I’m pleased to alert readers of two new books on honor:
Tamler Sommers, Why Honor Matters
I’m pleased to alert readers of two new books on honor:
Tamler Sommers, Why Honor Matters
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.
It’s my pleasure to welcome a new contributor to honorethics.org, 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!
It’s my pleasure to welcome Steven Skultety as an honorethics.org contributor.
Steven Skultety is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Mississippi, where he also serves as Chair of the Department of Philosophy and Religion. He specializes in ancient philosophy, and his interest in honor primarily stems from his desire to understand the role that honor plays in the works of Plato and Aristotle. However, he is also interested in how honor continues to inform contemporary ethical and political thought.
On behalf of honorethics.org, I am pleased to welcome Tony Cunningham as a contributor. Although Tony is just an hour or so away from me, I had the pleasure of meeting him for the first time at last week’s Perspectives on Modern Honor conference at Kansas State, at which Tony graciously never complained about our shameless appropriation of his “Modern Honor” title for our volume.
Tony is Professor of Philosophy at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota. He is the author of Modern Honor: A Philosophical Defense(Routledge, 2013). He comes to his philosophical interest in honor via his deep interests in literature and moral psychology. His earlier work on literature and the emotions, The Heart of What Matters: The Role for Literature in Moral Philosophy (Berkeley, 2001), led him back to classic texts like Homer’s Iliad and Euripides’ Hecuba to think carefully about complex topics like anger, shame, and humiliation. This work led him to other rich resources for honor like the Icelandic sagas, the American South, samurai Japan, and contemporary American gangs. As he argues, most of modern moral philosophy abandoned the notion of honor, and philosophers erred badly by so doing because a sense of honor is at the center of our ethical experiences for creatures like us.
A description of Modern Honor:
This book examines the notion of honor with an eye to dissecting its intellectual demise and with the aim of making a case for honor’s rehabilitation. Western intellectuals acknowledge honor’s influence, but they lament its authority. For Western democratic societies to embrace honor, it must be compatible with social ideals like liberty, equality, and fraternity. Cunningham details a conception of honor that can do justice to these ideals. This vision revolves around three elements—character (being), relationships (relating), and activities and accomplishment (doing). Taken together, these elements articulate a shared aspiration for excellence. We can turn the tables on traditional ills of honor—serious problems of gender, race, and class—by forging a vision of honor that rejects lives predicated on power and oppression.
Tony is particularly interested in making philosophy relevant for everyday people embroiled in the business of living. As he sees it, the real business of philosophy is to become people on whom nothing is lost. He has essays reflecting these aims on anger, consolation, and modesty.
Welcome, Tony! We look forward to your contributions.
It is my pleasure to welcome Joe Thomas as an honorethics.org contributor.
Dr. Joe Thomas is a retired Marine and past Director of the John A. Lejeune Leadership Institute at Marine Corps University. In that capacity he was the Commandant of the Marine Corps’ Executive Agent for Character Development and responsible for educating the force on all matters pertaining to honor. He currently serves as the Class of 1961 Chair and Professor of Leadership Education at the US Naval Academy. His books include ‘Leadership Explored’, ‘Leadership Embodied’,’ Leadership Education for Marines’, and ‘Leadership, Ethics, and Law of War Case Studies for Marines,’ which provides case studies illustrating the dilemmas faced by soldiers and Marines in modern warfare.
Dr. Thomas plays an influential role in shaping how contemporary US service members conceive of honor, and we are very fortunate to have him in our ranks. We look forward to your contributions, Joe!
I’m pleased to announce some updates on the upcoming honor mini-conference at Kansas State, which has been organized by Laurie Johnson and made possible thanks to a generous grant from the Earhart Foundation.
The mini-conference will feature many of the authors contributing to Perspectives on Modern Honor (Lexington Press). It will take place on March 27, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. in KSU’s Hale Library, the Hemisphere Room (5th Floor), and will be open to the public. Our expectation is that contributors will get a chance to meet each other, present their chapters, receive feedback, and discuss how to connect their contributions for the volume’s final draft. Anyone interested flying in to attend should contact Laurie or me on special rates for hotels, etc.
The schedule hasn’t been drawn up yet, but the eleven talks currently planned are (in alphabetical order of speaker):
“Good Citizens: Gratitude and Honor” — Anthony Cunningham (Philosophy, College of St. Benedict/St. John’s)
“To Do for Honor What Hobbes Did for Justice” — Dan Demetriou (Philosophy, University of Minnesota, Morris)
“Liberalism and Honor through the Lens of Darwin” — Steven Forde (Political Science, University of North Texas-Denton)
“Winston Churchill and Honor: The Complexity of Honor and Statesmanship” — Mark Griffith (Political Science, University of West Alabama)
“The Female Point of Honor in Post-Revolutionary France” — Andrea Mansker (History, Sewanee: University of the South)
“Putting One’s Best Face Forward: Why Liberalism Needs Honor” — Ryan Rhodes (Philosophy, Stephen F. Austin State University)
“‘The Honour of the Crown’: The State and its Soldiers” — Paul Robinson (International Relations, University of Ottawa)
“A Neo-Aristotelian Theory of Political Honor” — Steven C. Skultety (Philosophy, University of Mississippi)
“Honor in Military Culture: A Standard of Integrity and Framework for Moral Restraint” — Joe Thomas (Leadership Education, U.S. Naval Academy) and Shannon French (Philosophy, Case Western Reserve University)
“In the Shade of Civic Heroes: A Paideia of Liberty in an African Community” — Ajume Wingo (Philosophy, University of Colorado at Boulder)
The conference will conclude with a discussion session about emergent themes and possible strategies for integrating the chapters into a cohesive whole.
I’ve seen drafts of a few contributions, and I’m really excited about their quality and usefulness for honor scholarship. May this be just the beginning of many future collaborations! And for those readers writing a manuscript on honor, please keep the Honor and Obligation in Liberal Society book series in mind as you shop it around to publishers.
I’m very pleased to announce that honorethics.org contributor Peter Olsthoorn’s (Netherlands Defense Academy) Honor in Political and Moral Philosophy (SUNY) will be coming out soon.
I read and commented on a draft of this book a couple years ago before I visited Peter in Rotterdam and Breda, and I can assure readers it’s a major contribution to the field that anyone interested in honor needs to add to his or her library. Peter’s careful and scholarly discussion of the intellectual history of honor is especially valuable for us, since books on honor (if they discuss history at all) tend either to focus on one epoch (say, the antebellum South), region (say, the Mediterranean), or author (say, Hobbes). Sometimes honor books provide us with useful snapshots of honor-psychology through the ages by discussing samurai for one chapter, medieval chivalry in another, etc. As an analytic philosopher who isn’t very strong on history, I have relied upon and cited all such books a great deal in my own work. But more rarely attempted has been a sustained story of how leading intellectuals have analysed honor in the West. The scholarly aspects of Peter’s book will be the go-to resource on that question for some time.
Peter’s book is also a polemic for reviving honor as a moral and political motivator. I have lots of good things to say about his argument there, too, but that aspect of the book is better handled in this summary Peter provided me:
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 political and moral 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.
Congratulations on the book, Peter!
On behalf of honorethics.org, I’m pleased to welcome Craig Bruce Smith as a contributor.
Dr. Smith is an instructor at Brandeis University and an adjunct professor at Emmanuel College. He recently earned his PhD in American history from Brandeis University. He specializes in early American history with a focus on honor, virtue, and ethics.
He is currently submitting his book manuscript, “Rightly to Be Great: Honor, Virtue, and Ethics among America’s Founders,” for publication. This project examines changes in honor and virtue from the coming of the American Revolution through the early republic. It 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—featuring those who had previously been excluded, such as women and African Americans. This project illustrates that honor was regarded as an ethical ideal.
His next book project, “Redemption: The American Revolution, Ethics, and Abolitionism in Britain and the United States,” examines British and American abolitionism as a matter of national honor. For the British, anti-slavery policy was a means to prove themselves the Americans’ ethical betters on the world stage. In turn, this new British offensive made Americans react similarly by supporting abolitionism to maintain national honor and virtue.
Dr. Smith has also been published in the Massachusetts Historical Review, the Journal of Military History, the Digital Encyclopedia of George Washington, the Encyclopedia of War, and the Westchester Historian. In addition, he has presented talks on honor for a variety of institutions, including the American Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians, and Washington and Lee University.
For more information: www.craigbrucesmith.com
Welcome, Craig! We look forward to your contributions.