Blame, Offense, and (again) Contempt

1. Two studies suggest that women apologize more than men. The reason? They are more easily offended, and find more actions more offensive:

In Study 1, participants reported in daily diaries all offenses they committed or experienced and whether an apology had been offered. Women reported offering more apologies than men, but they also reported committing more offenses. There was no gender difference in the proportion of offenses that prompted apologies. This finding suggests that men apologize less frequently than women because they have a higher threshold for what constitutes offensive behavior. In Study 2, we tested this threshold hypothesis by asking participants to evaluate both imaginary and recalled offenses. As predicted, men rated the offenses as less severe than women did. These different ratings of severity predicted both judgments of whether an apology was deserved and actual apology behavior.

Can women be wrong to be offended by an act judged non-offensive by men? Can men be wrong to fail to see the offence in a behavior judged offensive by women? How do we adjudicate different thresholds of offense? Can Coase guide us here? Are some equilibria preferable to others? Why or why not?

2. Gary Banham lists the Members of Parliament who voted in favor UK tuition increases, and ends on an un-Kantian note:

None of the MPs listed above has any right to respect and should be met with contempt.

Perhaps he simply means that the British ought to withdraw their deference for these MPs? It’s odd for a Kantian to invoke contempt when we have the useful language of blame.

Here’s Thomas Hill in “Must Respect Be Earned?”:
One can at least confront and respectfully negotiate with a single- minded, unpretending enemy; but contempt is a deep dismissal, a denial of the prospect of reconciliation, a signal that conversation is over. Furious argument and accusation, and even sharp-tongued deflation of hypocrisy and self-deception, leave some space to resume communication; but cold, silent contempt does not. The one demands to be heard, while the other walks away in disgust
Michelle Mason disagrees, but gives a good account of Hill’s position in the process:
In Hill’s lectures, the satisfaction of this criterion gives rise to both formal and substantive requirements of respect for persons. The formal, or procedural, requirement of respect involves regarding each person as “a potential co-legislator of the basic principles we all must live by.” So regarding a person will require that we “listen to one another, take seriously the arguments of those who reject one’s initial position, . . .be sincere in [our] proposals and nonmanipulative in [our] arguments, [aiming] not to gain power through debate but to convince others that [our] position is justifiable,” and so on. This formal principle, in turn, gives rise to more substantive requirements of respect, on Hill’s view, when we try to take up the Kantian moral perspective. We can suppose that anyone reflecting from this perspective, Hill argues, “would endorse at least the presumption that every human being is to be respected so far as possible in the substantive ways that we so highly value. Since not all human beings have special skills or unusual merit, compared to others, the respect we presume required cannot be respect for a person’s merit but rather respect for a person’s position, which in this case must be just the position of ‘being human.’” This presumption of respect for persons is incompatible with contempt insofar as the latter “is a deep dismissal, a denial of the prospect of reconciliation, a signal that conversation is over.” Whereas even “furious argument and accusation” leave room for the possible resumption of communication, “cold, silent contempt does not. The one demands to be heard, while the other walks away in disgust.” The presumption of respect for persons as such, as Hill defends it here, thus is not the minimal notion of recognition respect as I have suggested, that is, the negative requirement that places constraints on our interactions with our fellows. Rather, it is a more positive requirement of an active form of engagement with those fellows
Mason goes on to take issue with the “kingdom of ends” defense of equality of respect:
Is the prospect of such contempt too great for co-legislators of basic principles to risk? I’m not sure I know how to decide that question, and, again, I doubt that its answer addresses the threat of inhumanity to others any better than does my own nonanswer. In response to such a question, I find myself wanting to say that were the optimism about humanity that would encourage one to offer a positive answer to the question justified, then the answer would not in practice matter because what had been “risked” would never come to pass. That is, if the thought driving one’s choice of such principles were the thought that no actual human being deserves to be so treated—and so we cannot reasonably risk being so treated—then a positive answer is an easy one to give. The history of the human race thus far, however, provides a rich cast of characters of whom such optimism is, I’m afraid, naive. And if such characters are among my co-legislators, then I can only hope that the majority vote goes my way.
This is an odd way to end the argument. Mason begs the question:
  • Arguments against contempt assume the equality of persons.
  • If persons were equal, no one would deserve contempt.
  • Yet some people deserve contempt. (Just LOOK at what they’ve done!)

∴ Some people deserve contempt. (Don’t be NAIVE.)

What’s more, there’s no voting in the kingdom of ends: we’re not tallying up the votes on lying or genocide. Of course Mason knows this, which suggests she’s simply acknowledging that this is a disagreement on first principles.

After all, the case for equality of respect makes basically the same move by assuming the equality of persons, which is really the question being disputed:

  • Arguments in favor of contempt assume that we can earn dignity.
  • Earning respect subjects the human person to evaluations of value and worth.
  • Contempt is an appraisal of a person’s inferiority.
  • Having a value is a property of objects, not persons.
  • Persons deserve respect by virtue of being persons.
  • The equality of respect is incompatible with appraisals of personal inferiority.

∴No person deserves contempt.

Of course, Kant himself didn’t speak with one mind on these issues:

By a lie a human being throws away and, as it were, annihilates his dignity as a human being. A human being who does not himself believe what he tells another (even if the other is a merely ideal person) has even less worth than if he were a mere thing; for a thing because it is something real and given, has the property of being serviceable so that another can put it to some use.

So there’s that. Again, I think we can simply say that status emotions are immoral and leave it at that. Blame and praise are moral; contempt and deference are immoral. Hate the sin and not the sinner. (If we hate the sinner, we’re acting immorally and perhaps committing a category mistake as well. Compare: “The doer is merely a fiction added to the deed – the deed is everything.”)





One response to “Blame, Offense, and (again) Contempt”

  1. […] that Michelle Mason just assumes that some people are better than others in her account of contempt as a reactive attitude. But the genius of Strawson’s account of […]

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