Some social psychologists have recently proposed taxonomies of the fundamental moral sentiments . . ..The emotions and practices of honor—esteem, contempt, respect, deference—developed, it is reasonable to suppose, with hierarchy in troops of early humans. Is honor, in this way, atavistic? It’s not a worry we can immediately dismiss.
–Kwame Appiah, The Honor Code, pp. 183-184
Some sort of moral pluralism—at least on the psychological level—is increasingly probable: a recent consensus statement by a number of cutting-edge moral psychologists affirms Jonathan Haidt et al.’s hypothesis that there are multiple building blocks of morality, each with its own evolutionary history.
Notably, Haidt’s taxonomy recognizes only one moral foundation that concerns rank: authoritarianism. But we have ample evidence in, say, athletic or academic rankings, that some rankings are not authoritarian. Also notable is that none of Haidt et al.’s (currently six) moral foundations has norms rooted in sexual selection, which is enormously influential in shaping behavior in many species, including us. Third, as Haidt’s taxonomy expanded, it lost the ability to account for shame and contempt, one of the “big three” condemnatory affect pairings that Moral Foundations theory was designed to accommodate. Fourth, Haidt sees his “harm/care” foundation as based in maternal instincts. This raises the question: could there be an ethos that is based on some sort of adaptive challenge males might have faced more often?
I think the honor ethos is one of these innate moral systems, and that honor fills all four gaps in Haidt’s theory.