What is Honor?

There are some words that everbody seems to have different definitions for; that mean different things to different people. The word, “honor” for example. The dictionary definitions don’t seem to match the way people use the term. So, I ask you, how do you define the concept?


Integrity is one synonym that comes to mind.


Honor is: To crush your enemies, drive them before you, and hear the lamentations of their women.

Oh, wait. That’s “what’s best in life.”

Honor is like, being really stubborn and challenging people to duels all the time.

That man who meets in life, those things he has described in words, and acts in that moment as he has said he would act, has honor. Until that moment, he had intentions.


I agree with Tris. When your actions meet your ideals/words, you are honourable, IMO.

I think to understand what is honor, we have to bring in the concept of self. The self is important to oneself and it expects to be accorded importance by other selves. Civilization has inured us all to accord to each other the importance that first of all is endemic to the self that everyone is.

Honor is the importance demanded by oneself for oneself and demanded by a self from other selves. And there are all kinds of importance, as there are all kinds of worth and merit founded upon material resources and moral stations and offices, and achievements.

How is importance shown by a self to oneself? By oneself attending to all the needs and wants of self: to continue in existence, to keep alive, well, and freed of stress. Self does not show honor to self, if it does not attend to all things important to meet his own needs and wants. Thus, a person without self-honor will not even bother to groom himself.

Next, how is honor or importance shown by oneself to other selves? By recognizing the entitlement that oneself demands of oneself to exist, to keep alive, to stay well, and to be freed of stress, namely, that other selves also have that entitlement. Thus, the primordial honor or importance a self can and should give to another self is to show his awareness of the other self’s presence: a simple look is enough, the opposite is to snub him; snubbing is the primordial dishonor.

Communicating one’s awareness of another person’s presence, that is to honor him, and it is due to everyone, if we would be civilized. Didn’t the Master enjoin that we must greet even our enemies?

Now, let’s apply our concept of honor to some phrases where the word ‘honor’ is used:

“Your honor”, in addressing a judge, means I admit and profess your importance.

“Your word of honor” means the word is important to me and it should be important to you; you would not be giving yourself and me the importance that is due to both of us if you don’t make good your word.

”In honor of . . . ‘ means to admit and profess the importance of whomever or whatever the honor is directed to.

Continue thinking up other phrases where the word ‘honor’ is used, and you will see that my mini-dissertation of what honor is makes perfect sense (modesty aside).

Susma Rio Sep

To quote from Tales of the Dragonlance II volume 1 page 78 (the actual quote is from memory, so forgive me if it isn’t word for word.)

“A duel? For revenge I mean?”
“For honor, never for revenge.”
“But if you’re fighting either way, what’s the difference?”
“Suppose someone tormented you for months and you challenged him and demanded an apology. If he didn’t give one, you could fight him. But if he apologized sincerely, you’d have no choice but to accept it and not fight. That’s the difference!”

For me personally honor means - among other things - always keeping my word, even if it puts me at a disadvantage.
Come to think about it, the concept is really hard to grasp and even harder to convey.

A code of conduct that you accept for yourself, without having it imposed on you from without, above & beyond what law & custom requires of you…

I thank you all for your answers, they have helped me clairfy my thoughts.

Susma Rio Sep,
Thank you for a well reasoned, and well communicated response. It helped.

Bosda Di’Chi of Tricor,
Your answer helped as well.

I agree, it is a hard concept to grasp, and harder to convey. I personally think that most of time when most people talk about “their honor” they are really talking about their “pride”, and pride and honor are very different things.


Usage of the word has changed over time.

From Henry IV, Part 1, Act 5, Scene 1:

FALSTAFF: Can honour set a leg? No: Or an arm? No: Or take away the grief of a wound? No. Honour hath no skill in surgery then? No. What is honour? A word. What is in that word honour? Air. A trim reckoning! Who hath it? He that died o’ Wednesday. Doth he feel it? No. Doth he hear it? No. 'Tis insensible then? Yes, to the dead. But will [it] not live with the living? No. Why? Detraction will not suffer it. Therefore, I’ll none of it. Honour is a mere scutcheon – and so ends my catechism.

This is just before the battle at Shrewsbury between the king’s forces and Henry Hotspur’s rebels. The way Falstaff is using the word, honor means reputation. Specifically, reputation for valor in battle. That is why “detraction will not suffer it.”

Nowadays, people use the word in a more, well, ethical sense. Honor is more or less equated with honesty and integrity, and in theory I could be an honorable man regardless of whether anyone else acknowledges it. But the word “honor” still retains associations of personal dignity that the words “honesty” and “integrity” do not convey in quite the same way.

Here is an interesting page of a guy who is writing a book on honor.


He’s concerned with both the good and bad sides of honor codes (which he extrapolates beyond the personal to the national level), and how they vary over time, and between cultures. For instance, he considers that there might be a “rational” answer to the pro-Iraq-war faction’s question “If he claims to have destroyed WMDs, or not to have them, why doesn’t he show affirmative proof?” Bowman posits that, for Saddam’s Arab constituency, destroying the WMDs on his own terms, or playing dumb about them, could be acceptable; but admitting explicitly that you’d disarmed yourself at the demands of the Yankee imperialists would be an intolerable loss of face – on this view of Arab honor Saddam balances the line between self-preservation (i.e., by complying substantively (if reluctantly) with what the U.S. and U.N. were demanding by destroying weapons stocks, and refraining from any attacks against the U.S. or uses of WMDs) and still maintaining his grip on the Arab-honor crowd (i.e., by blustering that he’s not obligated to disarm, or that he never had anything, or that he disarmed but it’s nobody’s business when or how).


That’s a very informative post. And I thought those guys in Iraq didn’t have any honor, running away without spilling a lot of blood in the fight against the uninvited and unwanted ‘liberators’.

Latest news is that we are now witnessing the Vietnamization(US) or Afghanization(USSR) of Iraq. Iraqis with a lot of honor were just bidding their time. Now it’s wearing out time for the coalition forces, by guerilla battles. No more smart bombs against them. They were clever to disappear. How could anyone fight that kind of a war with slingshots of AK rifles? But now coalition forces make very big accessible targets, like sitting ducks

Didn’t I say that the war was stupid and crazy, and wicked to boot.
Incidentally, my mini-dissertation still applies, to the situation in Iraq with the populace who are now fighting for their honor, whatever being called as diehard holdovers of Saddam Hussein – even they have a sense of and a right to honor, whatever their being stuck with the label of Saddam’s holdovers.

Susma Rio Sep

Lois McMaster Bujold’s character Adm. Aral Vorkosigan, advising his son: “Reputation is what other people think about you. Integrity is what you think about yourself? Which one do you think that this incident has injured?”

Honor is the sense of integrity and self-worth that motivates someone to do what they feel to be the right thing to do, regardless of the personal consequences to them.

BTW, it’s worth remembering that Shakespeare’s Falstaff is something of a good-natured blowhard. Therefore to trust words put in his mouth as reflecting the author’s views is to rely on a greased grapevine.

A socialpsychological delusion used as motivational psychology to get, mostly men, to do things that are stupid.

If you don’t do such and such then you’re a wuss!

Dal Timgar