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Res Philosophica


published on August 18, 2015

Adam C. Pelser

Respect for Human Dignity as an Emotion and Virtue

Although it does not appear on many traditional lists of the virtues, respect for human dignity is an important virtue in its own right that is characterized as much by emotions as by other mental states and actions. The virtue of respect for human dignity essentially involves the dispositions to feel the emotion of respect for the dignity of others and an emotional sense of one’s own dignity. As exemplified by Nelson Mandela, this virtue also involves a keen perceptual sensitivity to humiliating and degrading treatment, along with dispositions to protest, correct, and prevent such treatment. The person with the virtue of respect for human dignity also will be disposed to feel indignation toward willful violations of human dignity, compassion for those whose dignity is violated, and various positive emotions in response to victories for human dignity. Although this virtue closely resembles other, more widely recognized, virtues, such as justice and love, it nevertheless is appropriate to treat respect for human dignity as a distinct virtue, as well as an emotion.

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