Respect theory

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This page is about the theory describing how respect is and should be distributed between individuals in a group or society. For practical tool for applying the theory in Opasnet, see Peer rating. For a game to distribute respect, see Arvostuspeli (in Finnish). For general discussion about what respect is, see Respect. For a description of some mathematical constructs of respect, see Respect currency. Onor is a unit of measurement or respect.

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Respect theory is a theory about how people perceive respect and distribute their respect to other people based on their deeds or properties. It also studies implementations of the respect within a society (descriptive), and properties of a theoretically optimal implementation (normative). Respect theory claims to be a major solution to the dilemma of economic growth and sustainability of resources: It is a method to redistribute resources based on the intrinsic value of things. In contrast, economics measures utility, individual's preferences, income, and intrinsic cognitive processes of opportunity costs among other things. Particularly, economics gives higher value to scarce than abundant utilities. It is therefore insensitive to things that are abundant but still highly respected, such as being good to other people. Thus, respect theory captures the most important things better than the economic theory in a wealthy world where most people have already fulfilled their basic needs.

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What are the properties of respect, how is it perceived, and how does it form, accumulate, and distribute in a society?

More specifically, respect can be thought as a social activity, where voluntary, individual expressions of respect about things and deeds are handled with specific rules in such a way that a synthesis of these individual expressions tends to converge towards the social respect about the things and deeds. Specific questions about respect theory include:

  • How and in what format should the individual expressions of respect be collected?
  • What are the rules for handling the expressions?
  • What does "social respect" mean, and how can it be measured?


The respect theory is a draft of what kind of social reward system would encourage people and communities to work for a better society. Respect is measured in onors. The amount of onors given for a certain respectable act is figured out by asking: "How valuable is the act from the point of view of the society, meaning how many onors should the person doing it recieve? Note that onors don't measure financial gain, but is measured separately and measures the part that isn't measurable by money."

Benefit, responsibility or virtue?
The respect theory doesn't say what kind of ethics should be followed: whether the respectability of an act comes from the benefit (Joth Stuart Mill), the meaning (Immanuel Kant) or virtue (Aristoteles). What's relevant is that the act is respected in the society. It's also relevant that respect is measured orthogonally in respect to economic gain. Some act can be economically very profitable, but is indifferent in a moral or aesthetic sense. That's when the economical meter, money, itself tells about the meaning of the act to society, and respect is zero. For example creating jobs and finding meaningful things to do to people brings companies onors, but making profit doesn't.
How is respect measured in practise?
There are two parts to measuring respect. On one hand it is estimated how much respect should be given for a certain act, meaning how different acts relate to each other in the eyes of respect. On the other hand evidence that someone has done an honourable act is evaluated. To the theory the first question is more important. As to evidence, it's mostly just assumed it exists and is valid. Because my purpose is to first apply the respect theory to openly published data, the evidence won't be a problem: through server logs it's possible to trace who has published some knowledge for everyone to see and where and when this has happened.
The principle of measuring respectability is simple. People interested in issues of the society come together in the internet to discuss the respectability of different acts and the arguments for it. After that every one can give the amount of onors they feel is right for the act by answering the question above. One's respect for an act can be changed over time if needed. This is how the respectability of an act is constantly determined in the markets. So that the discussion could get started, the value of one onor will be set at the amount of acts helping society that a citizen can be assumed to do during one day. Or, adapting the guideline of scouts: do one good deed a day, get one onor.
How do onors relate to money?
The purpose of the respect theory is to motivate people to do acts that help the society, and the purpose of onors is to work as moral rewards on their own. The onors one has earned are public information, and the society's task is to keep up the respect given by onors. However, doing good acts takes people's time away from other things, like a paying job. It might be beneficial for the society to support economically people who want to concentrate on doing things that gain you onors, but in the current economical system doesn't gain you money. Here is a proposition to be a base for a conversation:
  • A person earns onors as follows
o_t = \sum_i o_{i,t} n_i,
where ot is the amount of onors a person earns at time t, oi is the amount of onors a person earns by doing the act i, n is the number of good acts provably done by a person and t is a moment in time. It is worth noting that the onors for the same deed can change in time as the values of the society change.
  • A person can reclaim their onors in money as follows:
m_{t,i} = n_{i,k=2} a_t (\sum_i o_{i,t} \sum_{k=1}^2 n_{k,i})^{b_t}
so that
n_i = \sum_{k=1}^3 n_{k,i},
where m is the amount of money the society pays for the onors reclaimed in the case, a is the "conversion rate" for onors (euros per onorb), b (0 < b < 1) is a progression coefficient, and k = 1,2,3 so that 1 means the acts from which the onors are already reclaimed, 2 those that are now being reclaimed and 3 those that have not yet been reclaimed. A person can so reclaim the monetary value of the acts they want. Onors stay with people permanently, but after reclaiming them they no longer hold economical value. Unlike the total number of onors, the amount of reclaimed onors is not public information. In the equation the b in the power is meant to cause progression, because the reclaiming of money is supposed to support the long lasting work of big masses of people instead of rewarding with huge amounts of money those who are able to create some new, society changing innovation. The smaller b is, the steeper the progression and the more small amounts of onors are valued. If b = 0 what we're talking about is actually a civil salary, because the respect for ones acts doesn't affect the sum paid.

When calculating the progression those acts are taken into account that have been reclaimed before or are being reclaimed now, but not those ones from which onors have been received but not yet been reclaimed. This is to avoid a situation, where new onors lower the economical value of previously gained onors and thus would tempt to reclaim them for tactical reasons. However, it is important to note that the economical value of onors are calculated based the rates for acts at the moment of reclaiming. This is because the value of many acts are often not understood until a lot later, and so the current rate is societally thinking better than the rate at the moment of the act or some other moment in time. This is true to both the reclaiming rate and progression coefficient. This is why room for speculation is left and cannot be removed.

Why should society build a respect system?
Economists have said that middle-class work is disappearing. In the future the most secure jobs are either expert tasks, that produce especially a lot of value, or the kind of practical jobs like barber or nurse that can't be moved abroad. Digitalisation and globalisation threat many middle-class current professions. However, sensible and meaningful social work isn't disappearing from the world. Instead the resources of the current economical system to invest in this kind of work ends, because from the point of view of market forces opening data, reading to children and listening to your neighbour's worries doesn't create demand on a market that runs on money. The respect theory offers a solution that doesn't involve the reader, the child or the neighbour having to pay for others to help them. Instead the motor would be people's knowledge that the society finds these acts respectable and has the practical motivator of handing out onors for good deeds, which also help one's economical situation. This is how a balance is found: people are motivated to do good to each other, and the society encourages this by offering meaningful experiences and by giving resources to support the activities.

NOTE! The properties of respect currency were moved to Respect currency.

There are two competing views of respect theory: respect as an ongoing social evaluation of information objects (and other things), and respect as a permanent transfer of respect currency between individuals. They are both described here.

Respect theory(-)
ObsPropertyOngoing evaluationPermanent transfer
1Essence of respectEvaluation of the current respect as a quantified levelExpression of respect that is given away as a quantified amount
2Scope of useIn principle anything but in practice freely available information objects only.Anything: individuals, physical and information objects, deeds
3Basic building blockEstimation of respect of an information objectAtom of respect (a person gives an amount of respect to someone)
4Focus of rulesRules for respect estimation, trade for money.How respect is generated, transferred and discounted; exchange to money.

Respect as an ongoing social evaluation of information objects

In this approach, respect is not seen as an act of expressing respect that leads the recipient to receive some amount of respect. Rather, it is an explication of the current respect about something (in a typical case, the theory limits to freely available information objects). Therefore, respect is not something that is given and then owned by a recipient. Rather, it is something that is evaluated from time to time, and it may change in time as the evaluation changes.

Respect as a permanent transfer of respect currency between individuals

Atom of respect

The respect theory is able to describe many complex societal and inter-individual relationships. The descriptions are based on the atom of respect, which has the following parts:

  • the subject (the person who respects),
  • the object (the thing that is respected; it can be anything, e.g. an act, a personal skill, a feeling, a valuation, or an object),
  • the expression of respect (the act of giving respect) based on the feeling of respect of the subject,
  • the response (someone's response to the expression of respect), and
  • the feeling of the subject caused by the response (the respect theory is especially interested in whether the response causes a feeling that stimulates or inhibits further expressions of respect).

If we look at the feelings, there are two (from the subject's point of view): the feeling of the subject about the object, which the subject expresses; and the feeling of the subject caused by the response. If we look at the observable actions, there are three: the expression of respect, the response, and the subsequent expressions of respect by the subject. The last action is outside the atom that we are observing here, but the response putatively has a purpose of stimulating or inhibiting similar expressions of respect by the subject. Therefore, it is an important action to observe when developing the respect theory and its operationalisation.

The atom is always from the point of view of the subject. It is worth to notice that the response is a part of another atom of respect from the respondent's point of view.

It is important to notice that the thing respected and the response may or may not come from the same individual. Also, the respondent may be an individual or a groups. It can also be implicit like "the society" or "the conscience". In contrast, the subject is primarily always an individual, as we are talking about his/her feelings (which are always individual things). However, with respect theory it is possible to construct individual-like concepts such as a society that can "feel" and "express" respect. A major interest in the respect theory is to understand how these concepts can be constructed in such a way that individuals of a real society can largely accept the "expressions" of this constructed society.

The respect theory is also able to explain and operationalise ethics systems. Then, the topics are valuations shared by a group of people, e.g. a society. There are valuations that are shared by all members of the group and that are seen as indispensable valuations. Such a valuation forms molecules of respect with any two individuals from this group. The molecules of respect strengthens a certain value system within a society. Another society may and will have another set of indispensable valuations.

The valuation structure may be hierarchical so that a society divides into subgroups with additional indispensable valuations shared within the subgroup but not necessarily outside the group. Cultural clashes can often be explained by understanding the indispensable valuations and how the atom of respect about these valuations does not exist between some groups.

NOTE! Mathematical expression of respect was moved to Respect currency.


What respect is was moved to an own page.

I heard this story from somewhere:

A rich man came to a hotel and paid 100 euros for a room. A piccolo took his bags and they went to the room. The hotel manager took the note and ran to a cheese maker to pay his debt. The cheese maker paid his loan to a farmer who was bringing him milk. The farmer went to see a prostitute whose services he had used. The prostitute went to the hotel and paid for a room she had used. Meanwhile, the rich man had seen his room and some others, but was not happy with any of them. So he took his bags and his 100 euro note and went away. Lesson: when money circulates, everyone is happy.

My own interpretation is this: when people are willing to serve others, everyone is happy irrespective of money circulation. Money is not necessary per se, but it is obviously a great facilitator in a world where most people are somewhat selfish.

Now consider this other story invented by me.

In a small town the mayor heard a lecture by an economist saying that constant increase in efficiency and economic growth are necessary to ensure well being of the citizens. The economist also told that public sector was especially problematic, because increasing efficiency was so much more difficult there than in private sector. Well, the mayor was an energetic and respected man, and he thought that if anyone, he could improve public sector in his town. So he closed down the theatre and installed a 3D data projector there, so that instead of having ten people acting, one person could sell tickets and show the greatest movies in the world. He bought iPads with fancy learning software to all pupils so that they could spend less time at school and learn by themselves instead. The mayor saved a lot of money, but on the other hand, many people lost their jobs and practically all money saved went to the unemployment benefits. The mayor went to the economist who said that there was no problem: the people who are now unemployed can start doing things that they really want to do, so it is an overall benefit.

So what happened? The actors founded an amateur theatre and showed plays in between movies in their old theatre. The schoolteacher set up a club for children. There they read and discussed books together, and she told them fancy stories about historical events and people. The pupils preferred to come to the teacher's club rather than read history from iPads, because she was a great storyteller and able to make the history live. Lesson: If people already do what they want to do, there is little room for economic improvements. This lesson applies on societal level as well: in an optimal society, people have enough social interaction and meaningful things to do. Although in economical terms, you could fulfill the tasks with less time, it is not only the product but also the doing that is valuable to people. And when people have meaningful activity, you can only improve by doing something more meaningful, not by completing the task in less time. Economic metrics do not capture these issues very well.

Respect measured with a currency

All the current currencies basically measure resources or services that can be traded to other resources or services. However, Eric S. Raymond[1] has noted that in a society where the basic needs have been fulfilled, social respect cannot be gained by collecting more wealth but instead giving something for common good. Therefore, it would actually be necessary for a society to have some currency for social respect, in addition to the measure of resources. Otherwise respect remains implicit or hard to recognise, and it is inefficient in motivating people to work for social development. It is not enough to have the current focus on efficient resource distribution by using money as a means to distribute goods according to the society's standard.

There should be a currency for respect. The respect currency should measure the amount of respect a certain act gains from the society. There exists some primitive examples of such a currency already. Honorary and other medals that are given to respected people e.g. on the 91st independence day of Finland (which is the day when the first draft of this page was written) are one kind of respect currency. Gifts in general also show respect. However, these currencies are not quantitative (i.e. they do not actually measure the amount of respect), and they are not (easily) tradeable to material benefits.

The respect theory has a practical objective. I believe that respect is, in general, a positive phenomenon both at an individual and a social level. Individually, it is an important factor improving quality of life. In a society, it is a method to guide its members towards behaviour that is acceptable in and useful for the society. The respect theory aims to improve the explication of respect in a beneficial way. It also may encourage people to express their respect more, which may be a good thing for the society and its members. A major challenge is to operationalise it to measure respect in a truthful way.

Respect and free information

The most obvious situation where the traditional money seems to fail is the market of freely available information. This problem is changing especially music and news businesses, where new information is expensive to produce but almost free to distribute once created. There are only three successful ways that have been used as business logics. First, the availability of information is restricted in some way so that the users are willing to pay for access to the information. Second, the information itself is distributed for free, but money is collected from selling commercials on the website where the information is. Third, the information itself is free, but some advanced options or services cost money. All of these approaches have major societal problems.

When information is restricted, the societal problem is that - information is restricted. The society would be better off, if everyone would have access to that information, especially as all costs have occurred already and the distribution of information is free. The problem with commercials or non-free advanced services is twofold. First, only very few websites make enough money with commercials, so this will push the money to very few hands. Second, some topics are more tempting than others to advertisers, which will quickly lead to strong selection bias and ignorance of unpopular topics. These problems are milder with systems that collect money from advanced services, but they still do exist. In addition, many of these systems are based on large groups doing voluntary work for free, and their driving force is more joy or peer respect than money; thus, they actually have taken steps towards respect theory.

Respect theory claims to offer solutions to the current problems. The nature of money is that two people have some scarce utilities, which they exchange (probably using money as the measure of the price of the goods). After the transaction, both have higher utility because they have things that they need more than the things they had before. But still, they both only have the new goods because they gave up what they had. With information, they both would have all information after the transaction, and exchanging money would only make no sense because both are better off anyway.


Respect is related to an event, object, individual, or group. It clearly exists in humans, but it seems to exist in many social mammals and maybe in other animals as well. The respect theory should be able to capture the essential properties of this feeling.

However, an individual may have strong feelings of respect (or disrespect) but the individual may not want to reveal this feeling to others for various reasons. Thus, there will be feelings of respect that will not be explicated. The following discussion differentiates the feeling itself and the explication of respect, which is an expression of the feeling of respect. Because we cannot know whether an individual actually feels the way the individual claims, we need to assume that this is the case. Anyway, the respect theory only operates with the expressions of respect. To be precise about these, we use different symbols. R'' denotes the actual feeling of respect of an individual about something, R' denotes the explicated individual respect about the thing, and R denotes the aggregated respect perceived by the subject.


Respect theory relates to externalities, which are benefits or costs to people that are not involved in an economic transaction. For example, a piece of freely available information may benefit anyone irrespective of who actually paid for producing it. An external cost occurs when the production of goods cause pollution that is not charged from the polluter in a form of e.g. a pollution tax. Respect theory may be able to capture some of these externalities and thus create an economic system that is more efficient than one without respect. Respect theory, if properly applied, may be more efficient way of capturing externalities than many traditional methods such as taxation, criminalisation, government provision, or tort laws. This can happen e.g. in a form of losing respect when polluting the environment. This may be easier to apply than environmental tax, and losing respect is bad business even today. D↷


The above mentioned economic tools are not refined to actually capture efficiently the ethical aspects of actions. There are lots of things that are ethically questionable but still do not trigger any tort, not to mention criminal, laws. Also, ethically respected deeds are not at all covered by laws, which focus on forbidding bad things rather than rewarding good deeds.

Coherence of social respect

There is a hypothesis that social respect, and also social valuations, MUST be coherent within the society at a given time.[2] (Actually, this can be viewed as a definition for a society: society is a group of people, who accept the idea of belonging to the group given its coherent social valuation structure.) This coherence requirement does not apply to individuals, who are allowed to have inconsistent valuations, and they are also allowed to disagree with the social valuations.

If this hypothesis holds, it means that when starting from inconsistent individual expressions of respect, the rules must make a synthesis that is internally coherent.

Intrinsic and instrumental respect

In practice, it is useful to divide respect into two different kinds: intrinsic respect, which is respect of the thing itself; and instrumental (or extrinsic) respect, which is respect because the thing is useful in producing something that deserves intrinsic respect. This is analogous and closely related to intrinsic value and instrumental value.

How can these respects be separated? Is there actually any intrinsic respect, or is everything that is respected respected only because it is useful? These questions have stimulated lengthy discussions in the philosophy of values. Here, we only make a practical assumption: there are layers of respect. Many things that we originally thought that deserve intrinsic respect are, when carefully thought through, only instrumental to some deeper objectives. Instead of trying to separate these layers into "instrumental" and "deeper", we acknowledge that the line is inherently fuzzy. We must start by giving intrinsic respect to things we respect. However, as we develop our thinking and measurement methods, we understand that the things are instrumental, and we learn to measure their impact in producing something deeper good. Our intrinsic respect has changed into instrumental. And with further thinking and improved measurement, the deeper goods are found to deserve only instrumental respect as means to produce something even deeper good.

There is no objective boundary between intrinsic and instrumental respect. It is a matter of our ability to understand what we actually respect, and our ability to measure how different things affect other things that produce respected things.

What is the difference between respect and values?

Respect theory is closely related to Value theory. They are pretty much talking about the same thing. I guess the main difference is that values are thought as something that exist by themselves. Respect only exists if you give respect to something, and I have respect on your respect. Respect is more like a process of talking about values, and the respect theory is a method to measure the intensity of that talk. Value theory sees values more like as static products. The essence of values is having them. The essence of respect is giving it.

Individual respect versus social respect

Let's define the social respect as the average of the individual respects in the society. If an individual shows respect to something with equal intensity as the society (i.e. the individual respect equals the social respect), what happens? Does the individual gain respect in the act? Probably not. Does the individual lose respect? No. Does the individual's respect capital diminish? According to the current mathematical expression of respect yes, but there is no good reasoning for this.

I come to a hypothesis that if an individual shows respect at the same intensity as the society, it is a neutral act and does not change respect capitals. In contrast, if the individual gives respect at a different intensity than the society, this has implications for both the recipient and the giver. The recipients respect capital changes according to the respect given, but what happens to the giver's respect capital? If the society changes its respect to the same direction, the giver should gain respect (for revealing the true social respect that has been unnoticed), but if the society changes its respect to the opposite direction, the giver should lose respect (for being against a common norm).

However, there is a difference between the two statements: "I agree with the social respect in this case" and "I give X amount of respect (which happens to equal to the social respect) in this case." The difference is that in the first case, the individual respect floats according to the changes in the social respect, while in the latter case it does not.

1: . The argumentation should clarify between different respects: respect given, received, possessed; amount, rate; instrumental, intrinsic; roles: giver, recipient, society, others?. There is a lot of work to clarify these issues. Does an analogy to energy, different energy types, and energy flows bring some useful insights into this? At least the basic rule is different: respect, unlike energy, can vanish. --Jouni 07:33, 23 December 2009 (UTC) (type: truth; paradigms: science: relevant comment)

Learning to respect

Based on what I have learned about decision analysis, utilities or values are assumed to just exist in people's mind, and the question is about eliciting them. Sometimes they may in conflict, and then you might need multi-attribute utility theory. But I have not seen an idea that there would be normative values, i.e. values that you should have. My feeling is that this idea should be included in the respect theory.

A very common example is found in a family. A husband or wife can show respect to the spouse if he/she has a positive attitude about what she/he has done. The normative respect is the idea that he/she should show respect simply because she/he is the spouse. You have to learn to show respect to your spouse even if her/his acts do not stimulate that automatically. Although even this is not simple, it is actually more difficult than that. It is not enough to show respect. You should learn to feel the respect first, and then show the true feeling.

This is a complex societal structure. My current hypothesis is that

  • the concept of normative respect exists, i.e. has practical implications,
  • the possibility to implement normative respect in a society yields, on average, better results than never implementing it,
  • it is derived from a complex social system where the society expects you to behave that way (i.e. shows respect/disrespect to you if you behave/don't behave that way).

The "society" is often implicit and although there is nobody physically saying you this, you have a feeling that the society is still telling you what to do. Is this the definition of conscience?

Rationale for rules

The rules of respect should follow general patterns of thinking that are deep in the brains of human beings. The ability of thinking about respect is inherent to humans (and probably other mammals, too). Therefore, the main source of information about the rules of respect lie in our own brains.

  • An individual should be allowed to express respect about anything. Also disrespect should be allowed, because it clearly exists in human thinking of respect.
  • An explication of respect is more valuable if
    • the respector is highly respected,
    • the explication is a large fraction of the total explications of respect by the respector,
      3: . This cannot be correct. I have never heard about the concept of "fraction of respect", and I have difficulties in thinking about what that would be. It seems to be the fraction of the respect given per the total respect the person possesses. But this cannot be intrinsically known by others, unless we mean the respect of the respector in the eyes of the others; in this case, the concept of fraction (the amount of respect you give to something divided by the amount of respect I give to you) is meaningless. --Jouni 06:23, 8 March 2010 (UTC) (type: truth; paradigms: science: relevant attack)
    • the explication is informative or focussed ("I respect the whole world" is very uninformative and therefore not valuable) (another example: although a man's sentence "I love also you" is very informative (or revealing) in a sense, it shows a critical loss of focus in his mental respect structure, and probably the girl can make correct interpretations about the value of this explication of respect),
    • the explication is true (i.e. felt by the individual expressing it, and not only said due to being polite).
  • The expression of respect reduces the respect of the giver, if the object of expression is disrespected by others.

See also

EU funded project from Cordis database



  1. Eric S. Raymond: The Cathedral and the Bazaar [1]
  2. I don't know whether this hypothesis already existed, but now it does. --Jouni 00:10, 26 November 2009 (UCT)

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