I'm not sure exactly what your standard is for a "contemporary philosopher". But you're certainly correct in observing that very few of the well-known modern philosophers deal explicitly with the concept of "honor." And even those who might be correctly fingered as examining the very concept seem to shun the word.
In fact, this is the subject of William Lad Sessions's latest book, entitled Honor For Us: A Philosophical Analysis, Interpretation and Defense, published in late 2010. Sessions is Professor of Philosophy at Washington & Lee University. The introduction begins dramatically:
Honor pervades human history and contemporary cultures, not least our own. Yet honor is in trouble today. Dishonorable behavior is rampant, to be sure, but we are also confused about honor, about what it is and what it is not. Honor may well be ubiquitous, but the concept of honor is not well understood, either by those who live within honor groups or by those who view themselves as rising above any culture of honor. . . . [M]y account of honor aims at something even more ambitious than descriptive clarity with potentially universal scope (as if that weren't ambition enough!). By exhibiting honor as a normative concept, I hope we might come to see its value for us as well as for others. My account is therefore a philosophical rarity, for philosophers today share the general academic distaste for honor. For most Western academics, honor is a moral pariah, a concept recognized as important to others though not an idea to be taken seriously in one's own life. . . . [T]here has been no serious normative examination of the concept of honor as such. It seems that philosophers, like other academics, are not much interested in honor as a living value in our society today.
The publisher's description bills it as "the first contemporary philosophical inquiry into the concept of honor." Sessions himself says that, "Since the late 19th century, there have been no major philosophical studies of honor. Philosophers have occasionally written narrowly on academic honor systems, deprecating honor as obsolete and a tribal virtue at best, but not as a major subject for a book." He claims that, in fact, honor has received a "bad reputation" that is "not entirely undeserved," considering all the harm that it has caused in the world. He specifically cites examples ranging from terrorism to honor killings.
But he opines that the problem really stems from a pervasive misunderstanding of honor, and that the concept is sorely in need of "clarification." Many philosophers seem to wish to "discard honor altogether as 'obsolete'," when in reality, the "notion of honor remains viable in the face of powerful criticism . . . and has important features which warrant our normative interest."
His philosophical project in the book is to identify six different concepts of honor, which he says are useful in an attempt to make sense out of chaotic situations. These concepts include:
- Conferred honor (or reputation)
- Recognition honor (which honors excellence)
- Positional honor (being placed higher than others in society)
- Commitment honor (honoring a principle or ideal)
- Trust honor (honoring a person, including his/her word)
- Personal honor
And in fact, he thinks that the sixth central concept of honor—personal honor—is the most important.
Interestingly enough, much of the book's inspiration seems to have come from an undergraduate philosophy course that Sessions has taught on honor since 1999.