Respectare: moral respect for the lives of the deeply forgetful

Stephen G. Post

in Dementia

Published on behalf of Oxford University Press

Published in print December 2005 | ISBN: 9780198566151
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191754418 | DOI:

Series: International Perspectives in Philosophy & Psychiatry

Respectare: moral respect for the lives of the deeply forgetful

Show Summary Details


This chapter began with the notion of respect as ‘re-looking.’ If we pass by the person with dementia just once and reach superficial conclusions, we fail morally. When we pass by a second time and begin to observe the complexity of a life lived in deep forgetfulness, respect becomes possible. The more we re-examine these lives, the more we come to honour them.

The fitting response to the increasing prevalence of dementia in our ageing society is to enlarge our sense of human worth to counter an exclusionary emphasis on rationality, efficient use of time and energy, ability to control distracting impulses, thrift, economic success, self-reliance, ‘language advantage’, and the like. We make too much of these things. Here I would distinguish the heritage of Stoic rationalism from Judaism and Christianity. The great Stoic philosophers achieved much for universal human moral standing by emphasizing the spark of reason (logos) in us all. Yet this is clearly an arrogant view in the sense that it makes the worth of a human being entirely dependent on rationality and then gives too much power to the reasonable. Reinhold Niebuhr concluded that, since the divine principle is reason, the logic of Stoicism tends to include only the intelligent in the divine community. An aristocratic condescension, therefore, corrupts Stoic universalism. (Niebuhr 1956, p. 53)

Jewish and Christian ethics, however, are able to include even those with cognitive disabilities under the protective umbrella of beneficence. Equal regard based on the cognitive, emotional, relational, and symbolic–expressive aspects of persons with dementia (including advanced dementia) lead me to reject the notion ‘I think, therefore I am’ and replace it with the less arrogant notion ‘I feel and relate, and therefore, I am’.

Chapter.  5743 words. 

Subjects: Psychiatry

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.