"Honor" (entry for Encyclopedia of Heroism Studies)

Encyclopedia of Heroism Studies (2023)
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Such a bewildering and contradictory welter of behaviors and traits are connoted by “honor” and its best equivalents in other languages that analyses of the concept have daunted philosophers, anthropologists, sociologists, political scientists, historians, and literary scholars for millennia. Is it an external good given — and revoked just as easily — by others? Or does “honor” name an inner good that’s absolutely in our control: our integrity, our very commitment to right conduct? Is honor a central moral virtue — as when we might say that “all was lost, save our honor”? Or is it a good quality that’s not-quite “moral,” or indeed even an antiquated virtue hostile to true morality? Is the honorable man a heroic figure who protects the weak, or one who can be expected to bully the weak, as in the case of “honor killings”? Is honor aristocratic and inegalitarian, and thus a virtue that enables and ennobles what’s essentially oppression? Or is honor a signal virtue of fair-dealing, fair-fighting, and fair competition, as evidenced in sportsmanship?

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Dan Demetriou
University of Minnesota, Morris


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