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Common Reading

The Honor Code - Kwame Anthony Appiah

The Honor Code

We use our summer orientation program to give you a taste of the kind of excitement you will experience this fall in a Hofstra classroom. To that end, we are asking all first-year students to read Kwame Anthony Appiah’s, The Honor Code.  We’ll discuss it together when you come for orientation. The book focuses on the human sense of honor—both for good and bad—and on the nature of social and moral reform.  Appiah takes up four case studies: the duel in aristocratic England, the practice of foot-binding in nineteenth-century China, the Atlantic slave trade, and "honor killing" in contemporary Pakistan.  In each case he tries to understand the moral, psychological, and political forces at work in sustaining these practices and those at work in overcoming  them.  Appiah reminds us that our sense of honor can change—that we can sometimes reshape our social practices, and that our institutions are not immutable features of the world.  As you begin your journey as an incoming college student we hope the book will stimulate your imagination and give you an expanded sense of what is possible.

As you read this book, think about the following questions, which we will explore with you, along with other related topics, in our model classes:

  • We hear people talk about living and acting with honor—but what does that mean?
  • Why and how do societies reform immoral customs?
  • What caused the abolition of Atlantic slavery in the nineteenth century?
  • What forces opposed the practice of foot-binding in China? 
  • What immoral social practices do you see around you that should be changed or ended?
  • Perhaps you are skeptical about morality—is there even any such thing?

View Hofstra faculty talking about themes from the 2014 Common Reading

Professor Louis Kern on dueling

Professor Stefanie Nanes on honor killing

Professor Alan Singer on north Atlantic slavery

Professor Zuyan Zhou on foot binding