Kant was the first to give philosophical meaning to the word “respect” (German: Achtung), making it an important concept of his ethics. Respect is not a judgment but a subjective feeling. It is neither an affect nor a passion, to refer to the famous dichotomy from Anthropology from a pragmatic point of view (§§ 73-86). According to the definition that first appears in Groundwork of The metaphysics of morals, respect is “the consciousness of the subjection of my will to a law without the mediation of other influences on my sense” (Groundwork of The metaphysics of morals, AA 4:402). This consciousness is “a notion of a value which offends my self-love” (ibid.).
It follows that we cannot allow such a feeling for other living beings who do not possess both characteristics of having a mind and not being merely rational beings. It is inherent only in those who possess both reason and senses. For respect has an intellectual ground because it is generated by reason (Critique of Practical Reason, AA 5:66), but at the same time it is an expression of humility because it is generated in a being who is not merely intellectual. Humility is a kind of “intellectual contempt” (Critique of Practical Reason, AA 5:75) because it is an awareness of the limitation of the human being to act always only according to the moral law.
In the sense of admiration we can see on the one hand a trace of Plato’s doctrine of ‘complex feelings’, and on the other a foreshadowing of the idea of complexity of feeling developed in the third Critique in the aesthetic experience of the sublime, combining awe and fascination. The difference between moral respect and the aesthetically sublime is their temporality. In the aesthetic, the opposite feelings follow one after another, whereas in respect they are simultaneous.
Respect is a priori feeling. Respect is not a “sensuous feeling” generated as a result of the effects of external phenomena. Its a priori character is guaranteed by the fact that it is a “self-produced feeling” (Groundwork of The metaphysics of morals, AA 4:402). Thanks to this “self-production” of respect, we know it a priori and can understand its necessity.
Respect as a feeling is “produced” by the consciousness of the moral law, and as such it is a “moral feeling.” Respect is a singular feeling, and this singularity contrasts with the multiplicity of “sense feelings” that result from our experience with a multiplicity of sense objects. Another peculiarity of respect as a feeling is that it always applies am persons and never to things (Critique of Practical Reason, AA 5:76). The moral sense does not serve as a judgment, but only as a motive to make a maxim in itself out of this law (Critique of Practical Reason, AA 5:76). The sense of admiration comes nearest to it, but as an affect (ibid.). Respect for the moral law is the only and at the same time unquestionable moral motive (Critique of Practical Reason, AA 5:78).
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How to Cite:
Kolev, Ivan (2021) Respect, in Thesaurus. Sofia University Dictionary of Philosophy. Online edition. Sofia: St. Kliment Ohridski University Press, 2021, ISSN 2815-2832.