Podcast #402: Why Honor Matters

n today‘s world, honor is typically thought of in terms of integrity — doing the right thing when no one is looking. But traditionally, honor meant having a reputation worthy of the respect of others. If people think about this type of honor at all these days, it’s usually in a negative way, associating it with pistol duels, honor killings, and toxic shame. But my guest today argues that for moral life to be robust and vital, a culture of honor is absolutely necessary. His name is Tamler Sommers. He’s a professor of philosophy at the University of Houston, co-host of the podcast Very Bad Wizzards, and the author of the new book Why Honor Matters. Today on the show, Tamler and I discuss honor— what it is, why it disappeared from our moral ethos and vocabulary, and why we should bring it back. Tamler makes the case that honor culture fosters community and encourages risk taking for the sake of excellence, while our modern dignity culture atomizes us and encourages us to play it small. He then makes a counterintuitive argument that the contained aggression and violence that honor promotes can have real benefits and shares one way honor is making a comeback in the form of the “restorative justice movement.” We end our conversation discussing why stories of honor are so appealing to humans and whether it’s really possible to revitalize honor in modern Western society. 

Show Highlights

  • What is honor? How is it actually defined?
  • Horizontal vs. vertical honor 
  • What are honor groups? Why are they so important in this discussion?
  • Honor culture in the mafia 
  • The function of shared honor codes 
  • How shame can sometimes be a good thing 
  • Ancient societies’ use of honor codes 
  • Honor vs. dignity 
  • How violence and aggression can actually be good for society 
  • Honor culture in the NHL 
  • Gangs, guns, and honor 
  • The core principles of an honor culture
  • How to inject honor back in the justice system 
  • How to develop a shared, group honor code 
  • Is Tamler bullish on honor cultures making a comeback?
  • What are the challenges to honor making a comeback?

Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast

Connect With Tamler 

Tamler on Twitter

Tamler’s website

Very Bad Wizards podcast

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