Guide Honor in Political and Moral Philosophy

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But the moral-psychological structure of honor—combining principled codes of conduct, the drive for self-respect, and the need for public esteem—is constant across different contexts. Moreover, honor is not necessarily hierarchical; it can serve egalitarian codes and is in principle compatible with the modern ideal of equal dignity p.

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And while Appiah acknowledges that honor has a dark side, he argues that it can be a potent force for the promotion of the good and the right. There is much to recommend in this book. It draws attention to a neglected resource for philosophical ethics. As Appiah points out, honor has been largely overlooked by modern moral philosophy p. His case studies are wide-ranging, covering territory that crosses several centuries and many continents, and they illustrate the international salience of honor as a spur to moral action.

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Yet even as Appiah presses the value of honor for moral life, he rightly insists that the relationship between honor and morality is not a simple one. Honor is not reducible to morality, in part because the content of its codes may be incompatible with moral principles, such as justice p. Then, too, the sense of honor as a disposition differs from moral duty, at least the familiar Kantian conception of duty.

In contrast to duty, which is driven exclusively by the desire to do what is right, honor is a mixed motive. It aims in two different directions at once: on the one hand, the person of honor means to do the right thing defined as living up to her code of honor , but on the other hand, she also seeks recognition from others. The sense of honor combines an internal orientation to integrity with a wish for external reputation p.

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More generally, honor is distinctive in occupying a middle ground between narrow self-interest and self-sacrificing altruism. The desire for respect is an effective spur to action; and when it is tied to principled codes of conduct that are compatible with what morality requires, it can motivate more reliably than altruism the risky and difficult actions that moral revolutions often require pp. Although he seems committed to the idea that honor combines an attachment to self-respect and a principled code of conduct with a concern for public recognition pp.

Appiah highlights Kang Youwei, a Chinese intellectual who initiated the campaign against foot binding at the turn of the twentieth century. Virtually nothing is said here about a principled code of conduct or the self-respect that comes from living up to it. In a similar way, the honor that Appiah thinks helped end the British slave trade is largely portrayed as a one-dimensional concern with public recognition or the respect of others.

Yet what distinguishes honor from mere concern for reputation is precisely that self-respect tied to principled codes always matters as much as the respect of others.

Honor in Political and Moral Philosophy - VoegelinView

If the former is missing, the motive in play is not honor but the mere concern for reputation. Still, this book is valuable for provoking sustained reflection on honor as a source of moral action and reform. In particular, the motives of people who take an honorable stand on difficult issues at great risk to themselves are insufficiently understood today. At the end of The Honor Code Appiah describes two such individuals— to powerful effect.

The first is Captain Ian Fishback, who first sounded the alarm about human rights abuses at Abu Ghraib. Honor in Political and Moral Philosophy. Peter Olsthoorn.


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The name of honour more than I fear death. An abiding concern for the motives behind our moral and political conduct is not, however, exclusively literary. Understanding why we act and what motivates us act to well is an inquiry at the heart of moral and political philosophy. But there is a significant motive for moral and political conduct—both for Brutus and many of us—that, as of late, seems to draw little scholarly attention or favor: honor. We like to think that we are not too concerned, and also that we should not be too concerned, about how our conduct might appear to others; we are, as we think we should be, primarily motivated by how it looks in our own eyes, and face and reputation are no longer considered of overriding importance 3.

Largely to blame for the present disrepute of honor are the ideals of autonomy and authenticity that undergird modern moral psychology and rebuff the notion that our character or conduct should be shaped by individuals or groups outside ourselves. Our actions are motivated, Olsthoorn argues, by the search for recognition and approbation to a much greater extent than many political and moral philosophers realize.

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This incentive materializes from two functions inherent to the pursuit of honor. The outward orientation of a concern for recognition helps identify what good behavior looks like. Knowing the right thing to do is not enough.

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We also need the motivation to carry it out. Instead of advocating goodwill or the love of virtue, Olsthoorn argues we should lower the bar for motivation to the pursuit of public recognition. The first to recognize these salutary functions of honor, Olsthoorn argues to the chagrin of Greek scholars, were the Romans and, in particular, Cicero. The rise of internalized, democratic honor parallels the decline of religion and law in shaping our understanding of honorable conduct—the second development in modern notions of honor.

Modernized honor, according to Olsthoorn, is exemplified in the expanded and widespread acceptance of the nation as the appropriate scale for adjudicating honor. To address these drawbacks, Olsthoorn devotes most of the remaining pages to defining concepts that are akin to, but distinct from, honor: loyalty, integrity, respect, and humiliation.

Although the justification for this conceptual examination is not immediately clear, Olsthoorn ultimately employs these concepts to distill responses to the aforementioned pitfalls—we must make honor groups less restrictive and encourage the internalization of honor-driven ethics. This troubling pattern, Olsthoorn argues, justifies the invocation of a utilitarian approach to ethics, especially in public affairs. The utilitarian decision-maker, Olsthoorn implies, is less likely to make decisions resulting in civilian casualties because they will be accounted for in his calculations.

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Thus, the same ethos intended to defend civilian life is just as potent against it. This illustrates the fatal flaw of utilitarianism: ethics devoid of transcendent principle—for example, the prohibition of taking innocent life—is necessarily contingent on the presumptive calculus of the beholder. The problem with integrity is its lack of ethical content.