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Honor system

Plants available for sale in Philadelphia using the honor system.

An honor system, trust system or honesty system is a way of running a variety of endeavors based on trust, honor, and honesty.

The honor system is also a system granting freedom from customary surveillance (as to students or prisoners) with the understanding that those who are so freed will be bound by their honor to observe regulations (e.g. prison farms may be operated under the honor system),[1] and will therefore not abuse the trust placed in them.



This section needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources in this section. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed.Find sources: "Honor system" – news · newspapers · books · scholar · JSTOR (May 2023) (Learn how and when to remove this message)

The first honor system in America was penned by Thomas Jefferson at the College of William and Mary, Jefferson's alma mater. In some colleges, the honor system is used to administer tests unsupervised. Students are generally asked to sign an honor code statement that says they will not cheat or use unauthorized resources when taking the test. As an example, at Vanderbilt University students taking examinations are required to sign and include the following pledge: "On my honor as a student I have neither given nor received aid on this examination". Any student caught in violation of the Honor Code is referred to the Honor Council which investigates and determines the appropriate action, which can range from failing the course to expulsion from the university.

At the University of Virginia a student taking an examination is also required to sign a pledge not to give or receive aid and there is one penalty for transgression of the honor code, dismissal from the university. Texas A&M also has an Honor System which states, Aggies do not lie, cheat or steal or tolerate those who do. This is listed at the beginning of all tests. Any student that does not follow the code is remanded to the Honor council so they can determine the severity of the case and how the student should be punished or if expulsion is necessary. The students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill also maintain a student-run honor system. Students maintain the integrity of the university by pledging not to cheat, steal or lie. Unlike the University of Virginia, the honor system at Chapel Hill allows for different sanctions, ranging from probation to expulsion. A single-sanction Honor Code exists at the Virginia Military Institute, where a "drum out" ceremony is still carried out upon a cadet's dismissal.[2]


These handheld scanning devices allow customers to scan their own groceries while shopping. Such activity is not closely monitored by employees, and is therefore an honor system.
Example of the honor system at an unmanned Gandhigiri Shop in Mumbai, India

Some supermarket chains allow customers to scan their own groceries with handheld barcode readers while placing them in their own carts (see self-checkout). While the system gives customers the ability to place groceries in their bags without paying, and customers can be randomly audited, participating supermarkets have reported that this experimental system has not increased the amount of shoplifting.[3]

In some countries, farmers leave bags of produce beside the road outside their houses with prices affixed. Passers-by pay by leaving cash in a container. In Ireland, New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom this is called the honesty box system. In other countries, small unmanned stores are run, where customers are able to enter, obtain what they need, and pay the bill in a secure container.[4]

Public health

During the COVID-19 pandemic, as many people have received their vaccines, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidance that fully-vaccinated people no longer had to wear face masks. Many places relied on an honor system to trust that people who were not vaccinated continued to wear face masks. [5]

See also


  1. ^ "honor system." Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged. Merriam-Webster, 2002. (24 Feb. 2008)
  2. ^ "The Honor Code is 'Simple and All-Encompassing'".
  3. ^ Wait in self-check line? That’s so last month - U.S. business -
  4. ^ Basu, Mihika. "Unmanned Shop". Indian Express. Archived from the original on January 26, 2013. Retrieved October 28, 2012.
  5. ^ Iati, Marisa (May 15, 2021). "The new mask guidance relies on an honor system. Do we trust each other enough to make it work?". The Washington Post. Retrieved December 6, 2022.


  • Bowman, James. Honor: A History. Encounter, 2007.
  • Wyatt-Brown, Bertram. Southern Honor: Ethics and Behavior in the Old South. OUP, 2007.
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Honor system
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