Review Essay: The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen by Anthony Appiah
Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion Article from


Stephen Kaufman, M.D., Christian Vegetarian Association (CVA)

Review Essay: The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen by Anthony Appiah

In The Honor Code, Anthony Appiah insightfully addresses an interesting question: Why do moral revolutions happen after – often long after – the arguments in favor of such moral revolutions have been fully articulated and are widely disseminated? Looking in detail at English dueling, the English slave trade, and foot binding in China, Appiah notes that the moral bases for rejecting these practices were well known, yet they persisted, sometimes for many centuries. How, then, did change eventually happen?
In short, Appiah asserts that codes of honor perpetuated these practices, and changing honor codes were instrument in their cessation. For example, an effective and important argument against slavery was that it treated labor as a dishonorable activity that people do only when compelled by force. This was insulting to the working class and was instrumental in galvanizing the working class in England against slavery. Similarly, an important reason that foot binding lost its appeal in China was that, Chinese critics observed, the rest of the world mocked the Chinese for the practice.
Crucially, Appiah notes that alternatives to a practice supported by the honor code must be found in order for the practice to abate and, eventually, be abolished. In the case of foot binding in China, a growing number of parents refused to marry their sons to women with tiny feet, generating a marriage market for unbound girls and thereby eliminating the perceive necessity of this immensely painful practice.
 How does this apply to animal issues? Animal advocates have been using rational arguments against mistreatment of nonhuman persons for years, and indeed most people now agree that cruelty to nonhumans is wrong and should cease. Yet, there is little pressure from the general public to reduce mistreatment of nonhumans on farms, and much less interest in reducing or eliminating the products of animal agribusiness.

If Appiah’s analysis is valid, then we need 1) to demonstrate that participating directly or indirectly in the abuse of nonhuman persons is dishonorable and 2) to have readily available foods, clothing, etc. that do not involve the exploitation and abuse of nonhuman persons. I will explore these topics next essay.

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