The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen by Kwame Anthony Appiah

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The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen by Kwame Anthony Appiah

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Category: History
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Louise Laurie
Reviewed by Louise Laurie
Summary: An academic study of moral revolutions - and why they happen. Some major examples with which most of us can identify, are given - such as slavery and the Chinese habit of footbinding culminating in why they fell out of favour.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 288 Date: October 2010
Publisher: W W Norton and Co
ISBN: 978-0393071627

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In the Preface, Appiah believes that morality is an extremely important area of our lives as we live them today. He goes on by saying that it's all very well thinking about morality - our morals - our own code of living - but it's the ultimate action which truly matters. Well, I would certainly agree with that. And as Appiah digs deeper into his subject, he tells his readers that he was struck by similarities between, for example, the collapse of the duel, the abandonment of footbinding, the end of Atlantic slavery. In the following chapters he debates the issues of those three major areas of morality. They were, in short, moral issues on a very large scale.

It is suggested by the author that the areas (and they are grey areas, nothing is in simple black and white terms here) of morality, honor (I'll stick with the American spelling to save confusion) and respect are normally inter-connected. Some of us may think they're all pretty much of a muchness. Not so. And Appiah goes to great length to fill in the details ... for those readers who are interested in fine tuning of the subject. Basically, what he's saying is that most of us want to lead decent lives within our local communities. Tell me something new, I'm thinking at this point. Surprise me.

The overall aim of this book is to try and understand those morality issues of the past and perhaps as they relate to the present or even the future. Where are we all heading in the morality stakes? So, we open with Chapter 1 and its self-explanatory title The Duel Dies. In order to grab our attention, Appiah informs his readers that one of the very last significant duels fought was - would you believe it - between a serving, yes, a serving British prime minister and less significant other, shall we say. Just imagine if the PM of the day had lost. Duelling was widely regarded as a rather aristocratic form of well, fighting for one's honor really, when all is said and done. So, what made it unfashionable? Appiah tells us in his rather dry style.

Just to give a bit of a taster, it was all to do with new laws and the fact that society was changing. The church also had a major say in the debate (think of the ten commandments). All of the above changed the concept of duelling from a positive into a negative. Duelling was dead (if you'll forgive the pun).

When you think of the vastness of China and how far it has travelled economically (although that is, I would argue, a debate in itself) the whole unsavoury business of binding women's feet seems now, barbarous. But, at the time, it was simply to make women with their tiny feet, more attractive to men. Normally associated with the higher echelons of Chinese society, but again, Appiah fills in the blanks for us. From a practical point of view, feet would bleed, they would smell, they would even rot and worse ... Women did not so much walk, as shuffle. It really was a distressing paragraph to read. The distress outweighed the interest factor for me.

But, not wishing to spoil the major points of the debate, you could say that all it took was for the odd 'modernizer' to get the ball rolling, see sense and dispense with outdated and outlandish practices. The whole area of slavery (again, that word will send awful shivers down some spines, as it does mine) is given Appiah's detailed and thorough investigation. All interesting in their own right, but his style is rather dry and uninspiring at times. Not all readers will be as enthralled with the subject matter(s) as he is. I suspect this book will have the greatest appeal to readers interested in this genre. Academic and somewhat lacklustre in its delivery, I'm afraid. Also a little repetitious here and there.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

For more about duelling you might enjoy Pistols at Dawn by John Campbell. For more about slavery we can recommend Nobody Gonna Turn Me 'Round by Doreen Rappaport and Darwin's Sacred Cause: Race, Slavery and the Quest for Human Origins by Adrian Desmond and James Moore.

Buy The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen by Kwame Anthony Appiah at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen by Kwame Anthony Appiah at Amazon.co.uk


Buy The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen by Kwame Anthony Appiah at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen by Kwame Anthony Appiah at Amazon.com.

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