Two new books on honor by contributors Tamler Sommers and Craig Bruce Smith



I’m pleased to alert readers of two new books on honor:

Tamler Sommers, Why Honor Matters

To the modern mind, the idea of honor is outdated, sexist, and barbaric. It evokes Hamilton and Burr and pistols at dawn, not visions of a well-organized society. But for philosopher Tamler Sommers, a sense of honor is essential to living moral lives. In Why Honor Matters, Sommers argues that our collective rejection of honor has come at great cost. Reliant only on Enlightenment liberalism, the United States has become the home of the cowardly, the shameless, the selfish, and the alienated. Properly channeled, honor encourages virtues like courage, integrity, and solidarity, and gives a sense of living for something larger than oneself. Sommers shows how honor can help us address some of society’s most challenging problems, including education, policing, and mass incarceration. Counterintuitive and provocative, Why Honor Matters makes a convincing case for honor as a cornerstone of our modern society.
Image result for American Honor: The Creation of the Nation's Ideals during the Revolutionary Era
The American Revolution was not only a revolution for liberty and freedom. It was also a revolution of ethics, reshaping what colonial Americans understood as “honor” and “virtue.” As Craig Bruce Smith demonstrates, these concepts were crucial aspects of Revolutionary Americans’ ideological break from Europe and shared by all ranks of society. Focusing his study primarily on prominent Americans who came of age before and during the Revolution—notably John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington—Smith shows how a colonial ethical transformation caused and became inseparable from the American Revolution, creating an ethical ideology that still remains.
These two books will certainly advance honor scholarship and I’m excited to read them–congrats!

Jordan Peterson on the play/honor (agonism) ethic


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Jordan Peterson on the honor-as-based-in-play hypothesis: he talks about self-handicapping as the basis of fair play and honor. The honorable person makes you want to play with him—he’s the “meta player.”

In other talks, Peterson is careful to distinguish between hierarchies based on power and those based on prestige, which get too often conflated as “dominance hierarchies” in biology. To some extent he does this in his answer here as well (just before the point I start the video he references proto-authority in chimps).



Honor and the Military Photo Scandal


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Recently it has come to light that female members of the Marines and other branches of the military have been victims of a photo-sharing network, in which nude pictures of female service members were distributed in a wide-scale fashion without their consent.  In some cases, this practice even involved targeting specific individuals for exploitation or harassment, encouraging others to track them down at their posts or residences, or suggesting that they should be sexually assaulted.

This is appalling behavior on any level, and treating anyone in such a way is shameful and immoral.  It seems to me, however, that it is especially egregious that these actions have been perpetrated by service members against other service members.  That is, the victims and instigators of this attack are supposed to be comrades in arms, bound together not only by common cause, but by brotherhood or sisterhood.  More than anyone else, they have a duty to protect and uphold each other’s well-being, to fight for and with each other.  The failure to uphold that standard makes this not only a violation of basic decency and regard for fellow humans, but a sin against martial virtue itself.

In a broader sense, one thing that Honor gets right about ethics is that we have attachments and duties toward certain people, beyond and above general considerations toward others.  Whereas this sort of particularism is often seen as contrary to morality (which is supposed to depend upon impartiality), I would argue instead that upholding such personal bonds, obligations, and values is in fact a component of exercising virtue.  We have special duties toward our families, friends, allies, and even certain causes, which form part of the conceptual and ontological grounding for traits such as loyalty, integrity, and even courage.   I see this feature of honor-based ethics as one of its strengths, which is one reason why this scandal infecting the military is particularly disturbing. write-up of Honor in the Modern World


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The honor blog with probably the highest traffic is, which “offers practical tools and training for Christians ministering in honor-shame contexts.”  As I mentioned in an earlier post, their contributors have a vast amount of real-world experience gained from evangelizing in honor cultures around the globe, and certainly have a lot to teach academics about honor psychology.

Anyway, thanks to HonorShame for their comments on Honor in the Modern World: Interdisciplinary Perspectives.


Christian visitors to this blog might be interested in their upcoming conference at Wheaton College (Chicago) next June.

“Ethics for Adversaries” blog

I just found this blog–looks great, and should be of interest to people who stumble across this one.

Ethics for Adversaries   how to play fair when you re playing to win.png

Here is what the EFA blog is about:

This blog is based on a hypothesis: that we made a slight mistake when we carved out the sub-fields of ethics and political philosophy. The blog will not, for the most part be trying to prove this hypothesis in a heavy-handed way, but hopes to make it a little more compelling by way of examples.

What was the mistake? At some point “we” assigned some scholars to work on the foundations of moral theory, and others to work on the foundations of political philosophy, and then several other mutually exclusive bands of scholars to look into the peculiar ethical challenges facing professionals working within particular kinds of institutions and professions, like business, law, politics, international relations, journalism, accounting, international relations and, say, sports.

So what’s the hypothesis? That there just may be something similar about the challenges faced in design of all the aforementioned institutions, and also in the ethical dilemmas faced by people working within these settings. And further, that the challenges of designing and justifying these institutions may strain any more foundational theories of justice that have not adequately accounted for how different these competitive institutions are from other “merely administrative” institutions. (And we suspect this includes almost all famous theories of justice — not least John Rawls’s.)

The institutions, professions, and practices that we will be exploring throughout this blog are what we might call “deliberately adversarial.” They set up highly — but never completely — regulated competitions in order (ideally, in principle, as if by an invisible hand) to benefit those outside the competitions. We do not need to use free(ish) markets to produce and distribute goods and services, but if we do so in the right way, consumers should get better value for their money. We have not always had an adversarial legal system, or democratic elections, but when we do, citizens should be less likely to face injustice. We could have events where athletes show off their individual physical talents, but we tend to find competitive sports, where they do this in an attempt to win, a more satisfying spectator experience.

When does it make sense to try to get results from competitions rather than merely by attempting to achieve them directly? Why aren’t cooperation, mutual deliberation, and professionalism more efficient and just ways to deliver services? And if we do need to structure competitive environments, how do we ensure that the system won’t be “gamed” by the players so that they benefit more than the intended beneficiaries (like consumers, criminal suspects, or the general public)?

Pinker’s three objections to dignity as an independent moral value


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IN 2008, Steven Pinker wrote a New Republic essay titled “The Stupidity of Dignity,” which slammed George W. Bush’s Council on Bioethics’ report Human Dignity and Bioethics. Pinker objected to the frequent and central appeals to “dignity” in the Report’s moral rationales. The first few sections of Pinker’s essay criticize the uniquely Judeo-Christian—especially Catholic—conception of dignity the Council assumes. But later in the essay Pinker offers three objections to dignity as a “foundation for bioethics.”


In fact, Pinker’s three objections to dignity-based (or “dignitarian”) arguments in bioethics, if sound, would undermine such rationales in all areas of applied ethics. And since Pinker’s concerns are still often echoed in philosophy forums—indeed, in some recent talks these sorts of objections have been levied in reply to my dignitarian defense of gun rights—it’s still worth our time to consider them.

In this post, then, I’m going to critique Pinker’s objections to dignitarian rationales. My reply will not assume any particular conception of dignity (Catholic or otherwise), so it should be useful to all sorts of dignitarians. Nonetheless, this is a purely defensive exercise in that I don’t offer any new reasons to think dignitarian concerns should play a role in applied ethics. I simply argue that Pinker’s objections fail to show they shouldn’t.

Dignity: relative or objective?

Pinker’s first objection to the relevance of dignity in bioethics is that dignity is relative: Continue reading

“The Honor of Human Rights”

Recently published in Human Rights Review: “The Honor of Human Rights: Environmental Rights and the Duty of Intergenerational Promise,” by Richard Hiskes (Political Science, Grand Valley State).


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Honor in the Modern World: Interdisciplinary Perspectives



I’m happy to report—somewhat belatedly—that Honor in the Modern World is now for sale!

Edited by Laurie Johnson and me, the book is probably the most interdisciplinary study of honor yet. We are very grateful to our contributors—many of whom contribute to this blog—for their excellent and highly original essays.

After a century-long hiatus, honor is back. Academics, pundits, and everyday citizens alike are rediscovering the importance of this ancient and powerful human motive. This volume brings together some of the foremost researchers of honor to debate honor’s meaning and its compatibility with liberalism, democracy, and modernity. Contributors—representing philosophy, sociology, political science, history, psychology, leadership studies, and military science—examine honor past to present, from masculine and feminine perspectives, and in North American, European, and African contexts. Topics include the role of honor in the modern military, the effects of honor on our notions of the dignity and “purity” of women, honor as a quality of good statesmen and citizens, honor’s role in international relations and community norms, and how honor’s egalitarian and elitist aspects intersect with democratic and liberal regimes.

The table of contents can be see on Amazon, along with lots of sample viewing. Consider ordering a copy for your school’s library, as the book includes essays useful for philosophers, political scientists, historians, international relations scholars, psychologists, and military academicians.

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.