Sunday, 13 September 2009


Honour or Honor, (from the Latin word honos, honoris) is the evaluation of a person's trustworthiness and social status based on that individual's espousals and actions. Honour is deemed exactly what determines a person's character: whether or not the person reflects honesty, respect, integrity, or fairness. Accordingly, individuals are assigned worth and stature based on the harmony of their actions, code of honour, and that of the society at large. Honour can be analysed as a relativistic concept, i.e., conflicts between individuals and even cultures arising as a consequence of material circumstance and ambition, rather than fundamental differences in principle. Alternatively, it can be viewed as nativist — that honour is as real to the human condition as love, and likewise derives from the formative personal bonds that establish one's personal dignity and character.
Dr Samuel Johnson, in his A Dictionary of the English Language (1755), defined honour as having several senses, the first of which was "nobility of soul, magnanimity, and a scorn of meanness." This sort of honour derives from the perceived virtuous conduct and personal integrity of the person endowed with it. On the other hand, Johnson also defined honour in relationship to "reputation" and "fame"; to "privileges of rank or birth", and as "respect" of the kind which "places an individual socially and determines his right to precedence." This sort of honour is not so much a function of moral or ethical excellence, as it is a consequence of power. Finally, with respect to women, honour may be synonymous with "chastity" or "virginity", or in case of a married woman, "fidelity".
Traditionally, in Western society, honour figured largely as a guiding principle. A man's honour, that of his wife, his blood family or his beloved, formed an all-important issue: the archetypal "man of honour" remained ever alert for any insult, actual or suspected: for either would impugn his honour.
In the early medieval period, a lord or lady’s honour was the group of manors or lands he or she held. “The word was first used indicating an estate which gave its holder dignity and status.” For a person to say “on my honour” was not just an affirmation of his or her integrity and rank, but the veracity behind that phrase meant he or she was willing to offer up estates as pledge and guarantee.
The concept of honour appears to have declined in importance in the modern secular West. Popular stereotypes would have it surviving more definitively in alleged "hot-blooded" cultures (Italian, Persian, Turkish, Arab, Iberian, etc.) or in more "gentlemanly" societies (like the "Old South" of Dixie). Feudal or other agrarian societies, which focus upon land use and land ownership, may tend to "honour" more than do deracinated industrial societies. An emphasis on the importance of honour exists in such institutions as the military (officers may conduct a court of honour) and in organisations with a military ethos, such as Scouting organisations.
"Honour" in the case of females is frequently related, historically, to sexuality: preservation of "honour" equated primarily to maintenance of virginity of unattached women and to the exclusive monogamy of the remainder. One can speculate that feminism has changed some linguistic usage in this respect. Conceptions of honour vary widely between cultures; in some cultures, honour killing of (mostly female) members of one's own family are considered justified if the individuals have "defiled the family's honour" by marrying against the family's wishes, or even by being the victims of rape. These honour killings are generally seen in the West as a way of men using the culture of honour to control female sexuality.

Cultures of honour and cultures of law
One can contrast cultures of honour with cultures of law. In a culture of law there is a body of laws which must be obeyed by all, with punishments for transgressors. This requires a society with the structures required to enact and enforce laws. A culture of law incorporates an unwritten social contract: members of society agree to give up most of their rights to defend themselves and retaliate for injuries, on the understanding that transgressors will be apprehended and punished by society. From the viewpoint of anthropology, cultures of honour typically appear among nomadic peoples and herdsmen who carry their most valuable property with them and risk having it stolen, without having recourse to law enforcement or government. In this situation, inspiring fear forms a better strategy than promoting friendship; and cultivating a reputation for swift and disproportionate revenge increases the safety of one's person and property. Thinkers ranging from Montesquieu to Steven Pinker have remarked upon the mindset needed for a culture of honour.
Cultures of honour therefore appear among the Bedouin, Scottish and English herdsmen of the Border country, and many similar peoples, who have little allegiance to a national government; among cowboys, frontiersmen, and ranchers of the American West, where official law-enforcement often remained out of reach, as is famously celebrated in Westerns; among the plantation culture of the American South, and among aristocrats, who enjoy hereditary privileges that put them beyond the reach of codes of law. Cultures of honour also flourish in criminal underworlds and gangs, whose members carry large amounts of cash and contraband and cannot complain to the law if it is stolen.
Cultures of honour will often arise when three conditions exist: 1) a lack of resources; 2) where the benefit of theft and crime outweighs the risks; and 3) a lack of sufficient law enforcement (such as in geographically remote regions). Historically cultures of honour exist in places where the economy is dominated by herding animals. In this situation the geography is usually remote since the soil can not support extensive sustained farming and thus large populations; the benefit of stealing animals from other herds is high since it is main form of wealth; and there is no central law enforcement or rule of law. However cultures of honour can also appear in places like modern inner city slums. The three conditions exist here as well: lack of resources (poverty); crime and theft have a high rewards compared to the alternatives (few); and law enforcement is generally lax or corrupt.
Once a culture of honour exists, it is difficult for its members to make the transition to a culture of law; this requires that people become willing to back down and refuse to immediately retaliate, and from the viewpoint of the culture of honour, this tends to appear to be an unwise act reflecting weakness.

Related concepts
In contemporary international relations, the concept of "credibility" resembles that of honour, as when the credibility of a state or of an alliance appears to be at stake, and honour-bound politicians call for drastic measures.
Compare the concepts of integrity and face in stereotyped East Asian cultures, or of mana in Polynesian society.
The ancient Greek concepts of honour (timē) included not only the exaltation of the one receiving honour, but also the shaming of the one overcome by the act of hubris. This concept of honour is akin to a zero-sum game.
In lands ancient Japan, honour was always seen as almost a duty by Samurai. When one lost their honour or the situation made them lose it, the only way to save their dignity was by death. Seppuku (vulgarly called "harakiri," or "belly-cutting") was the most honourable death in that situation. The only way for a Samurai to die more honourably was to be killed in a battle by a sword.

Honours and awards
In many countries the term honour can refer to an award given by the state. Such honours include military medals, but more typically imply a civilian award, such as a British OBE, a knighthood or membership of the French Légion d'honneur.
See also, List of prizes, medals, and awards; and Chivalric order.

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