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
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.
I just found this blog–looks great, and should be of interest to people who stumble across this one.
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)?
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
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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 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.
Moral dilemmas make for compelling stories. Should we nuke this city to stop the virus from spreading? Should we derail the train to save our child caught on the tracks? Honor-dilemmas used to be a favorite type of moral quandary. One legendary honor-dilemma in particular has inspired artists and storytellers for millennia: the rape of Lucretia.
The Roman noblewoman Lucretia lived in 6th century B.C., in the final days of the Roman Kingdom. As Livy tells the tale, she welcomed the Roman prince Sextus Tarquinius into her home while her husband and father were away at war. Taken by her beauty, Tarquinius stole into her bedroom in the middle of the night and begged Lucretia to sleep with him. She refused. He threatened to kill her, but she remained unmoved. At last Tarquinius threatened to kill Lucretia and a male slave, arranging their bodies so that she “might be said to have been put to death in adultery with a man of base condition.” As this threat touches Lucretia’s reputation, she accedes.
After Tarquinius leaves, “exulting in his conquest of a woman’s honour,” Lucretia calls her husband and father back from battle, and in tears tells them how she “lost her honour” to the prince and that they, “if they are men,” will avenge her. The men swear to punish Tarquinius and they do their best to support Lucretia, assuring her that her honor hasn’t been besmirched. But Lucretia is disconsolate and declares,
“Though I acquit myself of the sin, I do not absolve myself from punishment; not in time to come shall ever unchaste woman live through the example of Lucretia,”
at which point she brandishes a hidden dagger and stabs herself to death (as depicted in the banner art of this blog). Appalled, inspired, and outraged, Lucretia’s menfolk revolt against the ruling family and help found the Roman Republic. Continue reading