The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen

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9780393340525: The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen
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"[Appiah's] work reveals the heart and sensitivity of a novelist. . . .Fascinating, erudite and beautifully written."―The New York Times Book Review

In this groundbreaking work, Kwame Anthony Appiah, hailed as "one of the most relevant philosophers today" (New York Times Book Review), changes the way we understand human behavior and the way social reform is brought about. In brilliantly arguing that new democratic movements over the last century have not been driven by legislation from above, Appiah explores the end of the duel in aristocratic England, the tumultuous struggles over footbinding in nineteenth-century China, the uprising of ordinary people against Atlantic slavery, and the horrors of "honor killing" in contemporary Pakistan. Intertwining philosophy and historical narrative, he has created "a fascinating study of moral evolution" (Philadelphia Inquirer) that demonstrates the critical role honor plays a in the struggle against man's inhumanity to man.

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How does moral progress happen? How are societies brought to repudiate immoral customs they have long accepted? In The Honor Code, Kwame Anthony Appiah explores a long-neglected engine of reform.  Examining moral revolutions in the past--and campaigns against abhorrent practices today--he shows that appeals to reason, morality, or religion aren't enough to ring in reform. Practices are eradicated only when they come into conflict with honor.

In gripping detail, Appiah begins his work with a portrait of the often-deadly world of aristocratic Britain, where for centuries gentlemen challenged each other to duels.  Recounting one of the last significant duels in that world--between a British prime minister and an eccentric earl--Appiah shows a society at the precipice of abrupt change.  Turning to the other side of the world, Appiah investigates the end of footbinding in China. The practice had flourished for a thousand years, despite imperial attempts at prohibition, yet was extinguished in a generation. Appiah brings to life this turbulent era and shows how change finally came not from imposing edicts from above, but from harnessing the ancient power of honor from within.

In even more intricate ways, Appiah demonstrates how ideas of honor helped drive one of history's most significant moral revolutions--the fast-forming social consensus that led to the abolition of slavery throughout the British empire, and recruited ordinary men and women to the cause.  Yet his interest isn't just historical.   Appiah considers the horrifying persistence of "honor killing" in places like Pakistan, despite religious and moral condemnation, and the prospects for bringing it to an end by mobilizing a sense of collective honor--and of shame.

With a storyteller's flair and a philosopher's rigor, The Honor Code represents a new approach toward moral inquiry. Ranging from a great mandarin's abandonment of an ancient Chinese tradition to Frederick Douglass's meetings with Abolitionist leaders in London, Appiah reveals how moral revolutions really succeed.

About the Author:

Kwame Anthony Appiah pens the Ethicist column for the New York Times, and is the author of the prize-winning Cosmopolitanism, among many other works. A professor of philosophy and law at New York University, Appiah lives in New York.

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