January 2007 Beyond Utilitarianism and Deontology: Ethics in ..
The first, recognition self-respect, centers on what we can callstatus worth, which is worth that derives from such things as one'sessential nature as a person, membership in a certain class, group, orpeople, social role, or place in a social hierarchy. Kantian dignityis one form, but not the only form, of status worth. Evaluativeself-respect, in contrast, has to do with acquired worth, merit, basedon the quality of one's character and conduct. We earn or lose moralmerit, and so deserve or don't deserve evaluative self-respect,through what we do or become. Different sources of status worth yielddifferent configurations of recognition self-respect, but mostcontemporary discussions, heavily influenced by Kant, focus ondignity-based recognition self-respect. Recognition respect foroneself as a person, then, involves living in light of anunderstanding and appreciation of oneself as having dignity and moralstatus just in virtue of being a person, and of the moral constraintsthat arise from that dignity and status. All persons are morallyobligated or entitled to have this kind of self-respect. Because thedominant Kantian conception of persons grounds dignity in threethings—equality, agency, and individuality—we can furtherdistinguish three kinds of recognition self-respect. The first isrespect for oneself as a person among persons, as a member of themoral community with a status and dignity equal to every other person(see, for example, Thomas 1983a, Boxill 1976, Hill 1973). Thisinvolves having some conception of the kinds of treatment from othersthat would count as one's due as a person and treatment that would bedegrading or beneath one's dignity, desiring to be regarded andtreated appropriately, and resenting and being disposed to protestdisregard and disrespectful treatment. Thinking of oneself as havingcertain moral rights that others ought not to violate is part of thiskind of self-respect; servility (regarding oneself as the inferior ofothers) and arrogance (thinking oneself superior to others) are amongits opposites.
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A third strategy, which is employed within Kantian ethics, is toargue that respect for persons logically entails respect fornonpersons. For example, one can argue that rational nature is to berespected not only by respecting humanity in someone's person but alsoby respecting things that bear certain relations to rational nature,for example, by being fragments of it or necessary conditions ofit. Respect would thus be owed to humans who are not persons and toanimals and other sentient beings (Foreman 2017,Rocha 2015, Wood 1998). Alternatively, one canargue that respect for persons requires respecting their values, andsince many people value nature or other categories of nonpersonsintrinsically and not just instrumentally, respect for personsrequires (under certain conditions) also respecting what they respect(Gaus 1998). Yet another strategy is to reject the Kantian notion thatthere is but one kind or level of moral status or worth that warrantsbut one kind or level of respect. Instead, one might argue, we canacknowledge that rational moral agents have the highest moral standingand worth and are owed maximal respect, and also maintain that otherbeings have lesser but still morally significant standing or worth andso deserve less but still some respect. So, although it is alwayswrong to use moral agents merely as means, it may be justifiable touse nonpersons as means (for example, to do research on human embryosor human cadavers, destroying them in the process, or to kill animalsfor food) provided their moral worth is also respectfully acknowledged(for example, by not using them for trivial purposes, by destroyingthem only in certain ways, or by having an attitude of regret or lossbecause something of genuine moral value is sacrificed) (Meyer andNelson, 2001). Much philosophical work has been done, particularly inenvironmental ethics, to determine the practical implications of theclaim that things other than persons are owed respect (e.g., Corral 2015, Foreman 2015, Schmidtz2011, Bognar 2011, Connolly 2006, Wiggins 2000, Westra1989). Certainly a wide variety of human practices, ranging fromagriculture and urban development to recreation and energy use totechnological and biomedical research, might have to be profoundlyaltered by a recognition of moral duties of respect to nonpersons.
Although persons are the paradigm objects of moral recognitionrespect, it is a matter of some debate whether they are the onlythings that we ought morally to respect. One serious objection raisedagainst Kant's ethical theory is that in claiming that only rationalbeings are ends in themselves deserving of respect, it licensestreating all things which aren't persons as mere means to the ends ofrational beings, and so it supports morally abhorrent attitudes ofdomination and exploitation toward all nonpersons and toward ournatural environment. Taking issue with the Kantian position that onlypersons are respectworthy, many philosophers have argued that suchnonpersons as humans who are not agents or not yet agents, humanembryos, nonhuman animals, sentient creatures, plants, species, allliving things, biotic communities, the natural ecosystem of ourplanet, and even mountains, rocks, and the AIDS virus have moralstanding or worth and so are appropriate objects of or are owed moralrecognition respect. Of course, it is possible to value such thingsinstrumentally insofar as they serve human interests, but the idea isthat such things matter morally and have a claim to respect in theirown right, independently of their usefulness to humans.
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As the Categorical Imperative indicates, it is humanity in persons,strictly speaking, that has dignity; that is, it is in virtue of thehumanity in them that people are and so ought to be treated as ends inthemselves. Commentators generally identify humanity (that whichmakes us distinctively human beings and sets us apart from all otheranimal species) with two closely related aspects of rationality: thecapacity to set ends and the capacity to be autonomous, both of whichare capacities to be a moral agent (for example, Wood 1999, Korsgaard1996, Hill 1997). The capacity to set ends, which is the power ofrational choice, is the capacity to value things through rationaljudgment: to determine, under the influence of reason independently ofantecedent instincts or desires, that something is valuable orimportant, that it is worth seeking or valuing. It is also, thereby,the capacity to value ends in themselves, and so it includes thecapacity for respect (Velleman 1999). The capacity to be autonomous isthe capacity to be self-legislating and self-governing, that is, (a)the capacity to legislate moral laws that are valid for all rationalbeings through one's rational willing by recognizing, using reasonalone, what counts as a moral obligation, and (b) the capacity then tofreely resolve to act in accordance with moral laws because they areself-imposed by one's own reason and not because one is compelled toact by any forces external to one's reason and will, including one'sown desires and inclinations. The capacity to be autonomous is thusalso the capacity to freely direct, shape, and determine the meaningof one's own life, and it is the condition for moralresponsibility. But why does the possession of these capacities makepersons ends in themselves? Kant argues that moral principles must becategorical imperatives, which is to say that they must be rationalrequirements to which we are unconditionally subject, regardless ofwhatever inclinations, interests, goals, or projects we mighthave. But there could be categorical imperatives only if there issomething of absolute worth. Only persons have this kind of worth, andthey have it because the capacity to set ends, or to confer value onthings, is the source of all objective value (as Korsgaard 1996 andWood 1999 have argued), and the capacity for autonomy is the source,on the one hand, both of the obligatoriness of moral law and ofresponsible moral actions, and on the other, of all realized humangoodness. As the sources of all value and of morality itself, then,these rational capacities are the basis of the absolute worth ordignity of rational beings. Kant maintains that all rational beingsnecessarily attribute this value to themselves and that they must, onreflection, acknowledge that every other rational being has the samevalue and on the same grounds: because of the rational nature that iscommon to all persons. It is thus not as members of the biologicalspecies homo sapiens that we have dignity and so are owedmoral recognition respect, but as rational beings who are capable ofmoral agency.