Mar 28 - Freedom Center Colloquium Series: John Thrasher


Mon, 03/28/2016 - 12:30 to 13:45

On Mar 28, the Center for the Philosophy of Freedom will host UA graduate John Thrasher, Monash University, as part of the Freedom Center Colloquium Series.  His paper is entitled "Norms Of Honor: What They Are, What They Do, And Why They Persist."   (Abstract below.) 

Monday, Mar 28, 12:30-1:45pm, in the Kendrick Room at the Freedom Center, Marshall 280 (right above Paradise Bakery).  Feel free to bring lunch.

For further information, please visit the Arizona Freedom Center at


A surprising amount of violence is committed in the name of “honor.” Killing in the name of honor takes many forms, from so-called “honor killings” to murder for real or perceived insult. For those that live under the aegis of one or many “honor codes,” honor is a pervasive and important part of their social life. Despite, or perhaps because of their ubiquity, honor codes and the honor norms that constitute them are often hidden in plain sight. Once exposed, however, these norms are deeply puzzling. Honor norms demand much yet they seem to provide very little. If so, the puzzle is how and why these seemingly pointless and destructive norms are so widespread and stable across many cultures and throughout history. Several explanations are on offer. One is that honor is vestigial cultural artefact of a nomadic past (Nisbett and Cohen 1996). Another is that honor is a form of “recognitional respect” that has, in effect, found a destructive outlet but, that if refocused, can be used productively (Appiah 2011). A third view is what is sometimes called a “hydraulic” theory of violence and honor. The idea is that humans have evolved to be inherently disposed to use violence against one another and that honor is just one of many opportunities for doing so (Lorenz 2002). Despite their initial plausibility, we argue that all of these explanations are incomplete and cannot explain the prevalence of what we call Type I honor norms (insult related violence) and Type II honor norms (honor killings) in a unified way. Further, these previous explanations explain honor norms as arational at best and rely on some other mechanisms (evolution, psychology, cultural vestige) to explain the stability of honor norms. In explaining the stability of honor norms, however, these “exogenous factor” accounts are unable to explain the universality and context sensitivity of honor norms. In this paper, we argue that honor norms are best understood as a species of social norms that solve important and ubiquitous social problem related to deterrence and assurance that occur in societies with weak or failed governance institutions. Seeing honor in this new way is both explanatorily powerful and it opens up new possibilities for understanding and, possibly, changing destructive honor norms.


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