"[Appiah's] work reveals the heart and sensitivity of a novelist. . . .Fascinating, erudite and beautifully written."—The New York Times Book Review
In this groundbreaking work, Kwame Anthony Appiah, hailed as "one of the most relevant philosophers today" (New York Times Book Review), changes the way we understand human behavior and the way social reform is brought about. In brilliantly arguing that new democratic movements over the last century have not been driven by legislation from above, Appiah explores the end of the duel in aristocratic England, the tumultuous struggles over footbinding in nineteenth-century China, the uprising of ordinary people against Atlantic slavery, and the horrors of "honor killing" in contemporary Pakistan. Intertwining philosophy and historical narrative, he has created "a fascinating study of moral evolution" (Philadelphia Inquirer) that demonstrates the critical role honor plays a in the struggle against man's inhumanity to man.
Rooting his analysis firmly in historical manifestations of honor, Appiah (Cosmopolitanism), a professor of philosophy at Princeton, offers four case studies in what he calls "moral revolutions," attesting to how altering notions of honor can provoke positive changes in social behavior. Codes of honor surrounding dueling, Chinese foot binding, the Atlantic slave trade, and the ongoing practice of "honor killing" in contemporary Pakistan are all examined to reveal the various dimensions of honor as it relates to notions of respect, shame, and dignity. Appiah argues for a distinction between honor and morality that underpins how and why abhorrent practices so often continue despite their criminalization. While the author devotes too much space to basic historical narrative and not nearly enough to the complex issues of how honor relates to morality and how it can be distinguished from the constellation of notions like respect that he draws on, it is nonetheless a compelling read and represents a refreshingly concrete solution to the question of how to alter deeply objectionable, deeply intractable human practices.