Human Respect

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Human respect is an excessive regard for the opinions or esteem of other men. The expression is not used by classical theologians, but it does signify a powerful influence in human affairs and one of which Christian moralists have not been unaware. Because honor or the recognition of a person's worth is so great a human goodthe greatest of man's external goods (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, 2a2ae, 129.1)men naturally strive for it. Theologians note the special virtue of magnanimity or greatness of soul that moderates one's undertaking works worthy of honor. Human respect, then, is not to be confused with magnanimity or with the reticence that prevents one from rashly divulging his inner secrets or hidden defects that would ruin his reputation. Since human respect is a kind of fear of the judgment of others, one acting from this motive lacks courage or fortitude, but as a vice human respect seems more directly opposed to magnanimity because it seeks honor rather than the works worthy of honor.

Concern for the opinion of others may lead one to act against moral principles and thus to do evil in order to gain the esteem of others. This obviously is morally wrong, for it involves an inversion of moral values, a preferring of human esteem to the virtuous good. If the matter is serious, the sin can be grave.

But the common human tendency to be concerned about the favorable opinion of others can be put to better use. If care is taken to associate with those who hold virtue in honor, the desire for the approval of others can en-courage one to right living. This appears to be a matter of importance especially for adolescents, who are particularly concerned for the approval of others, since they are just becoming aware of their individuality and are searching for value and meaning in their lives.

If a morally good act is motivated purely, or at least principally, by human respect, it falls outside the order of merit. Such an act, performed not because of its intrinsic goodness or out of obedience to divine law, is not done, even virtually, for the love of God. However, such acts may have a certain utility insofar as they are at least an external fulfillment of the moral law and may lead to the formation of good habits.

Bibliography: c. damen, in f. roberti et al., Dictionary of Moral Theology, ed. p. palazzini et al. from 2d Ital. ed. (Westminster, Md. 1962) 131011. n. jung, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 190350; Tables générales 1951) 13.2:246166.

[j. hennessey]