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The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen Hardcover – Deckle Edge, September 13, 2010


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (September 13, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393071626
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393071627
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.1 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #253,426 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Rooting his analysis firmly in historical manifestations of honor, Appiah (Cosmopolitanism), a professor of philosophy at Princeton, offers four case studies in what he calls moral revolutions, attesting to how altering notions of honor can provoke positive changes in social behavior. Codes of honor surrounding dueling, Chinese foot binding, the Atlantic slave trade, and the ongoing practice of honor killing in contemporary Pakistan are all examined to reveal the various dimensions of honor as it relates to notions of respect, shame, and dignity. Appiah argues for a distinction between honor and morality that underpins how and why abhorrent practices so often continue despite their criminalization. While the author devotes too much space to basic historical narrative and not nearly enough to the complex issues of how honor relates to morality and how it can be distinguished from the constellation of notions like respect that he draws on, it is nonetheless a compelling read and represents a refreshingly concrete solution to the question of how to alter deeply objectionable, deeply intractable human practices.
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Review

... the author ... often achieves a Malcolm Gladwell-like balance between argument and storytelling. He stirs in spoonfuls of narrative honey to help his medicinal tea go down.  Dwight Garner --The New York Times

Reading [The Honor Code] is like attending a lecture by a lucid and ebullient professor who chuckles over his colorful anecdotes but is ultimately intent on making you think for yourself. Paul Berman --Slate

...  presented in The Honor Code, Appiah's historical case studies, though moving at breakneck speed, are energized, informed, and highly readable. Ian Klaus --The Daily Beast

...  monstrously interesting and the exact reverse of all the stereotypes of academic overspecialization and who-cares-ism. Matthew Yglesias --Thinkprogress.com

Appiah expertly limns the history of honor ... Michael Washburn --The Boston Globe

“Appiah is one of the most relevant philosophers today.... His work reveals the heart and sensitivity of a novelist.. He helps us think holistically before turning analytic... Fascinating, erudite, and beautifully written.” (The New York Times Book Review)

“How stimulating it is to read the remarkable research of a brilliant mind into the concept of honor as the origin of morality as we know it, practiced or not!... This book is essential for us—inescapable in its urgent relevance to the embattled human morality we live within our codes of the present.” (Nadine Gordimer, author of Telling Times)

“Appiah lays out a concept that is not only compelling in its own right but also suggests a connection that may in time help to collate biological and cultural exploration of human morality.” (Edward O. Wilson, author of Sociobiology)

“A deeply insightful exposition of the dangers, the potential and the (perhaps) ineradicable role of the human sense of honor.” (Charles Taylor, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, McGill University)

More About the Author

Kwame Anthony Appiah, the president of the PEN American Center, is the author of The Ethics of Identity, Thinking It Through: An Introduction to Contemporary Philosophy, The Honor Code and the prize-winning Cosmopolitanism. Raised in Ghana and educated in England, he has taught philosophy on three continents and is currently a professor at Princeton University. He maintains a website at www.appiah.net.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Jaylia3 TOP 1000 REVIEWER on December 19, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Dueling, foot-binding, slavery and "honor" killings were once considered honorable practices but today most people find them repellent. In THE HONOR CODE Appiah analyzes these four examples to illustrate how traditional beliefs about honor came to be in sharp contrast with evolving views of morality. In each case, arguments against the practices were well known long before they were given up, but knowledge alone wasn't enough. "Honor" killing has not been completely eliminated, but for each of the other practices Appiah details how the development of an expanded, less insular world view or "honor world" changed cultural beliefs and overthrew these long held customs. With this book Appiah is hoping to help spark modern moral revolutions.

Appiah talks about what these modern revolutions might be in an excellent September 2010 article in the Washington Post. Just as we look back with horror at slavery and foot binding, people in the future may condemn one or more of our current practices. To determine what might cause our descendants to wonder "What were they thinking?!" Appiah provides three guidelines: first, arguments against the practice have long been in place, second, defenders of the practice cite tradition, human nature or necessity as reasons to continue (How could we grow cotton without slaves?), and third, supporters of the practice engage in strategic ignorance, for instance wearing slave-grown cotton without considering where it comes from. Appiah's contemporary candidates for moral revolutions include industrial meat production, the current prison system, the institutionalization and isolation of the elderly, and the devastation of the environment.

Appiah is a philosophy professor at Princeton and his writing is sometimes a little choppy in a logician's proof solving style, but the material is well thought out, timely and fascinating.
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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Brian Forst on October 6, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
For all the handwringing over how to defend ourselves against violent Islamic extremists, the central point raised by Professor Appiah in "The Honor Code" has been widely overlooked: We can do better than accept codes of honor that harm us all. Mainstream Muslims can be supported to rein in and pacify their extreme factions by changing the codes of honor that drive young men to commit acts of violence in the name of a holy cause in the first place. It took some 200 years for Christians to change the codes of honor that gave rise to toxic notions of martyrdom, holy war and infidels during the Crusades, and in today's world of instant communication technology, Muslims who operate under the very same notions should be convertible in much less time -- perhaps in a few short years, and certainly in our lifetimes. As Appiah writes, honor killings in Pakistan have already been reduced by a decline in the acceptability of that practice, and the emergence of such websites as Arabs and Muslims Against Honor Killing (whose slogan is "No honor in honor killing") should give us all reason to be more positive about the future.

This book may also encourage us to shift our own codes of honor from ones that encourage our lunatic fringes to produce international frenzy in threatening to burn Korans in public to alternatives that recognize that we pray to the same God as Muslims and share interests of living good lives, experiencing the warmth of family and friends, and raising our children in a healthier, more peaceful world.

Appiah exposes the problem of harm done in the name of honor to a bright light. He may have earned himself a major peace prize in so doing. He may have earned for us all genuinely enhanced prospects for peace.
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26 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Benjamin Reid Lodmell on September 15, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I follow the rule that it is not my place to judge others, yet it is hard to keep a distance from the great and eternal questions about human ethics and morality. I find this discussion especially true now because the "dollarization" of just about everything feels ubiquitous. That's why I love this book. Honor, like freedom, is a butchered word and Mr. Appiah is fighting back. It reminds me of Zakaria Fareed's effort to restore the words liberty and freedom in the "Future of Freedom." Appiah also calls the consequences of moral decline for the USA and I think it's economy. Dueling, foot binding and the slave trade are still around, just in different contextes, and honor killings are alive and kicking. These are just the starting points for asking the question, "What are we thinking..." I really admire Mr. Appiah's efforts. They are honorable, indeed.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Tsundoku Reviews on October 26, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
Brief Summary: Throughout history honor has remained a strong incentive for human action, yet it is rarely ever researched how this honor has affected change in history. Exploring honor through moral revolutions, Appiah defines what honor really means to us as members of the human world.

The Tsundoku Scale: Middle of the Pile, 5 out of 10.

The Good: The philosophy was a strong, clear, and welcome segment in this book. It's not on par with `if a tree falls and no one is around, does it make a sound?' kind of thinking but it is still quite thought provoking. Appiah makes some truly interesting points about honor and esteem, individual and group honor, and dignity and morality, that stand out as both significant and relevant. He forces the reader to contemplate honor as an ever changing value that could at one moment in history be an advocate for something as abhorrent as slavery and then in the next moment become one of its strongest dissenters. Further, he successfully manages to separate honor from morality while still keeping honor as something personal and approachable. All the examples in the book, from dueling to slavery and from foot-binding to honor killing, are engaging and full of Appiah's wry humor and serious declarations.

The Bad: Appiah's problem is that his book tries to make history a part of honor, rather than honor a part of history. The book constantly loses its focus, perhaps most notably when Appiah describes the satirical honor killing in a movie about Sicily and then proceeds to jump to real life by talking about current honor killing in Pakistan. Both the movie and Pakistan were great examples of honor, but their relevancy to each other was forced and awkward. In much the same way, Appiah's book often feels a disjointed group of examples spanning history in "moral revolutions" that are in no way connected to one another, and seem more a history of convenience than a history of fact.
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