The Honor Code by Kwame Anthony Appiah

The Honor Code imageBrief Summary:  Throughout history honor has remained a strong incentive for human action, yet it is rarely researched just how this honor has affected change in history.  Appiah explores honor through moral revolutions, and 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: Well, I did say I read books other than fantasy so here goes… The philosophy in the book 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 slavery’s 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; he tries to force the honor leads to history parallel a bit too much.  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.