Monday, May 21, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Tamler Sommers, Why Honor Matters (Basic Books: 2018)

There has been growing interest among moral philosophers in the revival of “virtue-based” and/or “honor-based” moral theories and culture, as an alternative to the prevailing Western, post-Enlightenment, “dignity-based” theories and cultures (duty or utility). This well-argued, well-written defense of honor covers the traditional arguments for and against these major theories. According to Sommers, one of most compelling arguments against dignity-based theories and culture, especially in the United States, has been the rise of “zero-risk culture.” He also contributes many new arguments for and against competing theories of dignity and honor. Dignity-based cultures apply formalized, absolute, timelessly-universal moral rules and/or cost-benefit analysis.  Honor-based cultures apply informal, contextually-bound, moral codes shaped by tradition. Many small-scale, male-dominated, honor-based cultures in the West have survived; most notably via: police and fire departments, sports teams (hockey) and urban gangs. I would have liked to see a bit more comparison between European and American dignity cultures and why U.S. culture has become more “risk averse,” a bit more on the role of the mass media in promulgating “dignity” and thwarting “honor,” and more evolutionary psychology. Nevertheless, this is a top-notch ethics textbook that both students and scholars will enjoy. It’s a priority acquisition for all colleges and universities that teach ethics and philosophy.

Reviewed for Choice Magazine by:
Ronald F. White, Ph.D.
Professor of Philosophy
Mount St. Joseph University

No comments: