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The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen

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  • Posted February 26, 2012

    Very intriguing read

    In Kwame Anthony Appiah’s The Honor Code, Appiah argues that moral revolutions only occur when the established and existing practices begin to conflict with this sense of honor. Four examples or case studies are explored the practice of dueling by British aristocrats, the ancient tradition of footbinding among the Chinese, the Slave Trade, and the honor killings in Pakistan. These examples illustrate the processes that changed perceptions towards practices that had been considered honorable and acceptable for ages. Major themes include ideas surrounding honor and what true honor involves. Honor essentially comes down to the respect one’s peers gives them and that one can demand from one’s friends. Therefore, honor is formed based on the masses of society. This concept leads to another major theme. Society selects, amplifies, distorts and suppresses some of the things morality says. It can do this in direct opposition to morality. Society also has the power to turn to practices of morality. However, in the end, the one thing society will never be is silent, and therefore it will always hold the power. I enjoyed the way the argument is presented. It is a combination of storytelling and arguments based on that storytelling. In this way it is very well organized. The author inserts his own remarks and ideas in the process of the storytelling and it adds to the voice and character of the work and gives insight into the author’s views behind topics and historical events. I liked the way this booked explored the idea of human honor and the dangers that may come with it. At points I would have preferred if the author had included more support of his argument as to why moral revolutions happen and presented such support in direct response to opposing theories. Various theories exist regarding this topic and in some areas the author’s argument seemed to contain gaps or vague explanations that were never addressed. I would highly recommend this book because, above all, it presents a very engaging and well-written argument. Besides the argument, the stories surrounding the dueling, footbinding, slave trade, and honor killings are very interesting. I had been aware of each of these practices, however, while reading, it occurred to me that I did not know the events surrounding the cessation of them. It is not a difficult read and ideas are interesting enough that it is worth reading. Kwane Anthony Appiah has published various articles and essays and books many dealing with ideas of ethics such as, Beware of Race-Pride, The Ethics of Identity, Cosmopolitanism, and Experiments in Ethics.

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