A book on ethics and philosophy of values

(Note: this is a non-professional translation of the original text in French. Help improve this translation: please report any mistake!)


2/ What is contempt?


We have seen that love has not yet received all the attention it deserves from philosophers. This is also the case for contempt: only a few philosophical investigations have been carried out about this feeling.

All the same, we find this definition of contempt in the work of Hobbes: Those things which we neither desire nor hate, we are said to contemn 1.

Then he gives a materialistic explanation of it, in his usual way, related to vital movement: Contempt being nothing else but an immobility or contumacy of the heart in resisting the action of certain things; and proceeding from that the heart is already moved otherwise, by other more potent objects, or from want of experience of them 2.

Finally, he notes that contempt and hatred bring a different appreciation of objects: Whatsoever is […] the object of his hate and aversion [is called] evil; and of his contempt, vile and inconsiderable 3.

I would like to modify the Hobbesian definition as follows: I call contempt this feeling which is opposed both to love and to hatred, since love attributes a positive value to the object, hatred a negative one, whereas love deprives the object of any value, whether positive or negative. In this opposition, we see that each of these concepts is consistent and cannot be reduced to the other ones.

If it were denied, viz. held that to tell our beloved: “you have no value”, or “you have a negative value” is love, then I ask what name must be given to the relation to the thing which consists in this assertion: “you have a great value”? And what is contempt? What does the contemptuous person say to the despised one?
As seen before, desire is compatible with the contempt of the desired thing, as it is a mere feeling of subjective pleasure. So love, containing in itself this feeling of subjective pleasure too, differs from desire and contempt by something, and this something is probably the axiological judgment -attributing a value to the beloved- that I have suggested.

From this it may be inferred that whereas desire is compatible with the contempt of the desirable object, and even is necessarily associated to it (since desire never posits the value of the desired thing), love contains in itself the notion of respect for the beloved. By saying this I do not mean that there are two concepts, love and respect, necessarily related, but that there is only one concept: love, containing the meaning that we have wrongly assigned to another one – that of respect: the attribution of a great value to the beloved.

To love something is to respect it, but in the sense of an analytical identity, like in the sentence “a dwarf is a person of short stature”: the second term is nothing but the first one. So I will only speak of love, never of respect, it being understood that by this term, I will always mean something which includes the notion of respect that one commonly –and wrongly- distinguishes.

1. Leviathan, I, 6
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid.