Apr 6, 2018
Almost every school of ancient philosophy claimed Socrates as their patron saint. In Greece and Rome, the Skeptics, the Stoics and the Cynics all looked to Socrates for inspiration. Living in 5th century Athens, he did not conform to the pressures of contemporary society. By his method of questioning, he tried to move others away from living in the futile search for fame and power. He challenged his fellow citizens to seek higher moral standards.
In 406 B.C., when the city government of Athens was advocating an illegal proposal to convict a group of Athens’ top generals, he stood apart as the lone opponent. He held firm to his principles and spoke out courageously. Socrates refused to act out of human respect.
Simply defined, human respect is placing the opinions of others over truth in order to be accepted and even honored by others. It is one of the most pernicious attitudes. Like a toxic gas, it subtly surrounds us, ready to rob us of our virtue. It undermines personal integrity. It damages society.
Respecting others even when they disagree with us is the virtue of tolerance. But letting our desire for their esteem make us affirm what is against God’s law is immoral. This is the sin of human respect which inverts the moral order, placing the approval of others before the approval by God.
Being accepted and recognized as a person and not being marginalized is one of the goods that every person desires. According to St. Thomas Aquinas, every person naturally desires to be recognized as having worth (Summa theologiae, 2a2ae, 129.1). No one wishes to be marginalized or dismissed either by others or by society at large. For this reason, all of us face, at times, the temptation to give in to human respect.