Why Respect is not Enough: When Difference Calls for Esteem
According to a broadly defined political liberal perspective, the relation between political institutions and their citizens requires institutions to adopt what Ian Carter has recently termed “opacity respect”: it is no business of the state to express any evaluative perspective on people’s ability to make choices and to develop and pursue what they consider to be worthwhile life plans. I argue that the behaviour required by this notion of respect is compatible with disesteeming evaluative perspectives that, when held by institutions, can be socially expressed in terms of what counts as valuable and estimable in a given society. Such compatibility is due to the fact that the restraint which should bind respectful political institutions seems to apply to their behaviours rather than to the evaluative perspective held by the state. It must be so unless one adopts the controversial view of ‘doxastic voluntarism’, that is the view that agents (and their aggregates, including political institutions) can adopt and reject beliefs at will. If we maintain the principle that ‘ought implies can’, then X has no obligations that exceed her capacities; X has no obligations to hold respectful beliefs on Y if X lacks such belief, while X may well have the obligation to treat Y respectfully even if X would spontaneously lack the appropriate disposition, because the behaviour, contrary to the belief, seems to be fully at the disposition of agents’ will. Hence, considering the devaluing stand (and its implications) that political institutions can assume in spite of them behaving respectfully, I introduce a notion of esteem which, although it cannot be voluntarily supplied, its conditions can be indirectly provided by the state through what Geoffrey Brennan and Philip Pettit call esteem “proxies” which make the competition to gain the relevant others’ esteem viable for all in diverse contexts.