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Understanding Honor: Beyond the Shame/Guilt Dichotomy (Essay)

Social Theory and Practice 2011, Oct, 37, 4

Social Theory and Practice

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For most of the modern era, the idea of honor as a code of conduct has been treated as at best a historical curiosity and at worst a primitive and violent value system. But in recent decades there has been a resurgence of scholarly interest of a more charitable sort in the idea of honor. Two recent books even go so far as to endorse the revival of honor for modern society. (1) Still, despite the increasing scholarly appreciation of the idea of honor, there remains one particularly common misunderstanding about it. This fallacy about honor is so widespread and persistent that no amount of debunking seems to eliminate it: the longstanding misconception that honor is an essentially "external" moral ideal, one that is entirely constituted by the external recognition by others in one's society and motivated by the desire to avoid shame before one's equals. I call this the "Honor as External thesis," and this essay attempts to demonstrate how untenable the dichotomy is between internal and external systems of social regulation. Oddly, although scholars have long agreed that the modern world is much the better for having escaped the honor ideal, there is no agreement as to just what is the moral ideal with which we have replaced it. Often it is suggested that it is the Judeo-Christian ideal of moral virtue that supplanted honor. Equally often it is suggested that it is the modern values of individual dignity, democracy, or egalitarianism that replaced honor) Some say the new ideals are the acquisitive values of capitalism, self-interest, or consumerism. (3) Others insist that the essential distinction is between a culture of honor and the rule of law. (4) For yet others, the idea of honor was replaced by the ideal of "self-esteem" in modern democracies. (5) This lack of consensus is, I believe, no accident. The desire to demonstrate the superiority of modern values over former ones has turned the honor ideal into the alien Other, on which is projected all of the vices that we would like to believe our own society has risen above. The argument here is that the Honor as External thesis is an implicitly pejorative normative claim masquerading as a neutral descriptive claim. Until we move beyond it, we cannot undertake a more objective and fair assessment of the nature of the honor ideal.

Understanding Honor: Beyond the Shame/Guilt Dichotomy (Essay)
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  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Religion & Spirituality
  • Published: 01 October 2011
  • Publisher: Social Theory and Practice-Florida State University
  • Print Length: 32 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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