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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon December 19, 2010
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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on October 6, 2010
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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on September 15, 2010
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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on September 24, 2015
Erudite and engaging examination of the role of honor in making moral revolutions happen. Appiah argues, using several historical cases, that the way in which societies are able to "revalue-values" is to make those who support the older norms and values ashamed of doing so, while valorizing people who support the newer norm. This hypothesis is quite relevant to the current culture wars in America. The popular appeal of demagogues who rail against "political correctness" lies in their speaking to the resentment of those segments of society who are aggrieved over their lost privilege and do not wish to be shamed for expressing racist, sexist, and xenophobic sentiments.As Appiah shows, this is, however, a losing hand historically speaking.
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on July 7, 2015
Having done a fair amount of thinking about the idea and importance of honor codes I was disappointed in this book from an analytical point of view. It does not really explain much in that regard. However, considering that there has been practically no work done in this rather significant area, this is certainly a good start, plus the material in it is interesting and needs to be known more widely.
From a social scientist perspective, when it comes to analyzing how moral revolutions happen this is relatively light thinking, but again, the author has identified a topic that needs more scientific investigation.
In any case this is a book everybody ought to read and do more than just read. What exactly makes honor (codes) so significant and why do they have such little "real" relevance in practically all cultures?
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on May 1, 2011
This book argues that moral changes such as the abolition of dueling, slavery, and foot-binding are not the result of new understanding of why they are undesirable. They result from changes in how they affect the honor (or status) of the groups that have the power to create the change.

Dueling was mostly associated with a hereditary class of gentlemen, and feeling a responsibility to duel was a symbol of that status. When the nature of the upper class changed to include a much less well defined class that included successful businessmen, and society became more egalitarian, the distinction associated with demonstrating that one was a member of the hereditary elite lost enough value that the costs of dueling outweighed the prestige.

Slave-owners increasingly portrayed the labor that slaves preformed in a way that also implied the work of British manual laborers deserved low status, and rising resentment and political power of that labor class created a movement to abolish slavery.

The inability of Chinese elites to ignore the opinions of elites in other nations whose military and technological might made it hard for China to dismiss them as inferior altered the class of people whom the Chinese elites wanted respect from.

These are plausible stories, backed by a modest amount of evidence. I don't know of any strong explanations that compete with this. But I don't get the impression that the author tried as hard as I would like to find evidence for competing explanations. For instance, he presents some partial evidence to the effect that Britain abolished slavery at a time when slavery was increasingly profitable. But I didn't see any consideration of the costs of keeping slaves from running away, which I expect were increasing due to improved long-distance transportation such as railroads. He lists references which might constitute authoritative support for his position, but it looks like it would be time-consuming to verify that.

Whether this book can help spark new moral revolutions is unclear, but it should make our efforts to do so more cost-effective, if only by reducing the effort put into ineffective approaches.
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on July 19, 2014
Thoughtful analysis, clearly expressed. I listened to the Audible book, narrated by the author. It was required reading for a class in Public Ethics, but I would gladly read this book even if not required. Credible explanation of how social change happens.
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on September 12, 2013
The incoming freshmen at Princeton University were assigned to read this book over the summer by the President. My boss encouraged our entire department to read it as well. I knew little about the history of the duel, foot binding, slavery and abolition, and treatment of women around the world. This book, clearly written and engaging, provides details, examples and historical context for how all these practices evolved and ultimately met their demise, though the treatment of women in many parts of the world leaves much to be desired. I look forward to discussing the lessons of this book with my colleagues and how we develop and participate in our own "honor code" practices.
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on October 26, 2013
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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on October 13, 2013
My book club chose to read this book. I was disappointed because he had a very minor pint to make, and took a long time to make it. He brings three examples to illustrate his point. Perhaps if he had brought them in a different order, it might have been more interesting. He starts with the history of dueling in England,and it's demise. He had to redefine all the ways common words are usually understood, and this made it difficult to follow him.
At the end, he didn't bring it down to the level of the common man, and what he might/should do to make the world a better place.
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