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Abstract

Recent attempts to explain why modesty should be considered a virtue have failed. A more adequate account is that modesty involves understanding how far one's accomplishments ought to be taken as definitive of one's value. Modest people communicate this self-understanding through behaviour motivated by the desire to ensure that their accomplishments do not cause pain to others. This virtuous mode of self-awareness involves recognizing that one is both defined by social standards of success and irreducible to these assessments. Modest agents do not think themselves ‘better’ than others, but recognize that they rank higher on the particular social standard in question. They thus both avoid causing pain and serve as exemplars of virtuous self-responsibility.