In in a debate with theist three words kept plaguing the conversation,

  1. Respect
  2. Agree
  3. Understand

We were both satisfied with the communication using agree, and understand,

I understand what is happening, and the reasons for it but I don't agree with it.

But, when respect was introduced all things went ape shit,

I understand what is happening, and the reasons for it but I don't respect it.

How does respect relate to agreement and understanding? And, when speaking of moral matters can you ever respect something you find morally reprehensible?

Specifically, the context of this was

Theologically, I can understand why Mormons deny Baptism to children of gay parents. But, even if homosexuality was a choice, I can neither agree with nor respect the notion of burdening a child because of the sins of a parents' choice.

The person I was talking to thought not respecting a religious tenant was wrong, and I can't figure out what kind of definition of "respect" you'd have to employ to make sense of that kind of statement.

  • Only if you can admire the reprehensible. Can you?
    – deadrat
    Nov 7, 2015 at 19:10
  • 1
    When you don't respect an opinion or a decision, it means that you disagree, but you also add some moral connotation to your disagreement.
    – Graffito
    Nov 7, 2015 at 19:13
  • @deadrat no, so your contention is that respect is more related to admiration? Nov 7, 2015 at 19:17
  • @EvanCarroll Nothing to do with me. Admiration is part of the definition of respect. You might prefer revere or esteem, but they're basically synonymous here. They all have the concept of personally finding something worthy.
    – deadrat
    Nov 7, 2015 at 19:25
  • 2
    It is certainly possible to respect an enemy—even if "respect" in such a situation doesn't extend beyond the idea of "don't underestimate."
    – Sven Yargs
    Nov 7, 2015 at 20:44

2 Answers 2


To respect can be defined like this:

  1. to hold in esteem or honor
  2. to show regard or consideration for


Seems to me you cannot honor or hold in esteem a belief you find morally objectionable, but you can show consideration for it.

For example, it's one thing not to hold in esteem what someone believes about infant baptism. It's quite another to walk into a place of worship during a baptism ceremony and show disrespect by disrupting the service.

  • This appears not to be the sense of respect the OP had in mind. For example, if parents think it wrong to give their child blood transfusions, a doctor is legally bound to respect that decision and not give a transfusion, but may hold (and express) the view that the decision is wrong and reprehensible. Nov 7, 2015 at 23:09
  • @Tim I think the example you give is actually identical in meaning to the one in this answer. Nov 7, 2015 at 23:36
  • @TimLymington I'm not a mind-reader :) The word "respect" is a polysemant, that's what I highlighted in my answer. I think the answer to the OP's question is yes, you can respect a belief you find morally objectionable, even though you don't hold it in esteem.
    – A.P.
    Nov 7, 2015 at 23:46
  • But, you're defining respect now in your example by the lack of a show of disrespect.. That's Cartesian. I will consider every belief. That's part of the process of discarding it for a valid reason. Does that mean I respect everything that has entered my mind? Nov 7, 2015 at 23:51
  • 1
    @EvanCarroll Arguably, yes, in a sense. Provided you allow a belief the courtesy of considering it, you show it a measure of respect.
    – A.P.
    Nov 8, 2015 at 0:00

Joe Blitv is a "thug", a "hood", who works for "the syndicate". He's robbed banks, done a few kidnappings, and maybe (he's not saying) murdered a couple of people ("but if I did," he'll tell you, "they had it coming").

His current task is to place a bomb on a bus, timed to explode just as the bus is crossing a busy intersection, to create a diversion for a bank job. This time of night no one is ever on the bus, other than the driver, and the bomb is in the back, so no one will get hurt.

But just as Joe leaves the bus the 20 kids of Mrs Smith's first grade class board the bus. Seems they were in a "lock in" party at the school and had been out to see a movie, and are now returning to the school. And they all want to sit in the back of the bus.

Joe can't have the death of 20 kids (and Mrs Smith) on his conscience, so, after exhausting all other options, he hops in his car, races to intercept the bus, and (relatively gently) collides with it. He manages to shoo everyone off the bus and is trying to foist a suitable lie on the cops that then show up when the bomb goes off and the jig is up for Joe.

There is no way that I admire Joe, but I respect him for placing the interests of those kids ahead of his own.

  • 1
    This sounds like you do not admire Joe for being a thug, but you admire Joe for placing the kids' interest above his own. You're still using "respect" to mean "admire".
    – A.P.
    Nov 7, 2015 at 23:39
  • @A.P. - This just your opinion! Do you expect me to respect or admire you for it?
    – Hot Licks
    Nov 8, 2015 at 1:10
  • (A) I expect neither. (B) Calling it "only my opinion" doesn't falsify it. (C) It's just your opinion that "this is just my opinion". The fact remains you do admire Joe for his selfless behavior. (Unless your definition of "admire" is totally idiosyncratic.)
    – A.P.
    Nov 8, 2015 at 1:20

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