The Pairing of The Honor Code and The Expanding Circle

The Pairing of The Honor Code and The Expanding Circle

by Reyes Espinoza

I hope the following helps you in writing your Outline, First Draft, and in understanding the last couple of books of PHIL 114, Global Moral Issues, summer 2017.

Kwame Anthony Appiah’s “The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen,” originally printed 2010, and Peter Singer’s The Expanding Circle: Ethics, Evolution, and Moral Progress, printed originally in 1981 and reissued in 2011–are printed almost 30 years apart, if you only take into consideration their original printings. Despite this separation in age, the way I see these books is as using similar strategies and as being complementary to each other. One gives you the past origins of ethics and one gives you the future of ethics.

Singer provides for you the foundations of ethics as the following. “The principles of ethics come from our own nature as social, reasoning beings. At the same time, a view of ethics grounded on evolutionary theory need not reduce ethics to simply a matter of subjective feelings or arbitrary choices. The fact that our ethical judgments are not dictated to us by an external authority does not mean that any ethical judgment is as good as any other. Ethical reasoning points the way to an assessment of ethical judgments from an objective point of view” (Singer, 1981, p. 149).

On the other hand, Appiah encapsulates in a simple manner what ethics is largely about. “Morality…as Immanuel Kant insisted, is ultimately practical: though it matters morally what we think and feel, morality is, at its heart about what we do. So, since a revolution is a large change in a short time, a moral revolution has to involve a rapid transformation in moral behavior, not just in moral sentiments” (Appiah, 2010, p. xi). Moreover, Appiah provides some solid direction in a way forward with ethics by identifying a common characteristic in moral revolution. He identifies a foundation of honor codes across time: “ each of these transitions [moral revolutions], something that was naturally called “honor” played a central role….But it is striking, to my mind, that ideas about national honor and the honor of workingmen far removed from the plantations of the New World figured so largely in the ending of footbinding and of modern slavery, respectively” (Appiah, 2010, p. xii).   

Combining these two insights by Singer and Appiah, we can conclude that the origin of ethics is kin-reciprocal altruism, with genes likely playing a central role, and that moral progress happens by understanding and deciding who is worthy of being recognized with honor, status, and respect; this is to say, moral progress happens by expanding the circle of being altruistic toward those that deserve our honor and respect.  

I hope this helps you understand why I asked of you to read these two texts one after the other. I hope you find further connections and identify relevant differences.

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