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What Does it Mean to be Respectful

One source of controversy concerns the scope of the concept of a person. Although in everyday discourse the word“person” is synonymous with “human being,”some philosophical discussions treat it as a technical term whoserange of application might be wider than the class of human beings(just as, for legal purposes, business corporations are regarded aspersons). This is because some of the reasons that have been given forrespecting persons have the logical consequence that non-human thingswarrant the same respect on the very same grounds ashumans. Consequently, one question an account of respect for personshas to address is: Who or what are persons that are owed respect?Different answers have been offered, including all human beings; alland only those humans who are themselves capable of respectingpersons; all beings capable of rational activity, whether human ornot; all beings capable of functioning as moral agents, whether humanor not. The second, third and fourth answers would seem to excludedeceased humans and humans who lack sufficient mental capacity, suchas the profoundly retarded, the severely mentally ill and senile,those in persistent vegetative states, the pre-born, and perhaps veryyoung children. The third and fourth answers might include artificialbeings (androids, sophisticated robots), spiritual beings (gods,angels), extraterrestrial beings, and certain animals (apes,dolphins).

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Beyond the question of the ground or basis of respect for persons,there is a further question of justification to be addressed, for itis one thing to say that persons have a certain valuable quality, butquite another thing to say that there is a moral obligation to respectpersons. So we must ask: What reasons do we have for believing thatthe fact that persons possess quality X entails that we are morallyobligated to respect persons by treating them in certain ways? (Hill1997). Another way of asking a justification question seeks not anormative connection between qualities of persons and moralobligation, but an explanation for our belief that humans (and perhapsother beings) are owed respect, for example: What in our experience ofother humans or in our evolutionary history explains the developmentand power of this belief? Our actual felt experiences of reverentialrespect play a significant role in some of these explanatory accounts;what justifies accepting our experience of respect for humans (orother beings) as grounds for an obligation is its coherence with ourother moral beliefs (Buss 1999, Margalit 1996, Gibbard 1990).

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The functionof criticism should be to show how it is what it is, even that it is what itis, rather than to show what it means.

That it is the nature of the object that determines itsrespect-worthiness, and that there are different kinds of objectscalling for correspondingly different responses has led manyphilosophers to argue that there are different kinds of respect. Inwhat follows, three sets of distinctions will be discussed.

The recognition/appraisal distinction has been quite influential andis widely regarded as the fundamental distinction. If it is, then itshould encompass the other distinctions (although some fine-tuningmight be necessary). And indeed, evaluative respect and perhapsreverentia for morally good persons are essentiallythe same as appraisal respect, while respekt, obstaclerespect, observantia, directive respect, institutionalrespect, and care respect can be analyzed as forms of recognitionrespect. Some philosophers, however, have found therecognition/appraisal distinction to be inadequate. Neitherreverentia for the moral law nor the felt experience ofreverential respect for the sublimity of persons as such (Buss 1999)are forms of appraisal respect, yet because recognition respect isanalyzed, first, as holding only in deliberative contexts, and second,as not essentially involving feeling, reverentia seems alsonot to be a form of recognition respect. Moreover, while valuing theobject is not part of Darwall's analysis of recognitionrespect—and it is not essential to some forms of recognitionrespect (e.g., directive respect) and is only indirectly involved inother forms (in obstacle respect, we don't value the obstacle but dovalue the goal it blocks us from reaching)—valuing is essentialto some forms of respect that are not appraisal respect. Inparticular, valuing persons intrinsically is widely regarded as theheart of the respect that all persons are thought to be owed simply aspersons. However, it is not sufficient simply to gloss recognitionrespect as recognizing the value of the object, for one can recognizethe value of something and yet not value it, as an insurance appraiserdoes, or take the value of something, say, a person's child, intoaccount in deliberating about how best to revenge oneself on thatperson. Respect for some categories of objects is not just a matter oftaking the object's value into consideration but of valuing theobject, and valuing it intrinsically. Analyzing appraisal respect asjust the positive assessment of someone's character traits as good issimilarly problematic, for one can evaluate something highly and yetnot value it. For example, one can appraise someone's moralperformance as stellar and hate or envy her for precisely thatreason. Respect in the appraisal sense is not just evaluating but alsovaluing the object positively. The recognition/appraisal distinctionthus seems to obscure another very important distinction between whatwe might call valuing respect and non-valuing respect. Appraisalrespect is a form of valuing respect, but recognition respect includesboth valuing and non-valuing forms. There are, of course, differentmodes of valuing, and at least three distinctions are relevant torespect: (a) between moral and non-moral valuing (or, valuing from amoral or a nonmoral point of view), (b) between comparative andnon-comparative valuing, and (c) between valuing intrinsically(valuing it in itself, apart from valuing anything else) and valuingextrinsically (for example, because of its relation to something elseof value) (Anderson 1993). A complete account of respect would need towork out a taxonomy that incorporates these valuing distinctions.

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It is widely acknowledged that there are different kinds of respect,which complicates the answering of these questions. For example,answers concerning one kind of respect can diverge significantly fromthose about another kind. Much philosophical work has gone intoexplicating differences and links among the various kinds. One generaldistinction is between respect simply as behavior and respect as anattitude or feeling which may or may not be expressed in or signifiedby behavior. We might speak of drivers respecting the speed limit,hostile forces as respecting a cease fire agreement, or AIDS as notrespecting national borders, and in such cases we can be referringsimply to behavior which avoids violation of or interference with someboundary, limit, or rule, without any reference to attitudes,feelings, intentions, or dispositions, and even, as in the case of theAIDS virus, without imputing agency (Bird 2004). In such cases thebehavior is regarded as constitutive of respecting. In other cases,we take respect to be or to express or signify an attitude or feeling,as when we speak of having respect for another person or for nature orof certain behaviors as showing respect or disrespect. In whatfollows, I will focus chiefly on respect as attitude or feeling. Thereare, again, several different attitudes or feelings to which the term“respect” refers. Before looking at differences, however, it isuseful first to note some elements common among varieties.

As responsive, respect is object-generated rather than whollysubject-generated, something that is owed to, called for, deserved,elicited, or claimed by the object. We respect something not becausewe want to but because we recognize that we have to respect it (Wood1999); respect involves “a deontic experience”—theexperience that one must pay attention and respondappropriately (Birch 1993). It thus is motivational: it is therecognition of something “as directly determining our willwithout reference to what is wanted by our inclinations” (Rawls2000, 153). In this way respect differs from, for example, liking andfearing, which have their sources in the subject's interests ordesires. When we respect something, we heed its call, accord it itsdue, acknowledge its claim to our attention. Thus, respect involvesdeference, in the most basic sense of yielding: self-absorption andegocentric concerns give way to consideration of the object, one'smotives or feelings submit to the object's reality, one is disposed toact in obedience to the object's demands.

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Page 2 What It Means to Be a Blackbelt Essay

Shakspeare never introduces a catalectic line without intending an equivalent to the foot omitted in the pauses, or the dwelling emphasis, or the diffused retardation. I do not, however, deny that a good actor might by employing the last mentioned means, namely, the retardation, or solemn knowing drawl, supply the missing spondee with good effect. But I do not believe that in this or any other of the foregoing speeches of Polonius, Shakspeare meant to bring out the senility or weakness of that personage's mind. In the great ever-recurring dangers and duties of life, where to distinguish the fit objects for the application of the maxims collected by the experience of a long life, requires no fineness of tact, as in the admonitions to his son and daughter, Polonius is uniformly made respectable. But if an actor were even capable of catching these shades in the character, the pit and the gallery would be malcontent at their exhibition. It is to Hamlet that Polonius is, and is meant to be, contemptible, because in inwardness and uncontrollable activity of movement, Hamlet's mind is the logical contrary to that of Polonius, and besides, as I have observed before. Hamlet dislikes the man as false to his true allegiance in the matter of the succession to the crown.

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We may also learn that how our lives go depends every bit as much onwhether we respect ourselves. The value of self-respect may besomething we can take for granted, or we may discover how veryimportant it is when our self-respect is threatened, or we lose it andhave to work to regain it, or we have to struggle to develop ormaintain it in a hostile environment. Some people find that finallybeing able to respect themselves is what matters most about gettingoff welfare, kicking a disgusting habit, or defending something theyvalue; others, sadly, discover that life is no longer worth living ifself-respect is irretrievably lost. It is part of everyday wisdom thatrespect and self-respect are deeply connected, that it is difficult ifnot impossible both to respect others if we don't respect ourselvesand to respect ourselves if others don't respect us. It isincreasingly part of political wisdom both that unjust socialinstitutions can devastatingly damage self-respect and that robust andresilient self-respect can be a potent force in struggles againstinjustice.

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