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Contempt as an Other-Characterizing, "Hierarchizing" Attitude

Contempt as an Other-Characterizing, "Hierarchizing" Attitude

Stephen Darwall
March 10, 2017 -
1:15pm to 3:00pm
Encina Hall West, Room 400 (Graham Stuart Lounge)
Event Speaker: 
Stephen Darwall, Professor of Philosophy, Yale University

DuBois describes one half of "double consciousness" as "measuring one's soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity."  What is it about contempt and pity that leads DuBois to group them together?  I argue that pity and contempt are attitudes that are both held from a perspective of difference; essentially characterize their objects instead of relating to them as individuals; and they imply an evaluative hierarchy in which their objects are lower.  In this way they differ from compassion and moral blame, respectively.  Whereas compassion and blame implicitly relate to their objects second-personally, pity and contempt are third-personal attitudes.  Performative contempt constructs hierarchical social relations, and to have the attitude of contempt is to feel as if these relations are justified.  Blame, on the other hand, relates to its object as a mutually accountable equal.


Stephen Darwall teaches in the Department of Philosophy at Yale University.  He taught for twenty-four years at the University of Michigan and, before that, for twelve at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  His books include Impartial ReasonThe British Moralists and the Internal ‘Ought’, Philosophical Ethics, and Welfare and Rational Care.  His most recent books are The Second-Person Standpoint: Morality, Respect, and Accountability, Morality, Authority, and Law: Essays in Second-Personal Ethics I, and Honor, History, and Relationship: Essays in Second-Personal Ethics II. He has also edited various anthologies in metaethics and normative ethics:  Moral Discourse and Practice, Contractarianism/Contractualism, Consequentialism, Deontology, and Virtue Ethics.