Self-Esteem and Social Competition
Pablo Gilabert (Concordia University)

October 5, 2022, 1:00pm - 2:30pm

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Rice University
University of British Columbia

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Abstract: This paper explores the relations between self-esteem and social competition. Self-esteem is a very important good and social competition is a widespread phenomenon. They are commonly linked, as people often seek self-esteem through success in competition. Although competition in fact generates valuable consequences and can to some extent foster self-esteem, empirical research suggests that competition has a strong tendency to undermine self-esteem. To be sure, competition is not the source of all problematic deficits in self-esteem, and it can arise for, or undercut goods other than self-esteem. But the relation between competition and access to self-esteem is still significant, and it is worth asking how we might foster a desirable distribution of the latter in the face of difficulties created by the former. That is the question addressed in this paper. The approach I propose neither recommends self-denial nor the uncritical celebration of the rat race. It charts instead a solidaristic path to support the social conditions of the self-esteem of each individual. I proceed as follows. I start, in section 2, by clarifying key concepts involved in the discussion. In section 3, I identify ten mechanisms that support individuals’ self-esteem and impose limits on competition. I focus, in particular, on the challenges faced by people in their practices of work. In section 4, I outline prudential and moral arguments to justify the use of the proposed mechanisms. Section 5 concludes with remarks on the role of social criticism in the processes of change favoring the use of the mechanisms.

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October 5, 2022, 1:00pm CST

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