Not just all people but all beings whatsoever deserve our respect. Many additional specialized considerations apply to beings subject to ethical appraisal (“us”), and a lot of the time I focus on these. Mutual recognition in the strong sense applies only between ethical beings, and thus only between potentially rational or talking animals, but the ethical significance of mutuality is much broader than that.
I want to say that a good ethical being claims no unequivocal mastery over any other being, period. Every being — even including inanimate objects — is to some extent an end in itself, and not simply a means to our ends. Of course, we are not unequivocally subordinate to the ends of any being, either, so it it not always wrong to sacrifice other beings to our ends. (We must eat, for instance.) But as ethical beings, we ought to be careful and thoughtful about how we achieve our ends. We are stewards, not masters.
There can be no simple rule about whether the end justifies the means. Sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn’t. The answers are in the details of each case. Full evaluation of such questions could only be achieved by the universal community of all ethical beings, but the universal ethical community and its principles are not a finished achievement, only a work in progress. Nonetheless, ethical beings implicitly deliberate on behalf of all beings, not just on behalf of themselves. (See also Natural Ends.)
With chapter 7 of Ricoeur’s Oneself as Another, we finally reach the territory of ethics. I think the idea behind this deferral is not to suggest that we are not always already in ethical territory in living in the world, but only to prepare the way by separately treating aspects that are analytically distinguishable, even if in real life we only find them embedded in richer contexts.
Aristotle, Kant, Emmanuel Lévinas, and Hannah Arendt provide Ricoeur’s leading inspiration here. Somewhat like I have proposed, he suggests a hybrid of Aristotelian “ethics” and Kantian “morality” that gives priority to Aristotle. Lévinas is famous in continental circles for promoting recognition of “the Other”. Arendt provides Ricoeur’s focal point for connecting ethics to political concerns.
From Aristotle, Ricoeur extrapolates the ideal of “aiming at the good life with and for others, in just institutions” (p. 172). To Aristotle is also attributed a basing of the aim of the good life in praxis (action or practice). Using Aristotle’s analysis of Greek tragedy, Ricoeur develops an expanded notion of action based on what he calls “emplotment”. A literary plot embodies a dialectical interplay of characters and actions, each informing the other. This will be related to Ricoeur’s concept of narrative identity. Narrative identity is also implicitly tied to Aristotle via the Thomist Alasdair MacIntyre’s “narrative unity of a life”. Ricoeur develops a concept of self-esteem, related to the morally good pride in Aristotelian magnanimity. The importance of self-esteem is also related to Charles Taylor’s idea that man is a self-interpreting animal. A notion of mutuality and equality is developed from Aristotle’s concept of friendship. The importance of Aristotelian practical judgment is discussed. Kantian norms and obligations serve as implementation for Aristotelian aims.
Solicitude is Ricoeur’s main term for concern for others. It is discussed mainly in terms of Aristotelian friendship, with a bit of Lévinas. The use of Lévinas seems to create a tension with Aristotelian mutuality, due to Lévinas’ asymmetric emphasis on the Other. Ricoeur says that among friends, roles are reversible but each person is irreplaceable. Feelings also play a fundamental role in solicitude.
Following Arendt, he speaks of the “ethical primacy of living together over constraints related to judicial systems and political organization” (p. 194). He refers to Aristotle’s “foray into the vast polysemy of the just and the unjust” (p. 198). Finally, he concludes that “Equality… is to life in institutions what solicitude is for interpersonal relations” (p. 202).