Reputation: What it Is and Why it Matters

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By ZUBAIR HAMID

The concept of reputation is integral to human psychology. How a person is seen by others affects his behavior to a great extent. In fact, it holds a great sway on our preferences, be as they may trivial or serious. The present book under review grapples with reputation. The subtitle what it (reputation) is and why it matters aptly leads the reader to the subject matter of the book.

[epq-quote align=”align-right”]BOOK REVIEW Author: Gloria Origgi Imprint: PRINCETON AND OXFORD, USA AND UK: PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2018, PP. XVIII+272. ISBN: 9780691175355[/epq-quote]The author Gloria Origgi, a Paris-based philosopher, has divided the main content of the book into ten chapters to grapple with the idea of reputation in its varied aspects and shades. The preface begins with the soliloquy of the Shakespearean character Cassio in Othello: “Reputation, reputation, reputation! Oh, I have lost my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial.” (Othello, Act 2, Scene 3). This provides a classic example of the significance of reputation in the sight of such literary giants as William Shakespeare. Shakespeare, speaking through Cassio, asserts that it is reputation that makes humans immortal, what else remains is bestial. Thus, at the very outset, the author conveys to the readers that reputation is the means to perpetuate oneself despite one’s mortality.
Reputation can be understood as the “social ego” or “a second self that guides our actions sometimes even against our interests.” This forms the axis of the first chapter of the book. Building on this idea, the author has attempted to analyze the functioning of the “management of our social life” as a “fundamental social and cognitive competence.” It is an interesting study of how reputation contributes towards the dominance of social self over the individual self.

Origgi has delved deep into the impact on one’s self of what others think of it. What one thinks about what others think about him shapes one’s life and life choices to a greater extent. As empirical evidence, Origgi mentions that “more than a third of the homicides committed in the United States have surprisingly trivial causes such as verbal altercations, wanton insults, or even disputes about who is first in line to occupy a just-vacated parking space” (p.6). After traversing the rich landscape of the subject under consideration, Origgi sums up that “the relation between how we appear and, who we really are is highly complex and ambivalent (p.25).
The theoretical approaches to reputation as developed in the social sciences comprise the second chapter of the book. The chapter is fundamentally concerned with analyzing reputation as a rational strategy or a manifestation of irrationality. Besides, it investigates whether reputation is a means to an end or an end in itself. Arguing on the basis of how the insatiable quest for reputability leads some persons towards extremism and senselessness, the author suggests that reputation “is a fundamentally non rational or sub rational driver of human behavior” (p.29).

Origgi draws our attention to the difficulty in discerning if altruistic activities are dictated by genuine moral motivations or well calculated strategic interests for the sake of earning a good reputation in the eyes of others. She maintains that the cynical view of the theorists who regard all altruism as hypocritical is not necessarily realistic. To illustrate her point, she draws on the behavior of such individuals who swim against the tide by challenging their societies risking their own lives for the sake of such moral values that the world is yet to recognize. Along with the strategic theories of reputation, this chapter also grapples with the signaling theory of reputation in an intellectually engaging and rationally convincing way.
The next chapter of the book discusses the way in which reputations spread. The author holds that reputation spreads according to its own laws independently of the beliefs and intentions of those who act as the agents for its spread (p.63). The author has classified reputation into two categories: informal and formal (objectivized). While the first category contains “all the socio cognitive phenomena connected to the circulation of opinions: rumours, gossip, innuendo, indiscretions, informational cascades, and so forth; the second includes all of the official schemes for putting reputations into an “objective” format, such as rating and ranking systems, product labels,….” (p.64).

The author makes a touching remark: “informal reputations have a terrible reputation” (p.65). She substantiates the point by referring to the impact of idle gossip and scandal mongering on our baseless and erroneous opinions. The chapter also provides illuminating insights on the psychology of rumour.
The remaining chapters of the book are concerned with some other aspects of the concept of reputation. These include the ‘trustworthiness of reputation’, ‘heuristics of reputation’, ‘status, honour and prestige’, ‘relation between reputation and information’, ‘the reality of expertise’, ‘academic reputation’ and ‘reputation in democracies’. Regarding the last one, the author has analyzed how reputation is related to the relative honour on the basis of various hierarchies in a democratic system.

In sum, the book is an interesting and must read for understanding the notion that governs our lives by a Himalayan measure. The strength of the book lies in its multi-disciplinary approach—it draws on rich information from a plethora of sources across disciplines. It is an appealing text for philosophers, psychologists and sociologists. However, the book is somewhat difficult for the common readers as it requires some amount of background knowledge in many disciplines to be comprehended.

The reviewer is a Research Scholar at the Department of Islamic Studies, AMU, Aligarh. He can be reached at: zubairhamid11@gmail.com