Tuesday, August 16, 2011

For November: The Honor Code by Kwame Anthony Appiah

The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen
For November we have selected The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen by Kwame Anthony Appiah,
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.
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