Biology & Philosophy

, 34:39 | Cite as

Two of a kind: Are norms of honor a species of morality?

  • Toby HandfieldEmail author
  • John Thrasher


Should the norms of honor cultures be classified as a variety of morality? In this paper, we address this question by considering various empirical bases on which norms can be taxonomically organised. This question is of interest both as an exercise in philosophy of social science, and for its potential implications in meta-ethical debates. Using recent data from anthropology and evolutionary game theory, we argue that the most productive classification emphasizes the strategic role that moral norms play in generating assurance and stabilizing cooperation. Because honor norms have a similar functional role, this account entails honor norms are indeed a variety of moral norm. We also propose an explanation of why honor norms occur in a relatively unified, phenotypically distinctive cluster, thereby explaining why it is tempting to regard them as taxonomically distinct.


Honor Social norms Morality Signaling Scientific categories Cooperation 



Thanks to Patrick Emerton, Taylor Davis, Erik Kimbrough, Matthew Lindauer, Elizabeth O’Neill, Jordan Adamson, Tom Parr, and audiences at Monash University and the California Workshop on Evolutionary Social Sciences for comments on previous versions of this paper. Funding was provided by Australian Research Council (Grant No. DP150100242).


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophy DepartmentMonash UniversityClaytonAustralia
  2. 2.The Smith InstituteChapman UniversityOrangeUSA

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