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Provost's Imagine Fund for Arts and Humanities

Honor Psychology and Gender

Recent work in honor has standardized the view that honor-based norms are moral ones. That is, theories about what’s honorable are “moral” in the same way controversial scientific theories are scientific—even if they prove to be false, they nonetheless presently count as theories of morally correct behavior. Adding honor to the moral landscape is important for many reasons, including some relating to gender. Whether the genders reason differently about morality is a debate that has raged since Carol Gilligan’s In a Different Voice (1982), which argued that women are more care-orientated while men more justice-oriented. Subsequent empirical research has arrived at mixed results on the justice-care debate. Obviously, since honor wasn’t considered a “moral” category like justice or care, these studies of gender differences in moral reasoning didn’t test for whether men and women are equally attached to honor norms.
This project exemplifies how humanistic expertise can revolutionize empirical debates. Humanists have traditionally considered honor—especially “agonistic” honor, which moralizes fair and respectful prestige contests—to be highly “masculine.” As my specialty is agonistic honor, I am uniquely placed to contribute to the literature on gender differences in moral reasoning by constructing (with a psychologist colleague) moral reasoning studies that include honor as factor. If we find robust differences between the genders’ commitment to honor vs. care, this would add considerable fuel to the gender differences debate. If we find insignificant differences, this too would be noteworthy, and go a long way to putting the gender differences theory to rest.

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