The integrating momentum of honour

//The integrating momentum of honour

Marie Victoria Luise Marten | PhD Candidate, Department of Philosophy, University of Innsbruck

Let us take a look at the results of the terror attack on November 2nd, 2020 in Vienna: the reaction of three people, who were involved, put them in the spotlight. The two MMA fighters Mikail Özen and Recep Tayyip Gültekin, as well as Osama Joda El Hosna, immediately provided help and thus exposed themselves to a dangerous situation. Their actions were probably not primarily aimed at earning honour, but merely aimed at their humanistic ideal of mutual assistance. Their selfless behaviour, however, gained recognition, which is also reflected in receiving honour.

In the contemporary discourse on motives for human agency honour is hardly cited as a cause or drive. However, their power, the associated opportunities, and their position in the community are so significant to people that they risk a lot for it. Honour plays a decisive role in our motives for action every day. Its components have remained structurally the same over the millennia, although honour has frequently adopted different social forms. Honour can be understood as a deserved claim to respect that has to be asserted again and again. That is why human actions, along with other motives, are based on ideas of honour that are recognized in a specific group. In this way, group members actions can be expected and thus contribute to social integration. Different sociological and philosophical authors have consistently viewed honour as a central means of integration and as a foundation of the community. In addition to that, this post aims to view honour as an integration factor in a pluralistic society.

Theoretical foundations

The sociologists Pierre Bourdieu and especially Georg Simmel worked out the connection between acts of honour and integration. Bourdieu, however, refers to groups in a national context in his habitus concept. He defines honour as symbolic capital. Even Simmel’s elaborations do not explicitly refer to the fact that social integration can also be made possible through acts of honour under the conditions of mobility and migration. Simmel’s formal approach regards social forms as patterns of social interaction that are characterized by a supra-individual character. That allows a theory of honour that existed independently of individual worlds of honour and their definitions. The specific contents of the honour requirements that are placed on a group are decisive for the whole group. However, his theory focuses on understanding the phenomenon of social interaction as such. Simmel’s bottom line is that honour is viewed as a normative control system and thus makes actions predicted. The fundamental question of social cohesion is what holds modern societies together beyond mere interest calculations and state regulations. Consequently, honour is regarded as an intermediate level of integration, which creates cohesion and provides control gently but not without obligation. However, in a pluralistic community, the control function of honour cannot work for the whole society, but only for individual groups. In Simmel’s theory, as in Bourdieu’s, honour is closely related to forms of lifestyle concerning certain groups. Honour becomes a medium of communication. In a pluralistic society, however, it needs clarification and acceptance of different honour requirements to function as an integrating factor.

How can honour function as an aspect of social integration in a pluralistic society that is characterized by migration?

Extension of the honour-concept

First of all, the thoughts by Kwame Antony Appiah are interesting. In his analysis of three historical examples (duel, tying feet in China, Atlantic slavery), Appiah explains that codes of honour can undoubtedly ask for immoral acts. In contrast, there is another kind of honour, namely the right to respect, when acting according to principles of morality. Appiah falls back on the classic distinction between recognition respect and appreciation respect, according to Stephen Darwall, and describes honour as a right to respect, or the right to be treated with respect. As with Simmel and Bourdieu, Appiah notes that codes of honour require people with a specific identity to behave in a certain way. Therefore, different identities often mean different requirements. As a result, actions between different groups are no longer predictable. The point is, however, that standard codes of honour can be recognized beyond morality, which goes beyond one’s own identity. It is about humanistic values ​​that are based on a shared conception of what is morally right and thus respected and valued. Morality also demands that everyone is equipped with dignity and that others behave accordingly. So, it needs a code of honour that is compatible with morality and affects all people – as long as people adhere to these demands of honour. Consequently, honour can again be a concept through which integration can succeed in a pluralistic society, which is characterized by mobility and migration.


Honour changes in that reflection. Even if Simmel already said that honour has a function of control and can thus contribute to social integration, Appiah is the first scholar to recognize the same potential in a pluralistic society that consists of different worlds of honour. Moreover, honour is conceivable as a momentum of integration, insofar as it functions as a driving force that causes people to take responsibility in a shared world seriously. Put another way, if honour motivates moral action, these actions are expectable by all people. They can, therefore, also be viewed as a control and integration factor in the sense of Simmel. On this account, honour can appeal to reason and free will to act in such a way that all people understand the act and would also expect an honourable appearance.

I want to draw a parallel again to the three men who immediately provided help during the terrorist attack in Vienna. No one would ask for what they did, but in a certain sense, their deeds can be expected according to a humanistic ideal. Beyond cultural ideas of how individual groups understand honour, they were honoured by different sides – from the Austrian Interior Minister Karl Nehammer, from the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Ambassador of the European Union in Turkey Nikolaus Meyer-Landrut and the Turkish Ambassador to Austria Ozan Ceyhun. The honouring shows that actions that conform to morality and follow a shared human responsibility can generate honour beyond mobility, migration and different honour worlds.

By |2020-12-09T11:43:28+00:00December 9th, 2020|PhD Conference|