The Pre-Read: Alumni Chime in on Honor and Life

By Gregg Lange ’70

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Although President Eisgruber ’83’s new Pre-read assignment was designed principally for the Class of ’17 and its honor assembly this year, Maclean House has taken the opportunity to offer seminars on Professor Kwame Anthony Appiah’s The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen to alumni as well. Having already read the book for an earlier column here at PAW Online, I joined a phone seminar with four other alumni and (great idea on the University’s part) precepted by Trap Yates ’14 to discuss the book and the implications in our own worlds, quite apart from the students’ focus on the meaning of honor as undergraduates. Our class years ranged from 1968 to 1975.

The variety of alumni views was energizing: An intriguing and very subtle question (not touched on in the book) arose regarding ritual as the outward form of honor practices, and whether symbols themselves reinforce and contribute to honor worlds. Although there was tacit general agreement with Appiah’s central theses on honor and morality, the discussion delved into logical extensions; for example, if honor practices can be changed, as Appiah states, what if you belong to two groups whose current honor practices are in conflict?  

We also focused on more common, and less draconian, examples of present-day honor practices than those cited by Appiah; instead of honor killing (e.g. adulterous women in Middle Eastern villages), we discussed proposed policies in the United Kingdom that would forbid the wearing of any religious symbols, including headscarves, in public schools.

While we all agreed that this kind of discussion should ideally be face to face, the depth of conversation within just an hour is a good indicator both of Appiah’s rich exposition and the quality of alumni minds in considering ambiguity and change.

There are two alumni seminar sessions left as of this writing, both with openings, so sign up here. Additionally, an open forum on the topic will be held on Nov. 16, the Saturday of the Yale football game, at 10 a.m. in McDonnell Hall next to Princeton Stadium and the alumni tailgate.


 
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Read Gregg Lange ’70’s history column, Rally ’Round the Cannon, in every issue of PAW Online, or catch up by listening to the PAW podcast on iTunes.