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What is Honor?

September 13, 2010

At the U of M Law School’s Hutchins Hall, there are a bunch of stained glass windows illustrating various virtues. For “Honor,” they have this curious picture:

I have written on this photo — and on honor — but I’m interested in what other people think of this odd illustration. (In case anyone is wondering, the illustration is from around 1932-33.)

This is prompted by National Public Radio’s “Talk of the Nation,” which has a discussion of honor today. It’s based on the new book by the philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah, Honor Code.

5 Comments
  1. jbrasspolsci permalink
    September 13, 2010 7:12 PM

    The first thought that came to my mind when I saw this stained glass window is how and why honor is associated with death or fighting in this instance. Then I thought about what honor actually meant; from honesty or high respect, or to worship. Retreating back to the stained glass window, these men could be fighting to see who is the more honorable one, or to determine who deserves more of an honorable position. As Appiah stated in his article, dueling was once a method for defending one’s honor across the western world. Therefore after reading that statement, my feeling is somewhat confirmed that these men are fighting to see who can survive and see who deserves the most honor.
    Another way to look at honor is to realize what it takes for one to be honored, or contain an honorable title. There is always a fight, whether physical or not, to maintain such a high respected title. It is no easy task to become powerful, worshipped, or well respected. Therefore, this photo can also symbolize that fighting until death is how much it takes to be honored by anyone. The fact that in this stained glass window there is a man penetrating his sword through another man with his arm flexed as his opponent is about to die signifies he is the one coming out on top and won the battle to become more honorable.

  2. Alexis Biaggi permalink
    September 14, 2010 11:34 AM

    What drew me to the illustration portrayed in the stained glass window was how, in my opinion, there are two largely contrasting interpretations of who is in fact embodying honorability. We are only given two men and the caption, leaving it in our hands to decide who displays the honor. Furthermore, these two views, and each man, can certainly be applied to the Apology reading. Regardless of one’s own opinion, it is surely debatable as to whether or not Socrates was honorable in defending his beliefs and refusing to relinquish his values at the request of society. In relation to the illustration, the man being stabbed represents Socrates. How so? Not only was Socrates condemned to death, relating to the man being killed in the picture, but he was also harassed by the majority through verbal disagreement. His way of questioning life and seeking truth, essentially a huge part of his being, was attacked and shown no mercy. Thus, as similarly illustrated in the picture, Socrates dies. And, as one perspective, he is the honorable man being killed in the illustration. However, it is also important to look at the other perspective. The majority of Athens, in particular Socrates’ accusers, are represented by the man doing the killing. And again, regardless of one’s opinion, it is essential to see how the accusers’ actions can be considered honorable as well. In the reading, the majority of Athens truly believed they were standing up for what they believed was right. In their minds, Socrates was ruining what was a well-functioning society and order. Therefore, it is a legitimate argument to say that the man killing in the illustration, representing the majority of Athens, is in fact the honorable man. He is defending what he believes is the right way to live and refuses to let intruders disrupt it. Examples of this being the respect that Athenians required for the gods of their city and protecting the youth. The illustration in general represents the fact that there is much to be interpreted which is rarely examined as yes or no, right or wrong.

  3. Wei Hsueh Chen permalink
    September 14, 2010 9:17 PM

    The first instance I laid my eyes onto this picture I was not sure if I saw the right words under it. The word “Honor” is such a strong word identifying the attitude and quality of a real man. It was also then when I thought about the correlation between the two. In this portrait above, the man who was being stabbed in the heart acted in shock and pain while the so called “winner” of this match has a frown on his face. I would say this would be the best two examples of interpreting honor. It is not easy for one to accept a match of life and death, especially knowing that there’s a tendency that one’s life would end at the instant. However, the man accepted the possible truth and fought in this match. Even though he lose both the match and his life but by how dignified he acted, he is a true winner in heart. Similarly, the man who won the match was not smiling or cheering for his victory but instead held a frown on his face. He won the match and is still alive at last but instead of a victorous smile he frowned for the fact that his dignified opponent is now dead under his hands. Thus in my opinion I believe this portrait portrays two honorable man in different perspectives, both true winners in heart and teaches us an attitude in life to follow and look towards. There are always good times and bad times in one’s life and we will encounter them one by one, but the portrait and the word “honor” reminds us about how we can live dignified and fight through every obstacle we face.

  4. britvand permalink
    September 19, 2010 6:34 PM

    According to this picture, honor is a “double-edged sword,” if you will. And I do not say this because there are two swords in the picture. The winner of the fight represents honor in that he is fighting for a cause and will do anything necessary for it. The loser represents honor in that he will sacrifice his life for his country, or for whomever he is representing.

    Something I find interesting about this picture is that the winner of the fight is frowning, while the loser of the fight is smiling. This ties in the “double-edged sword” idea because there are both favorable and unfavorable consequences relating to honor. While the winner is successfully achieving his goal (assuming that his goal is to win the fight), he has to kill another person, which may not make him happy. Because the relationship between the two fighters is not clear in the picture, the winner could be killing someone he knows well. Also, he is going against Socrates’ principle that “one should not commit evil, even against evil.” Therefore, the winner may feel unsettled because he is committing an evil act. Looking deeper, he may be questioning his honor because he is killing someone.

    Why would the loser of the fight smile? Relating back to Socrates again, the loser may feel that he has done all that he can to defend himself without being violent, as Socrates did before being killed by the Athenian government. While the unfavorable consequence is that the loser has to die, the favorable consequence is that he has proved his point and fought for justice. Better yet, he has not killed someone (or at least not at this point in the fight) and so he may arguably be displaying more honor than the winner of the fight. Regardless of death, he feels satisfied with his achievements thus far. Maybe he will even be remembered for his accomplishments, just like Socrates.

    This picture can be related to many other events throughout history, as a sword represents passion for a cause and the will to fight. Whether the fight is verbal or physical, one can display honor. While the definition of honor is controversial and depends on era, culture, and religion, a unifying theme is that honor involves standing up for what one believes in. For that matter, both of the men in this picture are representing characteristics of honor.

  5. Whitney Spain permalink
    September 23, 2010 1:23 PM

    According to “Thefreedictionary.com,” the definition of HONOR is defined as:

    High respect, as that shown for special merit; esteem: the honor shown to a Nobel laureate.
    1)a. Good name; reputation.
    2) b. A source or cause of credit: was an honor to the profession.
    3) a. Glory or recognition; distinction.
    b. A mark, token, or gesture of respect or distinction: the place of honor at the table.
    c. A military decoration.
    d. A title conferred for achievement.
    4) High rank.
    5) The dignity accorded to position: awed by the honor of his office.
    6) Great privilege: I have the honor to present the governor.

    While I do understand that most of us know what honor is, I thought that I would give examples of all the different meanings that stand behind one single word. All of the different meanings have one thing in common; goodness.Using the word honor means that one has great respect for the person that they are giving that distinction to. This picture depicts honor in a way in which is not defined. The picture looks tragic, painful, and not in good reputation whatsoever. The man who is being stabbed likes shocked, yet the man who is stabbing him acts as if it doesn’t phase him. Though the man who is being killed shows much more of an expression, it is the man who shows the least expression that really sticks out to me. How is it that he is able to put a man to death and show no expression on how he feels. I suppose that I don’t expect him to look saddened, but I would assume that he would at least show; Anger.Hatred.Despise. Yet his stare remains as blank as a chalkboard. However, when I compare this picture to that of Martin Luther King Jr. , I see this picture in a much different light. I see the man being stabbed as representing the government and the policies that allowed segregation to exist. The man that is doing the stabbing is Martin Luther King Jr. and all of his followers. The man’s face remains to be a blank stare because MLK was against violence. The stabbing of the man isn’t a violent act, but more so a metaphor of killing the laws of segregation. The man that is being stabbed looks shocked because the government, at least at first, didn’t want MLK to succeed in his journey to the end of segregation. The shocked look represents how the people supporting such a terrible act felt when MLK and the people overcame. Therefore this picture represents the honorable character that MLK exemplified when taking down a law that never should have existed.

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