1. What Should Realists Say About Honor Cultures?Dan Demetriou - 2014 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 17 (5):893-911.
    Richard Nisbett and Dov Cohen’s (1996) influential account of “cultures of honor” speculates that honor norms are a socially-adaptive deterrence strategy. This theory has been appealed to by multiple empirically-minded philosophers, and plays an important role in John Doris and Alexandra Plakias’ (2008) antirealist argument from disagreement. In this essay, I raise four objections to the Nisbett-Cohen deterrence thesis, and offer another theory of honor in its place that sees honor as an agonistic normative system regulating prestige competitions. Since my (...)
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Hi Professor Demetriou,

I've just read the draft of your paper, and I really enjoyed it, especially the bits where you complicate the somewhat simplistic just-so cultural-evolutionary story provided by Ross and Nisbett.  One rarely sees such deep engagement with actual anthropological data in moral-philosophical papers about disagreement, and I think your reflections here are a valuable contribution to this literature.

However, I have a question about the "pluralism" that is on offer, which is "a view urging the moral correctness of  multiple and mutually irreducible comprehensive ethical  outlooks , each suited to  its own dimension  of social life ."  A familiar worry emerges here, which is that you are covertly drawing on a kind of monism which serves to make each of the competing moral systems appear attractive.  The trouble begins with the word "suited": what does it mean to say that a moral outlook is "suited" to a certain dimension of social life?  Presumably, for each dimension, there are more and less suitable outlooks, and one wonders what standard is doing the ranking, here.

The same sort of problem appears here:

"1) Why should we accept obligations of justice?  Perhaps: because people do, need to, and  wish to cooperate for mutual material benefit , and the principles of justice tell us how to do so  correctly and how to maintain institutions governing such cooperation... (2) why should we accept obligations of honor? Because people do, need to, and wish to compete for prestige, and honor tells us how to do so correctly and how to maintain institutions governing such competitions."

Now , these claims only follow if there is some general, outlook-independent principle like: "People ought to accept outlooks which correctly enable them to do what they need and wish to do."  This sounds something like a general, higher-prder principle that governs the acceptance of both systems...hence there is no "pluralism".  The problem is exacerbated, I think, by your use of the word "correct" here: if this word is meant to point to a kind of ethical correctness, then there most certainly must be general moral truths that govern just how people are to "correctly" (1) co-operate and (2) compete for prestige. 

So, my question is this: in noting that there is a convergence between the two outlooks and in giving justificatory reasons for this convergence, you're inviting the monist-realist to ask difficult questions about the source of those justificatory reasons.  I suspect that you've encountered this sort of problem before, but I do wonder what you think about it.  Regards,


Reply to Nick Smyth
Hi Nick,
Thanks for the excellent and importnant question. I just noticed this---still not too savvy about how philpapers works---and I want to write something better when I get a chance. But I'm at Brown right now at the SPP. Are you in town?