(Calhoun 2000) The virtue of civility

Calhoun, Cheshire. The virtue of civility. Philosophy and Public Affairs. 2000 Summer; 29(3):251–275.

Calhoun advocates the acceptance and promotion of civility as a specific kind of moral virtue. She sees the essence of civility in the communication by display, through one’s actions, of a stance of “tolerance, respect, and considerateness” toward others. Like other forms of communication, civility depends on social conventions. In an unjust social order, there can be cases where the accepted social conventions for displaying and communicating tolerance, respect, and considerateness can conflict with other moral principles, and even with the requirements for actual (as opposed to perceived) tolerance, respect, and considerateness. Nevertheless, Calhoun argues that civility should be seen as an important moral virtue even within an unjust social order, and cautions against overriding it in the name of a personal moral understanding that is not accepted as a social consensus. She emphasizes the social character of the whole enterprise of moral reasoning:

I find something odd, and oddly troubling, about the great confidence one must have in one’s own judgment (and lack of confidence in others’) to be willing to be uncivil to others in the name of a higher moral calling. When one is very very sure that one has gotten it right, and when avoiding a major wrong is at stake, civility does indeed seem a minor consideration. But to adopt a principle of eschewing civility in favor of one’s own best judgment seems a kind of hubris.


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