Honoris causa is a Latin phrase meaning "for honor's sake"
or "for reasons of honor.". When used in conjunction with the name of a
university degree, it signifies that
the degree was honorary, not earned. In fact,
American universities rarely use the Latin term, using "Hon."
or "Honorary" to denote a degree given honoris causa.
The qualifications for a degree honoris causa differ from
university to university. Generally, though, a trustee must show that a
particular candidate (often an alumnus of the university) has made
substantial contributions to humanity (though substantial contributions
to the university's endowment may suffice). Also, universities often
give honorary degrees to Commencement speakers regardless of their other qualifications. Some degrees (Doctor of
Laws, Doctor of Humane Letters, etc.) are almost always given honoris
causa; others (MD, JD) almost never are.
Degrees honoris causa rarely if ever confer special privileges
upon the recipient. An honorary PhD, for example, would not qualify you
for a job that required a PhD. Along the same lines, recipients of honorary doctorates are not called "Doctor," and some universities (such
as Harvard) even have special graduation regalia that distinguishes
honorary doctors from those who actually earned the degree.