Making Sense of Honor

  • Whitley R. P. Kaufman
Part of the Law and Philosophy Library book series (LAPS, volume 104)


This chapter engages in an analysis of the concept of honor. It begins with a critique of the evolutionary account of honor, according to which retribution and revenge are evolutionary adaptations the purpose of which is to deter future harms. In fact, there is a better explanation of honor that gives it a non-instrumental explanation, while allowing that the prevention of future harm is a side effect of the exercise of honor. In order to defend one’s honor, one has to demonstrate a willingness to stand up to the wrongdoer in a confrontation involving significant physical risk. In the modern world, the state has taken on this role on behalf of the victim, by bringing the wrongdoer to justice. We then turn to a defense of the moral value of honor. Although honor is often taken as an obsolete value, in fact it can be understood as rooted in the value of individual dignity and autonomy. Honor is often misunderstood as being merely “external,” i.e. as consisting entirely in public reputation, but a careful analysis shows this to be a misinterpretation. Honor, properly understood, is a legitimate and even essential moral value.


Moral Intuition Honor Code Hard Treatment Deterrence Theory Honor Society 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Whitley R. P. Kaufman
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of Massachusetts LowellLowellUSA

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