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28 May 2005 | Draft

Varieties of Honour and Dishonour

distinguishing intrinsic honour from honourable externalities

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Annex 1 of: Honour Essential to Psycho-social Integrity: challenge to the nameless of dishonourable leadership

Varieties of honour
Honour in practice
Institutionalization of honour
Honour cultures, systems and codes
Distortions of honour
Honour and credibility: "without honour"
Main paper:

Essential nature of honour
Two forms of "honour": Beyond honouring power and tolerating difference
Honour-related challenges of the disciplines [Annex 2]
Honour: "Finite games" vs "Infinite games"
Honourable "Nomenklatura" vs. Unhonoured "Nameless"
Integrative function of honour in interdisciplinarity and interfaith understanding

Varieties of honour

Complementary qualities of honour: In endeavouring to distinguish the fundamentally integrative role of honour, the following can be considered, both in their "positive" and "negative" connotations. Of particular interest is the way in which honour is not automatically associated with certain "positive" attributes, and honour may be accorded despite their absence, transcending any corresponding "negative" attributes.

Table 1: Attributes essential (or non-essential) to honour
Necessarily essential attributes of honour? Honouring transcendence of negative attributes?
trustworthiness: under all circumstances? untrustworthiness: honour may transcend trust?
integrity: essential to identity of what is honoured? inconstancy, shamelessness: creative artists?
credibility, veracity, honesty: only incidental? deceitfulness: honouring roguishness?
respectability: necessarily respectable? unrespectability: creative eccentrics?:
reputation, renown, notability: only incidental? disrepute, unrenowned: honouring the disreputable?
status, prestige: only incidental? unprestigious: honouring the unrenowned?
glorious: but only within a context? ignominious:
presence. charisma, impressive unimpressive: honouring the ordinary?
dignity: undignified: ability to act foolishly?
grace, beauty: natural, but only incidental? ugliness: for the reality it constitutes?
praiseworthy, estimable: relative and not for others contemptible, uncommendable::
seniority, experience: only incidental? inexperience: for effort?
power: only incidental? weakness, impotence: honouring the weak?
commitment, dedication: only incidental? indifference, apathy: nihilists?
altruism, selflessness: only incidental? selfishness: those who "know what they want"?
inspiration, wondrousness: possibly only relative ? as a negative exemplar? 
operacy, efficacy: only incidental? inoperacy, inefficacy: non-essential to style?
craftsmanship, style: only incidental? honouring what is behind lack of any style? 
significance: but only relative? insignificance: honouring the insignificant?
courage, valour: imprudence? cowardice: precautiousness?
holiness: honourig the secular? unholiness: enemies may also be honoured?

The above attributes may be configured as aspects around the core notion of honour.

Circular configuration of qualities of honour
Circular configuration of qualities of honour

Honour may be variously expressed as indicated in Table 2

Table 2: Forms of expression of honour:
Form Examples
offering a token gifts, awards, flowers
assembly admirers, fans
worshipful attendance puja
endowing sacredness beatification, sanctification, sacred animals
commemorative celebration veterans parade
earned qualifications, degrees, medals, awards
inheritance titles, family name, property
nomination honours list, designated successor, transfer of mantle
recognition acknowledgement, reincarnation
gesture gesture of respect, "doing someone the honour", genuflection
praise insult, snub
oath taking, pledging perjury, lying

It is useful to distinguish (as in Table 3) forms of honour in terms of the different parties that may be engaged by the process.

Table 3: Symmetric and asymmetric conditions of honour (by party)
. . (Dis) Honoured party
. . animals people
(citizens, fans, followers)
groups institutions faiths (religions, practices) disciplines (intellectual, physical) cultures
(races, ethnic groups, castes))
Honouring party
animals waterhole
. . . . . .
people . . . . . . .
groups totems, mascots . . . . . .
institutions . . . . . . .
faiths . . . . . . .
disciplines . . . . . . .
cultures . . . . . . .

It is useful to distinguish (as tentatively in Table 4) forms of honour in terms of the respective roles of the honoured and the honouring in any operative system of status (see also Table 5: Tentative Relationship between Forms of Honour in Dialogue). Associated forms of dishonour may further clarify this.

Table 4: Symmetric and asymmetric conditions of honour (by status)
. . (Dis) Honoured party
. . Gamma (weak) Beta (norm) Alpha (strong)
Alpha (strong) patronizing honour (eg (dis)honouring citizens / troops / employees, asymmetric marriage, hard science (dis)honouring of non-scientific disciplines) recognizing significant followers (eg lieutenants, "woman-in-her-place", hard science (dis)honouring of soft sciences) primus inter pares (hard science (dis)honouring of mathematics)
Beta (norm) (dis)honouring the disadvantaged by the ordinary person mutual (dis)honour (eg ideal marriage, ideal inter-disciplinarity) (un)due honour (eg for elders / seniors, child for parents, wife for husband, placement of someone "on a pedestal")
Gamma (weak) (dis)honouring those equally disadvantaged ("in the same boat") (dis)honouring bearers of alms and succour (dis)honouring leadership (eg by citizens, troops, employees)

Honour in practice

Honourable gestures and their status: The acknowledgement of honour due, and duly given, is evident in practice in a range of formal gestures and rituals. These include:

Honourable obligations: The nature of honour is perhaps most directly felt in the following obligations, whether willingly accepted without question or not:

Institutionalization of honour

Honourable career: A particular career path may be recognized as being honourable, or more honourable than others. In conventional society, the professions, the civil service, banking, etc may be so considered -- in contrast with the arts or theatre, for example. In the UK service in such a career may be acknowledged on the "honours list" -- by which the individual may be entitled to the appellation "Right Honourable". Members of Parliament may also be named with that title. Irrespective of career, the "honours list" may specifically recognize a wide variety of careers in service to the community.

A quite different understanding of honour is expressed by nominations for the Right Livelihood Award.

On retirement from a long career with a company, an employee may also be honoured.

Honour in hierarchies vs networks: Membership of voluntary societies, notably semi-secret societies, may also be honoured to various degrees. Typically this is associated with rising through a hierarchy over the years, perhaps associated with a succession of rights of passage or initiations into higher levels of understanding that are honoured by those who aspire to them.

Distinct from hierarchical patterns of honour are those accorded between members of interrelated networks. Here honour is associated with long-term engagement or activism in response to an issue. It is the honour accorded to companions on a journey whose values others may not appreciate.

Honour: symbols, surrogates and trappings: Obvious examples that are associated with pursuit of status include

Time brings in another dimension with regard to the nature of honour recognized by a defeated enemy, as with awards of the Iron Cross by the Nazi regime -- perhaps now to be viewed as dishonourable by the victors, but would naturally now be regarded as honourable by neo-nazis. Britain's most prestigious military honour, the Victoria Cross, is normally only awarded posthumously. Recipients of lesser orders consider it an honour to stand beside living recipients. Perhaps more striking is the contrast betwen the honour accorded "living" gods, through worship and via their intermediaries, in contrast with the honourability of "dead" gods of societies of cultures of the distant past (cf the 2500 deities in Michael Jordan. Encyclopedia of Gods, 1993).

Honour: "Nomenklatura" and titles: In many cultures, the name of a family or an individual may be associated with a particular degree of honour, possibly recognized explicitly by titles as in the case of the nobility (Almanach de Gotha, Debretts Peerage***). With the diminishing role of the traditional aristocracy, honour may be directly associated with "old" family names and dynasties. Other kinds of title have been recognized, with each of which a degree of honour may be due from those that acknowledge their significance:

Titles may be understood as a mark of honour, institutionalizing honourability and ensuring its protection in some measure..They may determine orders of precedence (placement in ceremonies) and other entitlements. Distinguishj9ing appropriate precedence, and therefore the honour to be accorded or recognized, may be the delicate task of a Court Chamberlain. Typically those with some form of title are recognized in works such as a Who's Who, possibly in a specialized domain (eg Who's Who in International Organizations; Marquis Who's Who in Science and Engineering).

A notable characteristic of some of the honourably titled is the expectation that their entitlements should include privileges such as immunity to prosecution. Examples include:

Although there are naturally Who's Whos of various kinds, it is to expected that there is no Who is Not Who in a democratic society

Honour in international declarations: Honour is recognized in several key international declarations as follows, with notable exceptions:

Formulations of "global ethics" tend not to mention "honour", although it may be explicitly considered an honour to speak on global ethics and values (cf UN Secretary General Kofi Annan at Tübingen. Third Global Ethic Lecture, 2003).

Dramatic manifestations of honour -- and its dramatisation: Honour tends to become evident in the dramatic situations engendered by the possibility of dishonour. These dramatic dimensions are the fabric of a charged psychosocial reality. They are the stuff of literature, theatre and movie scenarios which cultivate a sense of honour develop insights into its nature. Examples include:

"Cultures of honour", "Honour systems", and "Honour codes"

Cultures of honour: Anthopologists contrast "cultures of honour" with "cultures of law". Cultures of honour typically appear among nomadic peoples (Bedouins, herdsmen, cowboys, etc) with limited recourse to the protection of the law and who are obliged to transport their most valuable property with them. Fear of rapid revenge for theft or other abuse may then be adopted as an effective strategy. They may also develop among aristocratic families who perceive themselves to be framers and upholders of law and order. Such cultures also emerge in criminal underworlds and gangs. Conceptions of honour vary widely between such cultures. A notable example is the acceptability of honour killings (usually female) if the "family's honour" has in some way been "defiled". [more | more]

Honour has been of greater importance in the past as a guiding principle of society. Codes of honour required a "man of honour" to defend his own honour (possibly as a "gentleman"), the honour of his wife, of his (blood-)family or of his beloved. Its importance has apparently declined in modern secular societies. A form of honour is portrayed as surviving in so-called "hot-blooded" cultures (Italian, Arab, Hispanic ...), in more "gentlemanly" "southern" societies, and in feudal or other agrarian societies, where land use is of more importance than in deracinated industrial societies. Paul Robinson (Sword of Honour, 2003):

Given the underlying importance that honour seems to continue to play in society, there is a case for exploring past treatises on honour produced in societies where its role was more explicitly and formally recognized. How has "honour" evolved into the present day in the Hispanic, Arabian, Germanic and Nipponese cultures, for example.? The Hispanic cultures were notable for their concern with insult and its reparation through duel, to the point that a papal encyclical was written in 1891 to check its excesses [more]. Such insights could be fruitfully contrasted with those that prevail in regions where family and tribal feuds -- arising from matters of honour -- continue to affect relations. In the case of females, honour historically related to sexuality, with preservation of "honour" equated primarily to maintenance of virginity, or at least to preservation of exclusive monogamy. It is believed that feminism may have changed some linguistic usage in this respect.

Such understandings from the past could be usefully contrasted with various modern efforts to formulate systems of global ethics. The question is the extent to which these emphasize "watered down" understandings of honour through euphemisms such as "tolerance" or "respect".

Steven Dutch (The World's Most Toxic Value System, 2001) argues that descriptions of honour in other cultures may lead to gross misunderstandings -- aided by what amounts to mistranslations:

Almost everybody will react to an attack on their honor, but in many societies people are expected to restrain their impulse to get revenge: to forgive or simply ignore insults, and most members of those societies succeed to a greater or lesser extent. But in societies dominated by the "honor" ethic, it's permissible, often demanded, to seek revenge. In many places, this cycle of revenge creates blood feuds that last for generations, or results in periodic flareups of mass violence or ethnic cleansing. If there's a single attribute that defines the "honor" mentality, it's the notion that private killing over personal grievances is acceptable.... While these concepts in other languages may overlap some of the elements of what we term honor, the "honor" mentality just as often impels people in other societies to do things that are grossly dishonorable by our standards.....

Dutch focuses his criticism on the mentality or value system with which "honour" is associated in some other cultures. He deliberately chooses the Arabic word thar , "blood vengeance," as being a more appropriate description of this value system:

The thar mentality can be said to include these features. They vary in degree from person to person and place to place but if we find all or most of them in a society we can justly apply the label thar.

Dutch carefully distinguishes thar from bushido:
One of the most profound consequences of mistranslating foreign terms as "honor" is a tendency by many people to regard Japanese society as similar to the thar cultures of the Balkans and the Middle East. Japan is not a "shame" culture - Japan and the West are the two great "guilt" cultures of the world...The Japanese code of Bushido indeed placed great emphasis on personal honor but also on obedience no matter what.... In sharp contrast to thar, Bushido was an internalized code of honor. One could be shamed in Bushido even if nobody else knew.

Clearly such criticism must be assessed against counter-criticism of western understandings of honour. The most radical and influential of these is perhaps that of Sayyid Qutb who argues of western civilization that "material production is regarded as more important, more valuable and more honorable than the development of human character." (Luke Loboda, The Thought of Sayyid Qutb: Radical Islam's Philosophical Foundations).

Aristocratic honours systems: Ancient Japan for example, and feudal England both had immensely complicated honour systems for the nobility. The social self in Japan notably developed through indigenous ideas of loyalty and honour developed within the Japanese samurai or warrior class. Honours were traditionally bestowed upon people the ruling Monarch by a ruling for some valuable service to the Crown. Noble Titles (such as Knight, Dame, Lord, Earl, Countess), when given in this way, or by recognized Orders of Chivalry, resulted in the recipient being admitted as a titled personage to a Royal Court, the establishment, and/or so called ruling class, and carried numerous social, business, political and other privileges, as well as immense status to the holder.

An interesting evolution of such a system into the current period is the status of honour in European Orders of Chivalry and Papal Orders (awarded by the Holy See or founded by Papal Bull). In the case of the Knights of the Sovereign Teutonic Military Order, to meet the needs of the Order into the 21st century and encourage new giving, a prestigious honours programme has been developed. Rather than conferring Knighthoods, as an honour for services on the battlefield, it now uses its ancient Fons de Norum rights enabling it to confer a Noble Title, or Order of Chivalry on financial benefactors, or on people who have performed other great services in support of its global philanthropic and humanitarian ideals.

Awarded "honours": Various awards and honour systems have evolved and been used for decades or even centuries [see a collection]. States, through their president or monarch, or by action of the prime minister, may award a wide variety of honours, of different levels of prestige, according to specified criteria. Some may be heriditary. In 2003, it was however revealed that in the case of the UK, nearly 300 citizens had declined to accept the highest of such honours, including knighthoods and CBEs.

Institutional honour systems and codes: These are a set of procedures under which persons are trusted to act without direct supervision in situations that might allow for dishonest behavior. They may be designed to ensure that none shall take unfair advantage of another. They are most widely used in educational institutions and prisons, notably in the USA (cf The Honor System at Duke University, 1978; Martha Allen, A brief overview of honor codes in higher education, 2004). According to the Center for Academic Integrity (Fundamental Principles of Academic Integrity):

Many institutions have sought to promote a climate of trust through honor systems, which are virtually unique to educational communities. Honor sy