Esteem, Social Norms and Status Inequality

Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 24 (4):901-915 (2021)
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When we appraise others as talented or virtuous, we esteem them: we register admiration of their traits and virtues. It is generally believed that, unless they involve a violation of respect, distributions of esteem are not a concern from the point of view of justice. In this paper, I want to dispute this commonly-held view. I will argue that attributions of esteem can become problematic when a particular trait becomes such a uniquely relevant source of social esteem in a community that its absence becomes a reason to regard others as less than full members of the community. For instance, in contemporary capitalist societies those perceived as lacking certain socially valued traits and unable or unwilling to make certain kinds of contribution to the community, such as those who are unemployed or have committed criminal offences, are widely disesteemed and also regarded as inferior qua members of the community by others. From the fact that they fail to possess particular qualities a broader negative judgment of their ability to contribute to the community is inferred. Moreover, their failure to gain esteem in these pervasive domains eclipses their possession of other esteem-worthy traits as well as other positive contributions they might have made to society. This perception of inferiority renders it impossible for them to live on equal terms with other citizens. I argue that as egalitarians we should oppose these distributions of esteem.



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Costanza Porro
University of Manchester

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