On behalf of honorethics.org, I am pleased to welcome Peter Olsthoorn as a contributor.
Peter Olsthoorn teaches ethics at the Netherlands Defense Academy. He has written several articles on honor in political theory and military ethics, as well as the monograph Military Ethics and Virtues: An Interdisciplinary Approach for the 21st Century (Routledge, 2010). His book on honor in moral philosophy and political theory will appear with Brill in 2013.
A description of his Military Ethics and Virtues:
Although long-established military virtues, such as honor, courage and loyalty, are what most armed forces today still use as guiding principles in an effort to enhance the moral behavior of soldiers, much depends on whether the military virtues adhered to by these militaries suit a particular mission or military operation. Clearly, the beneficiaries of these military virtues are the soldiers themselves, fellow-soldiers, and military organizations, yet there is little that regulates the behavior of soldiers towards civilian populations. As a result, troops trained for combat in today’s missions sometimes experience difficulty in adjusting to the less aggressive ways of working needed to win the hearts and minds of local populations after major combat is over. It can be argued that today’s missions call for virtues that are more inclusive than the traditional ones, which are mainly about enhancing military effectiveness, but a convincing case can be made that a lot can already be won by interpreting these traditional virtues in different ways.
This volume offers an integrated approach to the main traditional virtues, exploring their possible relevance and proposing new ways of interpretation that are more in line with the military tasks of the 21st century. The book will be of much interest to students of military ethics, philosophy, and war and conflict in general.
Some of Peter’s articles of special interest to honorethics.org readers would be his:
“Honour, face and reputation in political theory,” European Journal of Political Theory
“Honor and the Military,” International Journal of Applied Philosophy
“Honor as a Motive for Making Sacrifices,” Journal of Military Ethics
Here is a short outline of his forthcoming book, Honor in Moral and Political Philosophy (Brill, 2013):
Until not too long ago it was not uncommon for moral and political philosophers to hold the view that people cannot be expected to do what is right without at least some reward in the form of reputational gain. Authors from Cicero to John Stuart Mill did not dispute that we can be brought to accept the principles of justice on an abstract level, but thought that in concrete instances our strong passions, our partiality to ourselves, and our inability to be a good judge of our conduct, prevent us from both seeing and acting on what is just and virtuous. In their view, our sense of honor and concern for our reputation can help us in finding out what is the proper thing to do and, just as important, provide us with the much-needed motive to actually do what is right. Especially in this latter, motivational, aspect conscience appeared somewhat impotent to them.
Today, most of us tend to take a stricter view, and think that people are to be just from a love for justice, not from a fear of losing face. Considerations of honor and reputation are generally considered to be on the wrong side of the line. That diminished position of honor is at least partly a result of the fact that, as a motive, honor is somewhat inconsistent with the ideals of autonomy and authenticity, valued by most people in our day. Modern moral and political philosophy mirrors (and, to some extent, feeds) these ideals, and many authors are not too upset that the honor ethic gave way to more demanding forms of ethics that give central place to that notion of autonomy.
The aim of this book is to make the case that the old arguments for a role for honor are still compelling, and that also today, without deep roots in our present-day vocabulary, honor can yet be of use because it is less demanding, and that the articulated opinions of others remain important for making us see, and then actually do, what is right. The underlying assumption is that honor, although it has lost much of its appeal, is still a common motivator. If there is some truth in this, it is all the more regrettable that most modern theorists have turned a blind eye on the topic.
To make that case the first part of the book describes the early, aristocratic argument for honor made by, among others, Cicero and Sallust, and the conversion of honor into a more modern, democratic form by later thinkers, from John Locke and Bernard Mandeville to Michael Walzer. Even in that more democratic form honor still comes with some serious drawbacks, mainly lying in it being something external (which potentially reduces morality to not being caught), and in its exclusiveness (limiting the number of people that matter to someone). To address the first shortcoming, honor should be internalized, at least to some extent; otherwise honor is, indeed, reduced to not being found out. As to that second weakness: to avoid that too much priority is given to the interests of those who are near and dear to us, it seems that we should define our honor group as broad as possible. Finding out if these two goals can be accomplished is the aim of the second part of the book, which focuses on three virtues related to honor: loyalty, integrity, and respect.
Welcome aboard, Peter! We look forward to your contributions.