Top Books on Honor-Shame Ethics

A stream of 21st-century philosophers are rehabilitating honor in philosophical discourse. Even the collaborative website is “devoted to the study of honor as an ethical value.” These philosophers argue how honor and shame can be redemptive moral values. As one philosopher says,

“honor is purportedly archaic, primitive, violent, patriarchal, vain superficial, discriminatory, conformist, and even silly, [but] we can ignore or banish honor only at our peril. … We need a sense of honor, one duly cleansed of the undeniable ills of honor’s past.”

This post introduces the main philosophy publications on honor-shame.

Top Popular Books

Three books stand out as most readable. These are written for popular audiences, using everyday language with engaging examples.

  1. The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen (2010), by Anthony Appiah. This readable book offers four case studies of moral revolutions—i.e., dueling, foot binding, slave trade, and honor killing—in which altering notions of honor caused positive social changes. A thoughtful reflection on the important concept of “honor codes.”
  1. Is Shame Necessary?: New Uses for an Old Tool (2015), by Jennifer Jacquet. A short, engaging exploration into social shame and how it might be used to promote large-scale political change and social reform. Guilt shapes individual behavior but fails to change social institutions.
  1. Why Honor Matters (2018), by Tamler Sommers. This recent book convincingly argues for restoring honor to the center of morality. For Sommers, honor offers a solution to the problems of Western liberalism such as alienation, shameless, and cowardiceness. This book is persuasive and provocative. For more, read the reviews by Jackson Wu and Werner Mishcke.

 “On the Obsolescence of the Concept of Honor,”(1983) by Peter Berger in Revisions: Changing Perspectives in Moral Philosophy (p. 172-81) is a classic worth reading. He explains how Western society is shifting from honor morality to dignity morality. 

Another quality book is Honor: A History by James Bowman. He emphasizes on the decline of honor in the the West. 

There are also several academic works. These are technical works, most beneficial for doctoral students or insomniacs.

  • Bagby, Laurie M. Johnson. 2009. Thomas Hobbes: Turning Point for Honor. Lanham: Lexington Books.
  • Cunningham, Anthony. 2013. Modern Honor: A Philosophical Defense. New York: Routledge.
  • Deonna, Julien A., Raffaele Rodogno, and Fabrice Teroni. 2011. In Defense of Shame: The Faces of an Emotion. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Fan, Ruiping. 2010. Reconstructionist Confucianism: Rethinking Morality after the West. New York: Springer.
  • Olsthoorn, Peter. 2015. Honor in Political and Moral Philosophy. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
  • Oprisko, Robert L. 2012. Honor: A Phenomenology. New York: Routledge.
  • Sessions, William Lad. 2010. Honor for Us: A Philosophical Analysis, Interpretation and Defense. New York: Continuum.

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