Remy Debes

Understanding as a Form of Respect

Principal Investigator

Remy Debes
Associate Professor of Philosophy
University of Memphis


This project advances a new theory of understanding as it figures into ethics. The goal is to defend the view that understanding – at least in one particular form — constitutes a moral attitude, namely, a distinctive form of respect for the "dignity" of human persons. This view incorporates three claims. First, contra widely accepted models of human agency that privilege rationality, I argue that human agency fundamentally involves possession of a unique, ineliminably affective perspective on the world. Second, proper recognition of this aspect of human agency occurs only through a kind of skillful empathy. Third, this empathy amounts to a form of understanding. Specifically, on my view, to understand another person's affective perspective — at least when such understanding is empathetic — consists of a kind of normative "recognition-respect" of that person.