contexts where they matter. They do not make one more deserving of a cab of course; people worthy of esteem are not entitled to jumping the queue. The very cabdriver who bypasses the person may celebrate the same person under some other description (“wow, finally a Wall Street banker who defends the idea that financial transactions should be globally taxed”).

Or we can think of cases where someone is correctly esteemed for their individual contributions or achievements (and rewarded in the relevant contexts), but nonetheless suffers from lack of goods necessary for decent appearance in public. The main reason to classify this as a matter of “esteem” and not something else is that such disesteem may harmfully affect one’s self–esteem.

Thus, the claim is that arbitrary irrelevant traits should not be a basis of disesteem. And as some features (say ones which are understandable affronts to senses even when people politely try to conceal their reactions, such as lack of clean clothing or personal hygiene in some contexts) have in a historical context a meaningful relation to a perceived “inferiority of condition” or “lack of decent human minimum”, everyone has a rightful claim to goods, which would remove the undignifying appearances.13

As a sidenote, it seems that distinguishing this universalistic norm from more positive appraisal would dissolve the tension in Charles Taylor’s (1992) initial discussion of recognition of cultures: no cultural membership is a reason for denigration, for being less than a full member. Pace Taylor, this is not however a mere presumption of equality which would have to be cashed out in more detailed assessments of the contributions of a culture. It is a standing requirement to realize that no-one is normatively speaking a second-class citizen, whether a member of a cultural minority or not.

  1. On contributions to the common good

The second case is positive esteem, prestige or standing based on contributions to the societal good, perhaps related to the division of labour, and what Durkheim called organic solidarity. In Honneth’s (1995, 126) words:

”‘prestige’ or ‘standing’ signifies the degree of social recognition the individual earns for his or her form of self-realisation by contributing, to a certain extent, to the practical realisation of society’s abstractly defined goals”

In a good society no-one is unwillingly unemployed or excluded from making useful contributions to the common good.14 Here one can reverse the Kantian dictum and say never treat anyone as a mere ends, but give them a chance to be useful means to the good of others. For example disabled people should get a chance to participate. (Ikäheimo and Laitinen 2010).

One intuition pump is the experience of the unemployed of no longer being needed, being necessary for anyone. The ideal is that in addition to having a basic equal standing as a citizen, everyone has a particular positively valued standing and each role is necessary. And unlike in a premodern complementary hierarchy, where priests, warriors and workers each complement each other but nonetheless priests are superior, and have higher status, this would be horizontal complementarity – each role is equally necessary and valuable.

And insofar as there are social positions with advantages, there should be a equal opportunity to them (Rawls). Equal opportunity is crucial for solidarity. An appealing perspective concerning solidarity is solidarity from the worse off to the better off (Wildt 2007). Genuine solidarity requires that the worse off do not have a reason to be embittered, but accept that the differences are justified. That would be a tall order if they would not even have had a reasonable opportunity to the same positions.15

Whereas the duty against disesteem is universalist in concerning everyone (at the zero level of lack of disesteem), the second layer of contributions covers only all members of one society – and all members of a good society enjoy greater esteem than zero – they all are participants in producing the common good. The relevant norms are to be public, to help avoid biases in esteem. (We have discussed the nature of esteem for contributions to shared goods in more detail in Ikäheimo & Laitinen 2010).

  1. Projects of self-realization

One should not underestimate the degree to which self-realization takes place via such socially useful roles. The Hegelian picture (Hardimon 1994, Honneth 1995, Hegel 1991) stresses that one’s subjectivity be fully immersed in societal goals. Similarly, Marxian criticism of alienation has the aspect that assumes that genuine self-realization is in genuine communal relations to one another.16 Nonetheless, one should not overestimate these points either: not everything about self-realization is about promoting shared ends. And even in cases where it is, we can examine it qua a contribution to a shared good, or qua an achievement in a self-realization project.17

Thus, the third point is at the other end of hierarchy of needs, concerns individual self-realization, and the intersubjective dynamics involved there. Honest positive feedback concerning excellence or merits or achievements is a meaningful basis of self–esteem.

The people engaging in projects of self–realization have a need for esteem from others if they aim at self–realization through worthwhile goals. The feedback from others concerning the worthwhileness of the goals, and concerning one’s success is pursuing them well is in principle possible, and in practice necessary for the agents, if they are to have a non–illusory sense of the worth of the goals and their success in pursuing them. This feedback is a form of esteem.

It is possible that no–one is around, or has time or energy to evaluate one’s activities. But when someone does give positive feedback, and esteems the activities, it is a sign that the agent has done something which is of value in accordance to the evaluator. That is, in some broad sense it contributes to something which is valued by the evaluator, and this may create some sense of belonging, solidarity or even gratitude towards the agent, even though the act need not have directly benefited or contributed much to the good of the other, or to the common good, but realized something that the other highly values.

We can build on the Hegelian idea that self–realization requires deeds, and one cannot be a privileged authority in the unbiased evaluation of such deeds: there is always at least an implicit relevant audience involved. Persons have a “growth need” to get unbiased personalized feedback concerning one’s projects of self–realization. And feedback concerning success in such projects, or excellence in such practices (whether artistic, scientific, political, career–related, hobby–related etc) is a meaningful basis of self–esteem.

Consider the following quote from Hegel (Encyclopaedia Logic, §140)

We are thus justified in saying that a man is what he does; and the lying vanity which consoles itself with the feeling of inward excellence may be confronted with the words of the Gospel: “By their fruits ye shall know them.” That grand saying applies primarily in a moral and religious aspect, but it also holds good in reference to performances in art and science. The keen eye of a teacher who perceives in his pupil decided evidences of talent, may lead him to state his opinion that a Raphael or a Mozart lies hidden in the boy: and the result will show how far such an opinion was well-founded. But if a daub of a painter, or a poetaster, soothe themselves by the conceit that their head is full of high ideas, their consolation is a poor one; and if they insist on being judged not by their actual works but by their projects, we may safely reject their pretensions as unfounded and unmeaning.”

So we at least have a need to actualise our high ideas in deeds, and a need for feedback from others, for the purposes of non–illusory self–evaluation of our projects of self–realization. Honest positive feedback concerning excellence is a meaningful basis of self–esteem, whether or not it meets the criteria of contributory esteem. The fact that such pursuit is good for the agent herself is not the basis of esteem, (although we naturally hope the people we care for to succeed in their lives); the basis of esteem is simply “doing something worthwhile well”. And the context for the need for feedback is the legitimate aim of non–illusory self–realization through worthwhile goals.

The feedback in question can evaluate either the worthwhileness of the aims, or one’s success in pursuing them. The sense in which we can evaluate success is pretty straightforward, but there are rival theories concerning worthwhileness. I will here mention two.

  1. Rawls’s Aristotelian Principle: one’s aims in life are such that when successful, they maximally actualize one’s talents and potentials, one does not waste one’s talents.

  2. Perfectionism: the aims are good, full stop. The person’s aims are appreciable, when they are worthwhile, or choiceworthy, or are a case of “life in accordance with virtue” (Raz, Aristotle). It is the valuable nature of goals is what matters, whatever the degree to which they realize one’s talents. It is not a wasted life to leave some of one’s special talents as unrealized, as long as one’s goals are worthwhile.

The feedback that one’s goals are taken to be worthwhile (either absolutely or relative to one’s talents), is relevant to a person’s self-esteem, and thus seems to constitute a case of recognition-esteem. This is central for Rawls’s idea of self-esteem, or more precisely, to his undifferentiated idea of self-respect or self-esteem or sense of self-worth (he uses the notions interchangeably) 

When we feel that our plans are of little value, we cannot pursue them with pleasure or take delight in their execution. Nor plagued by failure and self–doubt can we continue in our endeavors. It is clear then why self–respect is a primary good. Without it nothing may seem worth doing, or if some things have value for us, we lack the will to strive for them. All desire and activity becomes empty and vain, and we sink into apathy and cynicism.”(Rawls 1972, 440)

The Rawlsian claims on how the takes of others concerning the worth of our aims is necessary for our motivation (related to a threat of cynicism or apathy) complements the anti-private Hegelian view that lack of feedback threatens to lead to a frictionless spinning in the void, and illusions of grandeur. A person needs actual feedback and intersubjective “reality checks”. The positive feedback from others has thus a multifaceted importance.

Finally, the political implications are worth examining: it is arguably not the state’s business to govern how individuals esteem one another – rather there is a variety of “pockets of esteem” (such as the art-communities for artistic achievements, scientific community for scientific achievements, sports-audiences for achievements in sports etc.) which good societies contain. These are mainly voluntary associations and subcultures that individuals may freely enter or inhabit.

Again we may quote Rawls:

It normally suffices that for each person there is some association (one or more) to which he belongs and within which the activities that are rational for him are publicly affirmed by others. In this way we acquire a sense that what we do in everyday life is worthwhile.”(Rawls 1972, 441)

Moreover, associative ties strengthen the second aspect of self–esteem, since they tend to reduce the likelihood of failure and to provide support against the sense of self–doubt when mishaps occur.”(Rawls 1972, 441).

 “[W]hat is necessary is that there should be for each person at least one community of shared interests to which he belongs and where he finds his endeavors confirmed by his associates.”(Rawls 1972, 442)

This is central to Rawls’s idea of “social union of social unions”. One may say that the horizontal recognition is to be provided by the associates, and the state or basic structure merely publicly acknowledges the principles.18 The way to avoid wrong kind of meritocracy is to see to it that merits ought not to translate to general “status” or “rank”, but be limited to what I would call pockets of esteem.

If someone does not want to achieve, or compete, or prove ourselves, or show to the world, or “leave a trace” or “make a difference”, one need not. We can best think of various practices, and standards internal to them, or the various “cities” (Boltanski & Thevenot 2006), as such voluntarily entered spheres. We can quite safely assume that any feasible society will have some such outlets for the desires to excel and get public affirmation for one’s achievements. (In a sense, such outlets tame the Fukuyama–type megalothymic pressures; see Laitinen 2006, Fukuyama 1992, O’Neill 1997).

Consider a somewhat Stoic attitude that we should rid ourselves of esteem, evaluation etc. altogether. A good society is difference–blind, say. This may be based on a false understanding concerning “inner authenticity” totally divorced from expressions (forcefully criticized by Hegel), but certainly has modern resonance. Any such attempt to rid us of the dependence on the positive opinions of others would be insensitive to the dialogical nature of projects of self–realization.

A liberal view holds that self-realization is a private or communal or associational matter, and the main task of the state or public institutions is to provide the necessary means for the autonomous life of individuals. So, broadly speaking, issues of respect concern only the negative rights not to be interfered with or possibly the positive rights to have the resources and capabilities of individuals to pursue projects of self-realization. And at first look, it may seem that private pursuits of self-realization are not a matter of esteem either: if people do something that is good for themselves, but not for others, at least there is no obvious ground for gratitude. But a closer look at the nature of self-realization reveals something important that we want to classify as esteem, even though it is of a different kind than the contributory esteem so far.

The modern idea of pluralistic liberalism is in a one sense friendly and in another sense hostile towards the idea of self-realizational esteem, especially in its perfectionistic variant. It is friendly in encouraging people to have experiments in life (Mill), to find the aims and goals that they feel at home with. There is a vast plurality of aims and goals through which such processes of self–realization can take place. But in another sense, pluralistic liberalism sees the “perfectionism” of assessing and evaluating people’s achievements as downright dangerous. Why not rather affirm everyone’s worth as unique individuals independently of their achievements? And should not the state remain neutral as to what is admirable self–realization and what is not?

Both intuitions have a valid core: indeed, everyone’s worth ought to be affirmed independently, so that esteem is not meant to replace universal respect or unconditional love. And indeed, perhaps it is not the state’s business to govern how individuals esteem one another – rather there is a variety of “pockets of esteem” (such as the art-communities for artistic achievements, scientific community for scientific achievements, sports-audiences for achievements in sports etc.)

There are “pockets of esteem” many of which we enter into voluntarily. If we do not want to achieve, or compete, or prove ourselves, or show to the world, or “leave a trace” or “make a difference”, we need not. We can best think of various practices, and standards internal to them, or the various “cities” (Boltanski & Thevenot), as such voluntarily entered spheres. We can quite safely assume that any feasible society will have some such outlets for the desires to excel and get public affirmation for one’s achievements.

But what about outside such “pockets of esteem”? Perhaps the idea is that in the context of early education, as pupils or students, we are given tasks, and our progress is measured, and often given grades, and the tasks are over when we’ve become responsible adults. From then onwards, it is up to us. Educators are in the special position to instruct, criticize, grade and evaluate. But there is something paternalistic in evaluations on how individuals live their daily lives (even in adequate evaluations), at least by strangers. It seems that for adults, the idea of sharing one’s life with someone brings with it a position to criticize it, personally: it is the friend’s business to evaluate, but it would be impermissible for a stranger to do so. Of course, artists and social critics are at the liberty to criticize a way of life, but that is not to be taken personally.

However, some pockets are inescapable: moral and legal obligations, responsibilities and violations are one thing, with specific patterns for retribution and restoration. Those are not optional, whether we like it or not. Implicit in the Hegelian idea of Sittlichkeit is the idea of moral and legal culture which shapes emotional responses to wrongdoing. Contributions to the common good, via paying our taxes, and contributing to our daily jobs, perhaps doing a civil service, leave room for choices, but there may be obligation to contribute (according to one’s skills) in some ways, and when the overall situation is bad, in some specific ways (say, joining the army during war). Democratic citizenship may well entail obligations to participate collective self–rule and try to do our shares.19

  1. Conclusion

Much more would of course have to be said about the nature of self-esteem, self-respect and self-love, as well as about different varieties of esteem and self-esteem, but I hope the reflections above have made a couple of theses plausible: first, that the concept of social bases of self-respect (and self-esteem and self-concern) is wider than social respect (and social esteem and concern), in ways which may affect issues of just distribution. Second, that the three concepts of esteem and self-esteem are normatively very different, related for example to the norms of universality (the norm against stigmatization), publicity (contributions to the social good) and standards of excellence intrinsic to individual practices, associations and the unity of one’s life (the goal of self-realization). But further, I hope the paper has gone at least some distance towards showing how in these contexts of esteem the three challenges mentioned above can be met.

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Endnotes

1 For critical discussions, see e.g. Doppelt 2009; Middleton 2006, van Leeuwn 2007, Laegaard 2006, Ferkany 2009.

2 See Ferkany 2009 for a defence of the liberal idea that societal recognition is not needed for sense of self-worth, as long as social recognition is available; and Doppelt 2009 for an argument on how to best understand the relevant kind of self-respect and its bases.

3 Note that the relevant commodities typically have direct use and exchange value as well as ”status-value”, so a good society will in fact distribute three things (useful goods; social bases of self-esteem, and actual esteem constituting status) – and the principles of distribution of one and the same thing may point to different directions when considered as use-value or status-value.

4 I have discussed these elsewhere, see e.g. Laitinen 2002.

5 In a sense the relation is more complex – also politics of difference is egalitarian in some sense, as Honneth and Taylor point out. The principles of due esteem are universalistic unlike patterns of love (which do contain references to singled out individuals), but these universalistic principles leave room for the relevance of particular features from which the universalistic mutual respect abstracts from. I thank Marek Hrubec for posing the question about this point.

6 Rawls starts from the idea of society as a scheme of cooperation between free and equal citizens; and not a value-community. One could in light of Sen’s and Nussbaum’s and MacIntyre’s criticisms start from the idea of dependent capable rational animals, whose society has inbuilt elements of universal care and not only universal respect built in. Disabled, young and old are full members of society from the get go, and justice concerns not only fruits of cooperation but concern for basic needs. See e.g. Nussbaum: Frontiers of Justice.

7 Here the distinction between issues covered by the cooperative scheme where the distribution of tasks, rights, burdens, benefits, ought to be fair, and the issues not so covered, is central.

8 See Honneth, Mead, Durkheim, Ikäheimo, Rawls.

9 see Johnston’s new book (2011) on the history of justice, the chapter on ”social justice” on Spencer, for further discussion on contributions. See also Feinberg’s classic Social Philosophy.

10 A fourth case would concern positive esteem for cultural groups, understood as ways of life (Taylor 1992). I agree with those who have pointed out that recognition of cultural differences is first and foremost a matter of respecting individuals’ right to have the cultural conditions for satisfactory life met (Kymlicka; Jones 2006; Laitinen 2006). Possibly no esteem, no positive judgement concerning the merits of cultures is needed for that – all that is needed is that the cultures are morally tolerable and perhaps tolerant towards others. The kind of positive esteem may be optional, and it may be a source of social discord. Nonetheless, I think that it is conceptually possible to compare cultures, but it is not clear what the point is – related to Durkheim’s mechanical solidarity perhaps. Conceptually, the feedback is “esteem” when it is of the right kind to contribute to self–esteem.

11 The terms growth need and deficiency need come from Maslow.

12 A further question is what exactly is wrong with, say, being dirty and smelly in public. It is easy to say what’s wrong with a society which forces people to live without adequate housing or hygiene opportunities, but it is harder to analyse what exactly is bad about being perceived to be dirty. For various lines of analysis, see Smith, Feinberg 1984 and Nagel 1998.

13 See Feinberg 1984 on offences as affronts to senses and sensibility.

14 In late modern conditions, basic income may well best be the best arrangement in this respect.

15 See e.g. Mason 2006 on choices versus circumstances, and mitigation versus neutralization.

16 To draw an analogue in the shift in post-industrial work, from factory to studio, one’s work demands that one put one’s personality at stake. (With the difference of course that putting one’s personality at stake for the state or a private company has a very different feel of alienation). But one should not overestimate that either: Charles Taylor’s (1975) depiction of nine-to-five Enlightenment and freetime romanticism has something to it. We do have projects of self-realization that are not related to how we make a living, or to benefits to others.

17 See also the connection between self-realization and self-determination, e.g. Deranty 2009.

18 Another fruitful source for the idea of such social unions comes from Boltanski and Thevenot (2006), whose work Ricoeur (2005) insightfully connected to the topic of recognition esteem.

19 I wish to thank the participants at the NSU winter meeting in Turku February 2012, and participants in the Philosophy and Social Science meeting in Prague May 2009.

Ian Carter, Anna Elisabetta Galeotti & Valeria Ottonelli (eds.), Eguale Rispetto (Milan: Bruno Mondadori, 2008)

Amartya Sen asked two questions: (i) Why equality?; and (ii) Equality as to what? He believed that the answer to the first will necessarily entail an answer to the second. (XI) However, to this reviewer, conspicuous by its absence is the question “Is each human being owed equal respect?”In fact, each of the essays gives the impression of presupposing that respect for other persons ought to be equal and then striving to find justifications for that outcome. In other words, there are no essays that argue that, in fact, we do not owe one another equal respect.

The project is one of philosophy, principally, political and moral philosophy and as such, it is predominantly a theoretical one, being light on concrete application, notwithstanding the editors’ questions. Whilst illuminating the concept of equal respect as well as its importance in human interaction, the collection does not attempt to argue that equal respect is the only or principal guiding value; we are not advised as to the circumstances in which other values may prevail over our duties of equal respect.
It is deeply unfair, of course, to criticize a collection of essays for what it does not achieve rather than recognize its merits as an excellent and nuanced contribution to contemporary philosophical discourse. Thus, the reviewer will now turn to some of the articles to demonstrate what to her seemed to be the most interesting ideas and conclusions contained within their pages.
However, before beginning that task, it is necessary to clearly distinguish – as accomplished clearly in the book, in particular by Stephen Darwall and Anna Elisabetta Galeotti – between “recognition respect” and “appraisal respect.” The former indicates equal respect for each human being solely on the basis of their humanity – it is on this that the book concentrates. Appraisal respect, as the name suggests, is the respect we give to others based on their attributes, be they moral virtue, musical virtuosity, athleticism or erudition. Clearly, appraisal respect is not owed equally to everyone as everyone carries such attributes in unequal measure. Moreover, one can merit appraisal respect in one area but not in another. Noone would question Mozart’s musical talent and the due respect on that ground without respecting his personal life as one displaying moral virtual and one rather doubts he was a gifted ball player.
Beginning with Strozzi’s depiction of Mark 12: 13-17 (“Render unto Caesar…”), Darwall takes a tour of respect as recognition, illustrating the “second person standpoint” as a fundamental component. (1-23) Galeotti expands upon this theme to suggest that recognition respect and appraisal respect have closer links than first appear and argues that even recognition respect can be suspended by unspeakable crimes, justifying punishment according to law, though never torture. (The subject of the death penalty was left, disappointingly, unaddressed.) (24-53, especially at 35-36) This is because respect is not so much felt or given as done. We manifest respect through our behaviour; hence can suspend it in appropriate circumstances.
Ian Carter tackles the question of why equal respect. Given that recognition respect is based on the moral agency and personal autonomy of individuals, why should we not vary our respect based on the evident variations in capacity for the exercise of personal autonomy according to individual characteristics? (54-77, especially at 57-8, 61) Carter answers by rejecting Bernard Williams’ demand that we take the other person’s internal point of view and argues instead that recognition respect must be opaque; we must refuse to look inside the other person and assess them, thus coming to a conclusion closer to a Rawlsian position. (66-70) Carter also reverses Sen’s assumptions and argues instead that one cannot answer the question “Equality as to what?” until we have some answer to the question “Why equality?” that is, we have some justification for equality. (56)
Carla Bagnoli returns to Kant and the significance of dignity and its basis, autonomy, as the foundation of equal respect, and throws some light on the related questions: what is individual autonomy and why does it have moral value? (78-100)
Hillel Steiner, Luca Beltrametti and Lester H. Hunt all address in various modes the requirements of equal respect in economic affairs. Steiner persuades us that, despite neoclassical arguments, free trade can be exploitative. (101-112) Using an example of fair trade bananas, he demonstrates that buying at lower cost is a form of exploitation as the purchaser is benefiting from earlier exploitation – and lack of respect – that has put the producer at a long-term economic disadvantage, thus forcing him to sell at a price lower than he would have absent the earlier exploitation. (108-10) He successfully answers the question “Why pay more?” but he also turns that question around and asks the reader: “Why pay less if it means being unjust?” (107)
Beltrametti considers paternalism in economic affairs and begins from B. New’s position that market imperfection is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition to justify paternalism. (113-127) Paternalism may represent a failure to treat its beneficiaries as “ends in themselves” but there are some examples where this is not so. New defines paternalism as A: an interference with the decisional autonomy of the beneficiary; B: with the intention of improving that person’s wellbeing; and C: without the consent of the beneficiary. (114) Beltrametti then distinguishes authoritarian paternalism (which is coercive) from libertarian paternalism (which changes the weights of ones’ reasons for action, such as introducing “default” options in public and private law) (115-117) and finds that the latter is not necessarily more acceptable (or respectful of its beneficiaries) even though it veils itself with the illusion of choice. (122) He adds two more which do not strictly fit with New’s definition, namely Ulysses’ paternalism (which is consensual) and donation paternalism (which requires consent of recipient). (118-120)
Hunt takes us on a disturbing tour of Auschwitz to rebut Robert Nozick’s conclusions in Anarchy, State and Utopia. (128-147) In a complete reversal of respect, Hunt describes the treatment of Jews in the labour camps of Auschwitz, reduced in the eyes of their exploiters to the ultimate “consumable resource.” Each lost 3-4 kg per week and could usually survive for about 3 months before being overcome by starvation, disease or deliberate disposal. Each body was literally consumed, with fat and proteins being converted into labour (like coal or wood burnt for energy) and even in death, body parts were consumed for gold, mattress stuffing and soap. The value of each person was reduced completely to an economic resource. (130-132) In fact, Hunt claims that the labour camps were inefficient even on their own sordid terms; they were poor factories with low output. Furthermore, there was a clear “net-loss” (Kaldor-Hicks) – the persons robbed of their own bodies lost more than was gained by the operators. Nonetheless, this economic analysis seems hardly adequate to explain why we find it so morally horrifying. Nozick’s utility analysis does not explain why it would still be wrong even if it had been economically efficient. Thus, concludes Hunt, there must be some deontological explanation beneath or beyond the economic analysis. (133) Hunt turns to Kant, reminding us that human life has a dignity and not a price; (134) thus we cannot dispose of one Jewish worker and replace him with another of greater “worth” (fatter, fitter, stronger, healthier). (135) Auschwitz’ factories represent the extreme of treating persons as means and not ends in themselves. (136) The second part of Hunt’s article, only loosely connected to the first, discusses the justifications for taxation in democratic states and ultimately concludes that although taxation might be a form of paternalistic coercion (respectful of taxpayers and their ends), in fact, it usually slides into exploitative coercion (like robbery) owing to the clumsiness of states as well as their occasional lack of moral rectitude. (143)
Valeria Ottonelli takes us on a tour of the difficulties of translating the theory of equal respect and formal equality into the realities of the public sphere. (148-173) Examining three concepts – democracy, justification and equal respect – she argues that equal respect mandates democratic governance.
Peter Jones makes an interesting and rather rare foray into the implications of equal respect internationally.(174-200) Despite the fiction that remains the basis of international law, the Westphalian model is no longer a fact of contemporary international relations: states are not independent boxes and certainly not equally independent. (178) Hence, states are not in equal positions to “tolerate” one another as it can only make sense to say that A tolerates B if A has some power to intervene in B and chooses not to exercise it. (177) Furthermore, tolerance or intervention is not a question of a cost-benefit analysis or a perspective of self-interest. (179) Jones argues against intervention as a matter of respect for individuals, rather than respect for “peoples” in some kind of artificial personification of “the state” (186) (defined by Rawls rather than by the Montivideo Convention[2]). (182-184) Some people (persons) may indeed prefer a system that is not liberal-democratic. We can still maintain that a liberal-democratic system is better – even for them – but that is not adequate reason to intervene. (192) In the end, Jones’ conclusion is in line with contemporary international law, which permits humanitarian intervention only in extreme situations.[3] Jones is perhaps over-optimistic about the extent of individuals’ consent to be governed – in liberal-democracies or otherwise – but this paper is theoretical, not practical and thus can be excused.
Elisabeth Telfer completes the book with her essay on humour and equal respect, focusing on ways in which humour can be used to undermine equal respect. (201-213)
On reflection on all the chapters considered together, it becomes less convincing that the collection justifies equal respect at all. Instead, each chapter can be considered as an explanation of and justification for a standard of “equal minimum respect.” Accepting Galeotti’s conclusion that recognition respect and appraisal respect are not of a different nature but rather shades of the same thing, each of the essays can be read as a justification of a presumption of respect at level x for each person qua person, which amount can be increased on the basis of appraisal (x + a) or can be reduced on the basis of exceptionally immoral or anti-social behaviour (x – b). However, x – b can never fall below a basic threshold (y) for example, to justify torture, non-consensual medical experimentation, or to treat human bodies as consumable economic resources. y is the level of equal minimum respect.
It has not been possible in this short review to give equal consideration to each of the commendable essays in this collection but it is hoped that this review will encourage readers to take a closer look at the book and, for those not fluent in Italian, to seek out further work by these accomplished scholars.

[1] All translations are the reviewer’s own.

[2] Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States, Dec. 26, 1933, Art. 1.

[3] Cf: United Nations Charter, Art. 2(4) (principle of non-intervention in sovereign states) and Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, 9th December 1948, 78 U.N.T.S. 277, Art. 1 (requiring states “to prevent and to punish” genocide and indicating, therefore, international intervention). See also, Case concerning the application of the convention on the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide (Bosnia and Herzegovina v Serbia and Montenegro) Judgment of 26th February 2007, 2007 ICJ Rep. 1.