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Journal Article

Self-Respect and a Sense of Positive Power: On Protection, Self-Affirmation, and Harm in the Charge of “Acting White”

Eric Thomas Weber
The Journal of Speculative Philosophy
Vol. 30, No. 1 (2016), pp. 45-63
DOI: 10.5325/jspecphil.30.1.0045
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5325/jspecphil.30.1.0045
Page Count: 19
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Self-Respect and a Sense of Positive Power: On Protection, Self-Affirmation, and Harm in the Charge of “Acting White”
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Abstract

In the liberal tradition, self-respect is most often associated with Kantian moral philosophy, which suggests a focus on individual responsibility. While the individual plays a part in the development of his or her self-respect, so, too, do his or her environmental and cultural conditions. In this essay, I distinguish between conceptions of self-respect, especially those that focus on it as a duty to oneself, and having a “sense of one's own positive power,” a Deweyan educational ideal. A sense of positive power is partly directed by the individual but is also clearly conditioned by the ways in which one's culture treats and reacts to one's efforts. Thus, a sense of positive power, as a concept, reveals the powerful role of one's wider culture in frustrating or enabling a vital element of personal growth necessary for justice. I test the distinction with respect to the difficult and harmful charge of “acting white,” which concerns self-respect and the role of oppressive forces conditioning people's senses of their power in an unjust society.

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