Honor Principle

History and Essays

Tacet Qui Consentire Videtur
by Tina Sohail
Fall 2005


Tacet qui consentire videtur
: he who is silent is understood to consent. In this school of Latin phrases and Greek philosophers, I’m tired of consenting, and, so, I will no longer be silent. Everyone’s convinced that the Honor Principle is dead—or hibernating—so why not revive it? Why don’t we all grab a spade (or a pen, in this case) and exhume the body from beneath the ivory towers?

Here’s my suggestion: let there be a column in the Quest devoted to how different people here perceive the Honor Principle. I’ll write the first article; thereafter, each week we’ll feature another Reedie’s perspective.  You can tell the community how you understand (or don’t understand) it, whether it’s dead or living, but most importantly you can tell us how to make it into the sinews that sew our community together against the tears of apathy and silence. Tell us that it’s important to you, that it defines you—that it defines Reed.  I’d really love to hear from everyone: students, faculty and staff.  And remember: tacet qui consentire videtur.  

I’d like to begin my article with my definition of honor and go on to describe the role the honor principle should play in our community. The Honor Principle boils down to respect. Respect is the acknowledgement of worth in something or someone. The Honor Principle, in asking that you not cheat, steal, lie, discomfit, etc, really asks that you have respect—that you find worth in everything all the time, rather than follow a set of rules that tell you what and when to have respect. This principle is a fundamental respect for your peers, your teachers and, most importantly, yourself. Under the honor principle you must constantly re-evaluate what it means to respect someone or something—you must constantly be on guard.   

Every time you write a paper, take an exam ask yourself the real reason why you don’t plagiarize or cheat.  It’s not just a respect for your classmates; if that were so, the argument follows: “what if cheating didn’t hurt anyone?” Would it be all right then?  Would it be honorable if there were some way in which your cheating helped others? I don’t think that’s right. When we cheat, when we misrepresent our work, the real wrong embedded in the action is that we are misrepresenting ourselves. Somehow we lose sight of ourselves, lose respect for who we are. The product, the grade, the assignment overtakes the value we have in ourselves, in our investment to learn. It is this sense of respect, both intrinsic and extrinsic, that drives honor.

Nevertheless, true respect has its first root in honesty. Consequently, the Honor Principle’s emphasis on personal honesty is linked to its focus on respect. Because you should be honest to your classmates, you ought not steal; Because you should be honest to your teachers, you ought not cheat; because you should be honest to yourself, you ought to realize that no goal is worth attaining that in its path you forfeit your honor. Similarly, in respecting your friends and your teachers you trust their judgment enough to consistently tell the truth; in respecting yourself, you realize your duty to consider the Honor Principle in everything you do—to be honest with yourself about how much your academic integrity means to you. As Roman Statesman Ausonius said: “When about to commit a base deed, respect thyself, though there is no witness.” The honor principle requires you to commit to giving yourself worth, because there are no laws to do that for you. In giving yourself worth, you realize how imprudent—how wrong—it is to disregard that in such intolerable acts as lying or cheating.    

Moreover, the Honor Principle, most simply, is an acknowledgement; specifically, it acknowledges imperfection. If we acknowledge our latent inability to always know and do what is right, we engage an awareness of situations in which honor is questioned. The honor principle is an understanding that above all we need to try, to think, to ask questions and to converse. The honor principle is, for lack of better words, “a way of life.” It manifests itself in our actions, but it is not limited to them; the honor principle is what inspires action. It is in honesty, intellectual rigor, etc; however, it is fundamentally a respect for what binds those qualities together in us ourselves and in our community.    

Most people have a misconception—the honor principle just means treating others how I want to be treated—it’s relative to my own moral intuitions and preferances. Honor can be personal without being relative. We so often talk about personal codes of honor, of one’s own integrity in the face of a certain cultural confine, a social statute. At the same time, we live in a community of honor. I don’t think we need to sacrifice one to the other—community honor is not just a unified sense of honor across a large amount of people functioning as one person. Community honor, rather, is community consciousness of personal honor. We each have our own standards, our own ideas of what is right, but the point is that when we live in a community of honor, we accrete a respect for the honor of each member in the community.    

Another aspect intrinsic to honor as a principle of governance is the idea of vigilance. Honor cannot exist without personal responsibility. And that responsibility exists in more ways than one. First, there’s the responsibility to make clear when something someone else does discomfits you. There are several ways to do this: both formal and informal mediation, speaking to HAs and RAs if it’s a problem in the dorms, talking it through with the Honor Council, and, eventually, when all else fails, honor casing through J-Board. Most people consider these options as a nice fall-back, something helpful, but also something you hope will be taken care of on its own. But part of the honor principle is the responsibility in each of us to be honest with one another about what behavior impinges on the community’s learning environment. In addition to our responsibilities to speak up with regards to how others’ actions affect us, we have a far more important responsibility to honor: we must be eternally vigilant in all our own actions, considering their ramifications before and after the fact. Now, we’re not perfect, we’re certainly not constantly vigilant, and that’s where the first responsibility comes in. The honor principle requires us to police ourselves, to pay extreme attention to every action we take. Ask questions—of yourself and others; admit ignorance; above all, express genuine care in all you do. Policy helps us a bit here and there—certain things are always prohibited, are always deemed an affront to the community—but what motivates policy, what lies in wait behind it, is the idea of making individual choices and being responsible to them and to yourself.

All this being said, and not having time to go into much detail, I think the honor principle has sufferred from a sore neglect at Reed. And the fault lies not in our stars, in there not really being issues to address or people not listening to those who want to bring forth honor issues, but in ourselves, in what we actively choose not to do. How often do you see people leave bottles around campus late at night?  insist to freshmen that they drink more than they would otherwise be comfortable? When was the last time you saw someone copy an assignment because they just didn’t have the time? And I know it’s difficult because either it’s someone you respect and know well, or it’s someone you’ve never met before. But we can’t have an honor principle if no one takes it upon themselves to enforce it—because if we don’t enforce it, no one will. We need to discuss problems we see, through informal discussion with our friends, with our professors, with the honor council. And so, it is with this in mind that I return full circle to my plan. I call upon all of you—faculty, students, staff—to take up arms and make honor something more than the large pink elephant in the room. Let me and the readers of the Quest know what you think about the honor principle—generally or specifically—by writing an article to be included in this column. Come to the Honor Council’s office hours Sunday through Thursday from 5-7 in the Honor Council Office on the first floor of the Gray Center. We’re standing on the edge of a precipice here, ready to fall into the jaws of community discord, and we seem unaware that we’re stepping farther and farther away from safety because we refuse to look down and scream for help.