chapter  I
Pages 9

We often invoke a notion of respect to express our sense of human equality. We grow up in a liberal society feeling we are owed respect because we are human beings and that we owe respect to others. Each person is owed equal respect as a human being. This helps establish a sense of human equality that we are brought up to take very much for granted. But is it possible for me to treat someone with the respect owed to them, regardless of our relative positions of wealth, power and influence in society? There is a deep liberal tradition of thought and feeling that insists it is always possible for us to abstract from these social differences, inequalities and distinctions, to treat people with the equal respect owed to them. This is deeply rooted in the notion that, as individuals, we are free to take up whatever attitude we consider appropriate in our relationships with others. In this tradition morality is very much a matter of individuals deciding what is the morally right action to take. Moral discussion and moral theory is focused upon the principles of individual action. This guarantees and legitimates prevailing notions of the autonomy of morality, the idea that we are equally capable and able to live moral lives, regardless of the inequalities of social life.1 I want to explore some of the sources for this tradition in Kant’s moral writings.