Tony Cunningham, “Good Citizens: Gratitude and Honor”


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Great talk by Tony Cunningham (Philosophy, St. Benedict/St. John’s) on the moral importance of gifts and gratitude—even for a liberal society—from an honor perspective. This is a preview of a chapter Tony has graciously written for the forthcoming Honor in the Modern World: Interdisciplinary Perspectives

Thanks for posting on your Youtube channel, Laurie!



Craig Bruce Smith: “Rightly to Be Great: Ideas of Honor and Virtue among the American Founders”



I just discovered this great lecture by contributor Craig Bruce Smith (he was too humble to point it out to us!), and he agreed to let me post it on this blog.


One of Craig’s book projects is Rightly to Be Great: Honor, Virtue, Ethics and the American Revolution. Here’s a short description of it.  
“Rightly to Be Great” tells the history of the Revolution through an ethical lens. It shows that a colonial ethical transformation caused and became inseparable from the American Revolution, creating a continuing moral ideology. This manuscript centers on several generations of Americans who came of age before the Revolution and climbed to prominence during it. These founders are remembered for their contributions to American independence and the creation of a nation, but while they were forming this new republic, they reflected on the ethics of their deeds. They wanted the country to succeed, but not at the cost of honor or virtue. These two concepts were at the forefront of the American founders’ minds as they traveled the precarious road to independence. “Rightly to Be Great” traces the development of honor and virtue in the lives of people such as Washington, Franklin, Adams, Jefferson, and other individuals from the elite, middling and lower classes. It also incorporates groups that have historically been excluded from the discussion of honor, such as women and African Americans. Using a narrative writing style and a deep core investigation into members of these Revolutionary generations, this project traces extensive changes over time and analyzes how thought influenced action.

Mike Austin raises the issue of the postgame handshake


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Mike Austin (Eastern Kentucky) is one of the top philosophers of sport. In a recent blog post for Psychology Today, Austin notes that Kentucky high schools are now being advised to discontinue the practice of postgame handshakes.

Sports and the Postgame Handshake   Psychology Today

As reported by the Lexington Herald Leader,

The Kentucky High School Athletic Association has issued a “Commissioner’s Directive” advising schools not to hold organized post-game handshake lines because of too many fights and physical conflicts.

“While it is an obvious sign of sportsmanship and civility, many incidents have occurred … where fights and physical conflicts have broken out,” according to the Commissioner’s Directive that went to schools on Tuesday. “Unfortunately, the adrenaline and effort required to participate in the sport sometimes seems to deplete the supply of judgment available to participants.”

According to the missive, more than two dozen fights in the past three years in Kentucky have broken out at post-game ceremonies. Although athletic and school officials were buzzing about the order Tuesday afternoon, Commissioner Julian Tackett downplayed the order, saying it was “much ado about nothing.”

There are no rules requiring the post-game handshake, and too many times, there hasn’t been enough supervision to stop conflicts during the ceremony. Students can still shake hands with other players voluntarily.

“You’re on notice, if you’re going to do this, you’re going to be accountable,” Tackett said.

Austin asks a number of questions about the handshake ritual that directly appeal to honor:
Sports and the Postgame Handshake   Psychology Today
You can contribute to the online discussion here.

David Harsanyi: “Bring Back Dueling”



Admit it: every once in a while you think it…

Bring Back Dueling





Friedrichs and Berg: “Rhodes must fall: from dignity to honour values”


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In an OpenDemocracy post published today, Joerg Friedrichs (International Development, Oxford) and Ryan Berg (currently a doctoral student at Brasenose College, Oxford) argue that the Rhodes Must Fall campaign at Oxford exemplifies the pernicious qualities of an emerging moral culture that honors victimhood, stifles speech, and privileges feelings over facts.

RMF protester

Photograph: Mike Hutchings/Reuters

Friedrich and Berg’s analysis builds off of an important article by Bradley Campbell (Sociology, UCLA) and Jason Manning (Sociology and Anthropology, West Virginia) entitled “Microaggression and Moral Cultures.” Campbell and Manning persuasively argue that we are transitioning from a dignity-based culture to an honor-based one of victimhood. By “dignity” culture they mean one that sees everyone as innately endowed with an unearned and inalienable moral worth. On this scheme, our basic moral equality is assumed, assaults on welfare and property are punished by a central authority, and insults are largely disregarded and thus comparatively rare. This regime replaced the traditional honor culture on which some people have more value than others, personal value could be easily lost through shame and insult, and riposte to offense had to be handled personally—the traditional honor culture.

Cecil Rhodes

“To think of these stars that you see overhead at night, these vast worlds which we can never reach. I would annex the planets if I could; I often think of that. It makes me sad to see them so clear and yet so far.”

According to Campbell and Manning, the new honor culture of victimhood combines and inverts various aspects of its predecessors. Like a traditional honor culture, victimhood culture is highly stratified and is highly sensitive to insult. However, it elevates victims and demotes non-victims, which traditional honor cultures would find bizarre. Moreover, on it offenses to dignity are properly handled by authorities, not personally, as if they were “material” attacks on person or property (hence “microaggressions” and not the more accurate micro-offenses). These appeals to authority are what makes this honor culture so dangerous to free speech and inquiry. 

For their part, Friedrichs and Berg take no stance on whether the Rhodes statue should fall. What they bemoan is the way RMF activists hijack debate with the imperative of their offense and puritanical zeal. Here’s a teaser:

While students were not that supportive, the RMF movement found resonance with the media. This was due to the fact that those campaigning associated themselves, in sometimes tenuous ways, with the victims of colonialism, racism, and other forms of vicitimisation. The movement thus exemplified the move towards offense taking and the celebration of victimhood. It hardly occurred to the campaigners that an honest dialogue about Rhodes, his highly controversial legacy, and the merits and demerits of censoring history might have been more befitting of Oxford than trying to sanitize the place from anything potentially offensive and unpleasant, such as association with an ambivalent and flawed character like Cecil Rhodes.

I encourage you to read the whole post: “Rhodes must fall: from dignity to honour Values.”

Joerg Friedrichs on honor, face, and dignity in international relations


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Followers of this blog might be interested in a forthcoming article by Professor of International Relations (Oxford) Joerg Friedrichs, “An Intercultural Theory of International Relations: How self-worth underlies politics among nations,” forthcoming in International Theory (a pre-publication version is available here, the FirstView version is here for those who can get past the paywall).

Here’s the abstract:

“This article introduces an intercultural theory of international relations based on three distinctive ways of establishing self-worth: honor, face, and dignity. In each culture of self-worth, concerns with status and humiliation intervene differently in producing political outcomes. The theory explains important variation in the way states and nations relate to members of their own culture of self-worth, as well as members of other such cultures.”

I’d like to summarize Friedrichs’ scholarly, insightful, and thought-provoking essay here, but I will also embellish a bit with questions and commentary. Discussion in the comments section below is welcome as always. (By the way, Joerg may be posting on the blog soon, so keep an eye out for that.)

The dignity-honor-face model

Friedrichs begins his analysis with the increasingly plausible premise that “self-worth is the ultimate human motivator.” Continue reading

Honor and racial justice

Identity-based oppression is usually framed as a harm to dignity. When someone has suffered an injustice based on their race or gender, we commonly say that they have not been treated with dignity, or that their dignity has been violated. On the dignity account of oppression, oppression is morally wrong because 1) it is a failure to respect an individual as a human being, due to their identity in a social group, and/or 2) it is a failure to even recognize that an individual is a human, due to their identity. Note that social identity is the reason for oppression, on this account, but it is not the primary thing that is being disrespected. What is being disrespected is fundamental humanity, if we can abstract such a thing from supposedly morally irrelevant features of identity. To stop oppression, we should get oppressors to see their victims as humans. We need not respect collectives as such, only the humanity of individuals within these collectives.

I am skeptical that the dignity account correctly diagnoses the nature of oppression. Oppression seems to occur not because people fail to see similarity, but because they fail to respect difference. At best, the dignity account tells an incomplete story. It may even go so far as to obscure the nature of oppression so that some means of resistance are seen as illegitimate. I want to suggest that honor, an old tool that has historically been used by radical activists, might allow us to look at oppression with new eyes. As Sharon Krause has noted in Liberalism With Honor, Frederick Douglass and the suffragists have framed their oppression using the language of honor, emphasizing the martial virtues and the duty to stand up or die trying. So have radicals from groups as diverse as the founding Zionists and the Black Power movement, who rejected assimilation into the dominant culture and thought their cultures worthy of special respect. Today, black racial justice activists continue this tradition by describing the Baltimore protests as an “uprising” and emphasizing self-love not in spite of their race, but because of it. Since these individuals were and are on the frontlines of resistance, we should take the idea of honor seriously instead of trying to shoehorn their ethos and actions into the dignity framework. Continue reading

Welcome Valerie Soon


It’s my pleasure to welcome a new contributor to, Valerie Soon.

Valerie is a first-year PhD student in philosophy at Duke University. She recently earned her Masters in philosophy from the University of Houston. Her interests are in ethics and political philosophy, especially as they relate to the problems of climate change and social injustice. She came to her philosophical interest in honor by a non-philosophical route, by thinking about the resistance tactics and ethos that have guided racial justice movements from abolitionism to Black Lives Matter.

She is currently working on a paper, previously presented at the 2014 Rocky Mountain Ethics Congress in Boulder, Colorado, about the connection between honor and collective resistance to oppression. In it, she argues that honor can capture some important features of oppression that dignity cannot account for. Reorienting our perspective to focus on honor has implications for what count as legitimate modes of resistance, and for what it means to be a self-respecting person under conditions of oppression.

Valerie will be posting a blog-post version of her ideas on these matters soon, so keep an eye out for that. Welcome, Valerie!

Peter Singer on honoring racist historical figures


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The ethics of honoring seems to be increasingly relevant in mainstream discussion, no more so than the controversies over the monuments, statues, and institutions honoring great—but racist—historical figures.

In a recent essay, Peter Singer takes up the issue. Especially noteworthy is that he mentions contributor Ajume Wingo‘s Veil Politics in Liberal Democratic States, which discusses (inter alia) the importance of image-making and civic mythology to liberal democracies.

Should We Honor Racists  by Peter Singer   Project Syndicate

The most popular professional philosophy blog, Daily Nous, has just started a discussion on the ethics of honoring historical figures in light of recent campus protests.

The Ethics of Honoring   Daily Nous

The recent wave of student protests in the United States have focused on a range of issues related to the status and treatment of racial minorities and other vulnerable parties on campus. One issue that has come up on several occasions are the ways in which universities have decided to honor various historical figures—for example, by naming buildings after them, or having statues of them.

Last week, students at Princeton University were protesting the university’s prominent recognition of Woodrow Wilson. Wilson was president of Princeton prior to becoming president of the United States, and Princeton has a college and a school named after him. Though he was a progressive on many matters, as Inside Higher Ed reported, “historians have also noted that he was an unapologetic racist who took many actions as president of the United States that held back even minimal rights for black people.” Recent protests at Georgetown focused on the fact that one of its buildings was named for a former university president who sold off some of his slaves to a plantation to pay the university’s debt. And now, IHE reports that at the College of William & Mary and the University of Missouri, “critics have been placing yellow sticky notes on Jefferson statues, labeling him—among other things —‘rapist’ and ‘racist.’”

These developments may have some people wondering what the appropriate stance is towards honoring historical figures who have held what are today understood to be highly objectionable views, or acted in highly objectionable ways. To shrug off the concerns and say “no one’s perfect,” seems insufficiently sensitive to the ways in which such honors might contribute to an unwelcoming environment for some students. Yet to require historical figures to be morally unobjectionable by today’s standards in order to be honored seems unduly strict and inflexible. We might recall that even moral heroes are not morally perfect (see, for example, Lawrence Blum’s “Moral Exemplars” essay).

I am not aware of work on the ethics of honoring historical figures. Perhaps this is an area in which philosophical expertise can help clarify an issue of current pressing concern. Thoughts welcome.