|Kwame Anthony Appiah|
|Born||Kwame Akroma-Ampim Kusi Anthony Appiah|
(1954-05-08) May 8, 1954 (age 63)
London, England, United Kingdom
|Alma mater||Clare College, Cambridge|
|Thesis||Conditions for conditionals (1981)|
|Influences||G. W. F. Hegel, W. E. B. Du Bois, John Rawls, Charles Taylor|
|School or tradition||Cosmopolitanism|
|Main interests||Probabilistic semantics, political theory, moral theory, intellectual history, race and identity theory|
Spouse Henry Finder
Kwame Akroma-Ampim Kusi Anthony Appiah (AP-ee-ah; born May 8, 1954) is a British-born Ghanaian-Americanphilosopher, cultural theorist, and novelist whose interests include political and moral theory, the philosophy of language and mind, and African intellectual history. Appiah was the Laurance S. Rockefeller University Professor of Philosophy at Princeton University, before moving to New York University in 2014. He currently holds an appointment at the NYU Department of Philosophy and NYU's School of Law.
Personal life and education
Appiah was born in London to Enid Margaret Appiah (née Cripps), a British art historian and writer of English heritage, and Joseph Emmanuel Appiah, a lawyer, diplomat, and politician from the Asante region, once part of the British Gold Coast colony but now part of Ghana. For two years (1970–1972) Joe Appiah was the leader of a new opposition party that was made by the country's three opposing parties, simultaneously he was the president of the Ghana Bar Association. Between 1977 and 1978, he was Ghana's representative at the United Nations. He died in an Accra hospital in 1990.
Anthony Appiah was raised in Kumasi, Ghana, and educated at Bryanston School and Clare College, Cambridge, where he earned his BA (First Class) and PhD degree in philosophy. Appiah has three sisters: Isobel, Adwoa and Abena. As a child, he also spent a good deal of time in England, staying with his grandmother Isobel, the Honourable Lady Cripps, widow of the English statesman the Right Honourable Sir Stafford Cripps.
His family has a long political tradition: his maternal grandfather Sir Stafford was LabourChancellor of the Exchequer (1947–50) under Clement Attlee. His great grandfather, Charles Cripps, 1st Baron Parmoor, was the Labour Leader of the House of Lords (1929–31) under Ramsay MacDonald; Parmoor had been a Conservative MP before defecting to Labour.
Through his grandmother Isobel Cripps, Appiah is a descendant of John Winthrop and the New EnglandWinthrop family as one of his ancestors, Robert Winthrop, was a Loyalist during the American Revolutionary War and migrated to England, becoming a distinguished Vice Admiral in the British Navy. Through Isobel, he is also descended from the British pharmacist James Crossley Eno.
Through Professor Appiah's father, a Nana of the Ashanti people, he is a direct descendant of Osei Tutu, the warrior emperor of pre-colonial Ghana, whose reigning successor, the Asantehene, is a distant relative of the Appiah family. Also among his African ancestors is the Ashanti nobleman Nana Akroma-Ampim I of Nyduom, a warrior whose name the Professor now bears.
He lives with his husband, Henry Finder, in an apartment in Manhattan, and a home in Pennington, New Jersey. Appiah has written about what it was like growing up gay in Ghana.
Appiah taught philosophy and African-American studies at the University of Ghana, Cornell, Yale, Harvard, and Princeton Universities from 1981 to 1988. He was, until recently, a Laurance S. Rockefeller University Professor of Philosophy at Princeton (with a cross-appointment at the University Center for Human Values) and was serving as the Bacon-Kilkenny Professor of Law at Fordham University in the fall of 2008. Appiah also served on the board of PEN American Center and was on a panel of judges for the PEN/Newman's Own First Amendment Award. He has taught at Yale, Cornell, Duke, and Harvard universities and lectured at many other institutions in the US, Germany, Ghana and South Africa, and Paris. Until the fall of 2009, he served as a trustee of Ashesi University College in Accra, Ghana. Currently, he is the professor of philosophy and law at NYU.
His Cambridge dissertation explored the foundations of probabilistic semantics. In 1992, Appiah published In My Father's House, which won the Herskovitz Prize for African Studies in English. Among his later books are Colour Conscious (with Amy Gutmann), The Ethics of Identity (2005), and Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers (2006). He has been a close collaborator with Henry Louis Gates Jr., with whom he edited Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African-American Experience. Appiah was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1995.
In 2008, Appiah published Experiments in Ethics, in which he reviews the relevance of empirical research to ethical theory. In the same year, he was recognized for his contributions to racial, ethnic, and religious relations when Brandeis University awarded him the first Joseph B. and Toby Gittler Prize.
As well as his academic work, Appiah has also published several works of fiction. His first novel, Avenging Angel, set at the University of Cambridge, involved a murder among the Cambridge Apostles; Sir Patrick Scott is the detective in the novel. Appiah's second and third novels are Nobody Likes Letitia and Another Death in Venice.
Appiah has been nominated for, or received, several honours. He was the 2009 finalist in the arts and humanities for the Eugene R. Gannon Award for the Continued Pursuit of Human Advancement. In 2010, he was named by Foreign Policy magazine on its list of top global thinkers. On February 13, 2012, Appiah was awarded the National Humanities Medal at a ceremony at the White House.
Appiah currently chairs the jury for the Berggruen Prize, and serves on the Berggruen Institute's Philosophy & Culture Center's Academic Board.
Appiah argues that the formative denotation of culture is ultimately preceded by the efficacy of intellectual interchange. From this position, his views on the efficacy of organizations such as UNICEF and Oxfam are notable for their duality: on the one hand he seems to appreciate the immediate action these organizations provide while on the other hand he points out the long-term futility of such intervention. His focus is, instead, on the long-term political and economic development of nations according to the Western capitalist/ democratic model, an approach that relies on continued growth in the “marketplace” that is the capital-driven modern world.
However, when capitalism is introduced and it does not "take off" as in the Western world, the livelihood of the peoples involved is at stake. Thus, the ethical questions involved are certainly complex, yet the general impression in Appiah’s "Kindness to Strangers" is one which implies that it is not up to "us" to save the poor and starving, but up to their own governments. Nation-states must assume responsibility for their citizens, and a cosmopolitan’s role is to appeal to "our own" government to ensure that these nation-states respect, provide for, and protect their citizens.
If they will not, "we" are obliged to change their minds; if they cannot, "we" are obliged to provide assistance, but only our "fair share," that is, not at the expense of our own comfort, or the comfort of those "nearest and dearest" to us.
Appiah's early philosophical work dealt with probabilistic semantics and theories of meaning, but his more recent books have tackled philosophical problems of race and racism, identity, and moral theory. His current work tackles three major areas: 1. the philosophical foundations of liberalism; 2. the questioning of methods in arriving at knowledge about values; and 3. the connections between theory and practice in moral life, all of which concepts can also be found in his book Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers.
On postmodern culture Appiah writes, "Postmodern culture is the culture in which all postmodernisms operate, sometimes in synergy, sometimes in competition; and because contemporary culture is, in a certain sense to which I shall return, transnational, postmodern culture is global – though that emphatically does not mean that it is the culture of every person in the world."
Appiah has been influenced by the cosmopolitanist philosophical tradition, which stretches from German philosophers such as Hegel through W. E. B. Du Bois and others. In his article “Education for Global Citizenship”, Appiah outlines his conception of cosmopolitanism. He therein defines cosmopolitanism as “universality plus difference”. Building from this definition, he asserts that the first takes precedence over the latter, that is: different cultures are respected “not because cultures matter in themselves, but because people matter, and culture matters to people.” But Appiah first defined it as its problems but ultimately determines that practicing a citizenship of the world and conversation is not only helpful in a post-9/11 world. Therefore, according to Appiah’s take on this ideology, cultural differences are to be respected in so far as they are not harmful to people and in no way conflict with our universal concern for every human’s life and well-being.
In his book Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers, Appiah introduces two ideas that "intertwine in the notion of cosmopolitanism" (Emerging, 69). The first is the idea that we have obligations to others that are bigger than just sharing citizenship. The second idea is that we should never take for granted the value of life and become informed of the practices and beliefs of others. Kwame Appiah frequents university campuses to speak to students. One request he makes is, “See one movie with subtitles a month.”.
Criticism of Afrocentric world view
Appiah has been a critic of contemporary theories of Afrocentrism. In his essay "Europe Upside Down: Fallacies of the New Afrocentrism," Appiah argues that current Afrocentricism is striking for "how thoroughly at home it is in the frameworks of nineteenth century European thought," particularly as a mirror image to Eurocentric constructions of race and a preoccupation with the ancient world. Appiah also finds an irony in the conception that if the source of the West lies in ancient Egypt via Greece, then "its legacy of ethnocentrism is presumably one of our moral liabilities." Appiah's critique of contemporary Afrocentrism has been criticized by some of its leading proponents, such as Temple University African American Studies scholar and activist Molefi Asante, who has characterized Appiah's work as "anti-African."
In popular culture
- In 2007, Appiah was a contributing scholar in the PBS-broadcast documentary Prince Among Slaves produced by Unity Productions Foundation.
- In 2007 he also appeared in Racism: A History as an on-screen contributor.
- Appiah appeared alongside a number of contemporary philosophers in Astra Taylor's 2008 film Examined Life where he discussed his views on cosmopolitanism.
- In 2009, he was an on-screen contributor to the movie Herskovits: At the Heart of Blackness.
- In 2015, he became one of three contributors to the New York Times Magazine column "The Ethicist", before assuming sole authorship of the column later that year.
- He delivered the BBC's Reith Lectures in late 2016 on the theme of Mistaken Identities.
Awards and honors
- Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for In My Father’s House, April 1993
- Honorable Mention, James Russell Lowell Prize of the Modern Language Association for In My Father’s House, December 1993
- 1993 Herskovits Award of the African Studies Association "for the best work published in English on Africa" for In My Father’s House, December 1993
- Annual Book Award, 1996, North American Society for Social Philosophy, "for the book making the most significant contribution to social philosophy" for Color Conscious, May 1997
- Ralph J. Bunche Award, American Political Science Association, "for the best scholarly work in political science which explores the phenomenon of ethnic and cultural pluralism" for Color Conscious, July 1997
- Outstanding Book on the subject of human rights in North America, Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Human Rights in North America, for Color Conscious, December 10, 1997
- Honorable Mention, Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award, Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights for The Ethics of Identity, December 9, 2005
- Editors’ Choice New York Times Book Review, The Ethics of Identity, June 26, 2005.
- Amazon.com Best Books of 2005, Top 10 Editors’ Picks: Nonfiction, The Ethics of Identity, December 2005
- Arthur Ross Book Award of the Council on Foreign Relations, Cosmopolitanism, May 2007
- Finalist for Estoril Global Ethics Book Prize, for Cosmopolitanism (2009)
- A Times Literary Supplement’s Book of the Year 2010 for The Honor Code
- One of New York Times Book Review’s 100 Notable Books of 2010 for The Honor Code
- New Jersey Council for the Humanities Book Award 2011 for The Honor Code
- Global Thought Leaders Index 2015, #95, The World Post
- In August 2016, Professor Appiah was invested with a chieftaincy of the Ashanti people of Nyaduom, his family's ancestral chiefdom in Ghana.
- In 2017 he was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature
- In June 2017 he was named by the Carnegie Corporation of New York as one of its 2017 "Great Immigrants"
- Assertion and Conditionals. Cambridge Studies in Philosophy Series. Cambridge Cambridgeshire New York: Cambridge University Press. 1985. ISBN 9780521304115.
- For Truth in Semantics. Philosophical Theory Series. Oxford, UK; New York, NY, USA: B. Blackwell. 1986. ISBN 9780631145967.
- Necessary Questions: An Introduction to Philosophy. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall. 1989. ISBN 9780136113287.
- In My Father's House: Africa in the Philosophy of Culture. London / New York: Methuen / Oxford University Press. 1992. ISBN 9780195068511.
- With Gutmann, Amy (1996). Color Conscious: The Political Morality of Race. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. ISBN 9780691026619.
- With Appiah, Peggy; Agyeman-Duah, Ivor (2007) . Bu me bɛ: Proverbs of the Akans (2nd ed.). Oxfordshire, UK: Ayebia Clarke. ISBN 9780955507922.
- Kosmopolitischer Patriotismus (in German). Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp. 2001. ISBN 9783518122303.
- With Gates Jr., Henry Louis, ed. (2003). Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience: the concise desk reference. Philadelphia: Running Press. ISBN 9780762416424.
- Thinking It Through: An Introduction to Contemporary Philosophy. Oxford New York: Oxford University Press. 2003. ISBN 9780195134582.
- The Ethics of Identity. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. 2005. ISBN 9780691130286.
- Translated as: La Ética de la identidad (in Spanish). Buenos Aires, Madrid: Katz Editores. 2007. ISBN 9788493543242.
- Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. 2006. ISBN 9780141027814.
- Translated as: Cosmopolitismo: la ética en un mundo de extraños (in Spanish). Buenos Aires, Madrid: Katz Editores. 2007. ISBN 9788496859081.
- Translated as: Experimentos de ética (in Spanish). Buenos Aires, Madrid: Katz Editores. 2010. ISBN 9788492946112.
- Appiah, Anthony (1984), "Strictures on structures: the prospects for a structuralist poetics of African fiction", in Gates, Jr., Henry Louis, Black literature and literary theory, New York: Methuen, pp. 127–150, ISBN 9780415903349.
- Appiah, Anthony (1985), "Soyinka and the philosophy of culture", in Bodunrin, P.O., Philosophy in Africa: trends and perspectives, Ile-Ife, Nigeria: University of Ife Press, pp. 250–263, ISBN 9789781360725.
- Appiah, Anthony (1987), "A long way from home: Richard Wright in the Gold Coast", in Bloom, Harold, Richard Wright, Modern Critical views Series, New York: Chelsea House Publishers, pp. 173–190, ISBN 9780877546399.
- Appiah, Anthony (1990), "Race", in Lentricchia, Frank; McLaughlin, Tom, Critical terms for literary study, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 274–287, ISBN 9780226472027.
- Appiah, Anthony (1990), "Racisms", in Goldberg, David, Anatomy of racism, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, pp. 3–17, ISBN 9780816618040.
- Appiah, Anthony (1991), "Tolerable falsehoods: agency and the interests of theory", in Johnson, Barbara; Arac, Jonathan, Consequences of theory, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, pp. 63–90, ISBN 9780801840456.
- Appiah, Anthony (1992), "Inventing an African practice in philosophy: epistemological issues", in Mudimbe, Valentin-Yves, The surreptitious speech: Présence Africaine and the politics of otherness, 1947-1987, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 227–237, ISBN 9780226545073.
- Appiah, Kwame Anthony (1992), "Introduction", in Achebe, Chinua, Things fall apart, Everyman's Library Series, No. 135, New York: Knopf Distributed by Random House, pp. ix–xvii, ISBN 9780679446231.
- Appiah, Anthony (1992), "African identities", in Amselle, Jean-Loup; Appiah, Anthony; Bagayogo, Shaka; Chrétien, Jean-Pierre; Dakhlia, Jocelyne; Gellner, Ernest; LaRue, Richard; Mudimbe, Valentin-Yves; Topolski, Jerzy, Constructions identitaires: questionnements théoriques et études de cas, Québec: CÉLAT, Université Laval, ISBN 9782920576445. Fernande Saint-Martin sous la direction de Bogumil Jewsiewicki et Jocelyn Létourneau, Actes du Célat No. 6, Mai 1992.
- Appiah, Kwame Anthony; Mudimbe, V. Y. (1993), "The impact of African studies on philosophy", in Bates, Robert H.; Mudimbe, V. Y.; O'Barr, Jean, Africa and the disciplines: the contributions of research in Africa to the social sciences and humanities, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 113–138, ISBN 9780226039015.
- Appiah, K. Anthony (1994), "Identity, authenticity, survival: multicultural societies and social reproduction", in Taylor, Charles; Gutmann, Amy, Multiculturalism: examining the politics of recognition, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, pp. 149–164, ISBN 9780691037790.
- Appiah, Kwame Anthony (1995), "Philosophy and necessary questions", in Kwame, Safro, Readings in African philosophy: an Akan collection, Lanham: University Press of America, pp. 1–22, ISBN 9780819199119.
- Appiah, K. Anthony (1996), "Race, culture, identity: misunderstood connections", in Peterson, Grethe B., The Tanner lectures on human values XVII, Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, pp. 51–136, ISBN 9780585197708. Pdf.
- Appiah, K. Anthony (1997), "African-American philosophy?", in Pittman, John, African-American perspectives and philosophical traditions, New York: Routledge, pp. 11–34, ISBN 9780415916400.
- Appiah, Kwame Anthony (1997), "Europe upside down: fallacies of the new Afrocentrism", in Grinker, Roy Richard; Steiner, Christopher B., Perspectives on Africa: a reader in culture, history, and representation, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Blackwell, pp. 728–731, ISBN 9781557866868.
- Appiah, Kwame Anthony (1997), "Is the 'post-' in 'postcolonial' the 'post-' in 'postmodern'?", in McClintock, Anne; Mufti, Aamir; Shohat, Ella, Dangerous liaisons: gender, nation, and postcolonial perspectives, Minnesota, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, pp. 420–444, ISBN 9780816626496.
- Appiah, Kwame Anthony (1996), "Identity: political not cultural", in Garber, Marjorie; Walkowitz, Rebecca L.; Franklin, Paul B., Field work: sites in literary and cultural studies, New York: Routledge, pp. 34–40, ISBN 9780415914550.
- Appiah, Kwame Anthony (1999), "Yambo Ouolouguem and the meaning of postcoloniality", in Wise, Christopher, Yambo Ouologuem: postcolonial writer, Islamic militant, Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publishers, pp. 55–63, ISBN 9780894108617.
- Appiah, Kwame Anthony (2000), "Aufklärung und dialog der kulturen", in Krull, Wilhelm, Zukunftsstreit (in German), Weilerwist: Velbrück Wissenschaft, pp. 305–328, ISBN 9783934730175.
- Appiah, K. Anthony (2001), "Grounding human rights", in Gutmann, Amy, Michael Ignatieff: Human rights as politics and idolatry, The University Center for Human Values Series, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, pp. 101–116, ISBN 9780691114743.
- Appiah, K. Anthony (2001), "Stereotypes and the shaping of identity", in Post, Robert C., Prejudicial appearances: the logic of American antidiscrimination law, Durham: Duke University Press, pp. 55–71, ISBN 9780822327134.
- Appiah, Kwame Anthony (2002), "The State and the shaping of identity", in Peterson, Grethe B., The Tanner lectures on human values XXIII, Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, pp. 235–297, ISBN 9780874807189 Pdf.
- Appiah, Kwame Anthony (2009), "Sen's identities", in Kanbur, Ravi; Basu, Kaushik, Arguments for a better world: essays in honor of Amartya Sen | Volume I: Ethics, welfare, and measurement, Oxford New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 475–488, ISBN 9780199239115.
- Appiah, Kwame Anthony (Winter 1981). "Structuralist criticism and African fiction: an analytic critique". Black American Literature Forum, special issue: Black Textual Strategies, Volume 1: Theory. African American Review. 15 (4): 165–174. doi:10.2307/2904328. JSTOR 2904328.
- Appiah, Kwame Anthony (October 1984). "An argument against anti-realist semantics". Mind. Oxford University Press. 93 (372): 559–565. doi:10.1093/mind/XCIII.372.559. JSTOR 2254262.
- Appiah, Kwame Anthony (November 1984). "Generalising the probabilistic semantics of conditionals". Journal of Philosophical Logic. Springer. 13 (4): 351–372. doi:10.1007/BF00247710. JSTOR 30226312.
- Appiah, Kwame Anthony (1 July 1985). "Verificationism and the manifestations of meaning". Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volume. 59 (1): 17–31. doi:10.1093/aristoteliansupp/59.1.17.
- Appiah, Kwame Anthony (Autumn 1985). "The uncompleted argument: Du Bois and the illusion of race". Critical Inquiry, special issue: "Race," Writing, and Difference. Chicago Journals. 12 (1): 21–37. doi:10.1086/448319. JSTOR 1343460.
- Appiah, Kwame Anthony (April 1986). "The importance of triviality". The Philosophical Review. Duke University Press. 95 (2): 209–231. doi:10.2307/2185590. JSTOR 2185590.
- Appiah, Kwame Anthony (Spring 1986). "Review: Deconstruction and the philosophy of language Reviewed Work: The Deconstructive Turn: Essays in the Rhetoric of Philosophy by Christopher Norris". Diacritics. Johns Hopkins University Press. 16 (1): 48–64. doi:10.2307/464650. JSTOR 464650.
- Appiah, Kwame Anthony (Spring–Summer 1986). "Review: Are we ethnic? The theory and practice of American pluralism. Reviewed work: Beyond Ethnicity: Consent and Descent in American Culture by Werner Sollors". Black American Literature Forum. African American Review. 20 (1–2): 209–224. doi:10.2307/2904561. JSTOR 2904561.
- Appiah, Kwame Anthony (Winter–Spring 1987). "Racism and moral pollution". The Philosophical Forum. Wiley. 18 (2–3): 185–202.
- Appiah, Kwame Anthony (Spring 1988). "Out of Africa: topologies of nativism". Yale Journal of Criticism. Johns Hopkins University Press. 2 (1): 153–178.
- Appiah, Kwame Anthony (Autumn 1990). "Alexander Crummell and the invention of Africa". The Massachusetts Review. Massachusetts Review, Inc. 31 (3): 385–406. JSTOR 25090195. Publisher's website.
- Appiah, Kwame Anthony (October 1990). ""But would that still be me?" Notes on gender, "race," ethnicity, as sources of "identity"". The Journal of Philosophy, special issue: 87th Annual Meeting American Philosophical Association, Eastern Division. The Journal of Philosophy, Inc. 87 (10): 493–499. doi:10.5840/jphil1990871026. JSTOR 2026866.
- Appiah, Kwame Anthony (Spring 1993). "African-American Philosophy?". The Philosophical Forum. Wiley. 24 (1–3): 1–24.
- Appiah, K. Anthony (Spring 1998). "Race, pluralism, and Afrocentricity". The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education. JBHE Foundation, Inc. 19: 116–118. doi:10.2307/2998938. JSTOR 2998938.
Kwame Anthony Appiah’s Cosmopolitanism is an intriguing book whose drive is to invite readers to take a step back from “the noise” of the world and view it in a light that encompasses the similarities and differences of the people that live in it. Through this view, we come to understand that with the bit of help from the globalization phenomenon, the world is made up of communities within communities, within communities, within a community. Appiah states that, cosmopolitanism “begins with the simple idea that in the human community, as in national communities, we need to develop habits of coexistence: conversation in its older meaning, of living together, association” (Appiah 2006, xix). In the introduction he cites the history of cosmopolitanism, dating all the way back to the “Stoics, beginning in the third century BC…” (Appiah 2006, xiv), moving into the late 1700s with the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and Immanuel Kant’s work proposing a “league of nations”” (Appiah 2006, ibid) and advancing to the 21st century, where it has exploded with the assistance of globalization.
Appiah identifies two aspects of cosmopolitanism that aid in better defining the term: “One is the idea that we have obligations to others, obligations that stretch beyond those to whom we are related by the ties of kith and kind, or even the more formal ties of a shared citizenship” (Appiah 2006, xv), and “the other is that we take seriously the value not just of human life but of particular human lives, which means taking an interest in the practices and beliefs that lend them significance” (Appiah 2006, xv). Here Appiah reinforces the idea of community and solidarity despite social, financial, but more so, cultural differences. He argues that each individual has a duty to one another but also specifies that each individual has an obligation to themselves. Taking into account the second aspect, he urges the respect of the value of people’s cultures. By doing so, greater respect and appreciation is shown to all and the expect result is peace. He does note that this is just one side of the coin and that there have been cases where conflict has occurred over social, economic, and cultural differences; and while the cosmopolitan ideal does “preach” acceptance of different backgrounds, it also sets up the opportunity for groups to rank their cultural values over that of others.
Appiah jumps into his chapters with a series of questions: “How real are values? What do we talk about when we talk about difference? Is any form of relativism right? When do morals and manners clash? Can culture be “owned”? What do we owe strangers by virtue of our shared humanity?” (Appiah 2006, xxi). He uses conversation as a vehicle to addressing these questions as it is a sustainable and efficient way of determining values, obligations, and differences among people; and “depending on the circumstances, conversations across boundaries can be delightful, or just vexing: what they mainly are, though, is inevitable” (Appiah 2006, xxi).
Appiah responds to the questions of “How real are values?” and “Is any form of relativism right?” in chapter 2 – The Escape from Positivism. He gives examples of professional relativism where ethnographers and anthropologists who travel to foreign places to immerse themselves into a new culture and once doing so, return with an appreciation of the similarities and differences his/her culture shares with the people of which they have traveled to. In his examples, he does a good job of pointing out the issue of relativism where it concerns cultural differences. Female circumcision or female genital cutting is one issue different societies have different opinions on. Appiah points out that from the perspective of one society, female circumcision is seen as harmful to girls and women and also an abuse of their bodily rights, “a disgusting mutilation that deprives women of the full pleasures of sexual experience” (Appiah 2006, 15). On the other hand, women in another society will view the act as a means to expressing themselves, enhancing pleasure, and a rite of passage. Why shouldn’t it be this way if Western society readily accepts the act of tattooing, piercings, and other body changes, says Appiah? This brings about his question of which form if any of relativism is right; And he makes a great point that it isn’t about right or wrong, that some cultural aspects cannot be defined as such, but that cosmopolitans accept, as should the rest of the world, the value of our differences and should work towards ensuring the respect of these differences as long as their process does not cause harm to individuals.
Appiah’s argument about values serving as vehicles to our desires is somewhat sound. If one desires everyone to be kind and just, these are values (of kindness and just) that the person will uphold as important to them and others. The question of “How real are values?” comes into play when looking at values across different societies. There are the obvious empirical and universal values that all societies have in common such as the value of life, family, happiness, etc. but then you have values that are not as universal. Values such as beauty, womanhood, and parenthood that are viewed upon differently by groups are based on the desires that have been historically accepted. Hence the varying definition of what beauty looks like, or what womanhood entails, or the image of what parenthood should look like and which genders together form parenthood. Conversation helps to disperse these values, to understand them, adjust them, and to a certain point, own them for ourselves in order to direct the responses we may have. As the boundaries of the world fold, values along with everything else are flying across, some peaceful, others with the hard impact of aggression. Values are real in the sense that they communicate our level of humanity in a community that is increasingly experience diversity within its diversity. It isn’t as real because Appiah argues they are based on our desires, our wants for ourselves and the world we live in. Some desires remain the same but many others change, and it is that change that leads the evolution of values in the global community. Isn’t it better to question whether the values are authentic, “worthy” to be accepted by the global community, instead of if they are real? Either way, Appiah is right in stating that conversation is a useful tool to explore these questions and differences and that if conflict occurs as a result of these clash of values, one should accept it as a means to understanding the global community we live in.
In his book, Appiah reflects on what it means to have a difference in opinion. From a Cosmopolitan point of view, he expects there to be disagreements across cultures but also within them. According to him, disagreements occur as a result of the weight put on value terms and vocabulary, and how cultures interpret them. Appiah gives the example of family responsibility and upbringing, citing the matrilineal structure of family in the Akan culture. The complexity of the Akan family structure is coupled with familiar values that keep in context the importance and role of individuals in family matters. While it is acceptable for an Uncle to serve the father role for his sister’s children and his sister and children to live with him instead of her husband, today’s Western society (and now somewhat globally) would disagree with this family structure. The father and mother should live together with their children and that’s the end of it. Appiah affirms rightly so that, there are different ways of raising a family. Disagreement over the structure of the family should only become an issue if “society [does not have] a way of assigning responsibilities for the nurture of children that works and makes senses…” (Appiah 2006, 49).
Appiah also uses the idea of taboo to emphasize the disagreement of values different cultures have. Whether it’s the taboo of eating bush meat in the Akan clan, eating pork as a member of the Muslim faith, act of incest, or the duration before a body is buried, Appiah states that these taboos will face disagreement among different cultures. Perhaps there will be consensus over the act of incest, but essentially the point he strives to drive at is that, the weight of certain values depend on where we’re coming from. So when two people are having a disagreement over a particular issue, they are not disagreeing over each other’s belief of the idea, because they both believe in what they’re talking about, but instead are arguing over, the weight or significance of the value they place on those ideals. As a Cosmopolitan would say, it’s okay to agree to disagree; because no one person grew up the same or retains identical values. I agree with his cosmopolitan view, that embracing these differences enriches the acceptance and value of humanity and solidify the small bridging connections that link cultures to one another.
Appiah’s most powerful argument comes in his discussion about the treatment of culture as an object; whether it can be owned and the implications it has for the many communities in our world. He provides some background on his argument by referring to the history of legal and illegal transportation of cultural artifacts from countries like Ghana, Mali, and Nigeria. These artifacts, one way or another, end up in Western museums in Italy, London, and New York without considering the implication or impact of how the removal of these objects affects the people of those cultures. Do these museums rightfully own the objects or do they belong to the originating nations? One would assume the right answer is that it belongs to the country of which the artifact was taken from but Appiah will disagree. Instead, utilizing his cosmopolitan view, he argues that these cultural artifacts belong to all human beings and that since the world has become more open, the issue of ownership should no longer be restricted to just the country of origin.
While I respect and understand Appiah’s point of view that indeed, cultural artifacts should be shared with the world for greater value and such, the first point to make is that, the world has built a structure in which material value supersedes everything else. By placing material value on cultural artifacts, one is taking away in a sense, the cultural and spiritual value that was placed as part of a culture’s belief. When ancient cultures constructed and revered these cultural objects, they were not worshiping or appreciating them because of their materialistic value, but in most cases it was because of their aesthetics and the role it played or symbolized in the society’s traditions. The removal of such objects from the country of origins and even the sale of tickets to view these objects, does not only a great harm to the respect and sanctity of these cultures, but also reinforces Appiah’s question to the fact that culture can and are being owned.
A somewhat sharp contrast is provided to Appiah’s introduction and beginning chapters in the last chapter of his book, where he reflects on “What do we owe strangers by virtue of our shared humanity?” While in the beginning Appiah spoke about the obligations cosmopolitans believe humanity has towards one another, he emphasizes the fact that cosmopolitanism does not require that individuals carry out these obligations. He seems to suggest that individuals need only be aware of the obligations they hold towards one another based on the similarities and differences of their cultures. I agree that there are some duties one can accomplish easily and others that require more energy and time. To accept all obligations required of us based on the cosmopolitan view would doom humanity to a life of servitude and to a certain level a decrease in quality of life. Appiah gives the examples of OXFAM and UNICEF (Appiah 2006, 156-163) where it is suggested by philosophers like Peter Singer that individuals should consider giving all their monetary and property wealth away to ensure that people suffering worse than ourselves may benefit.
While this is great, like Appiah, I have to disagree with this notion because it conflicts with one of the obligations universally accepted by most cultures; that is to have a good quality of life. The tension of this point comes in when determining what constitutes a “good quality of life”. For different cultures it means different things but when we know that a particular group or region of the world does not have the basic needs fulfilled, I would argue that it is our obligation, our duty, to do something about it, whether it is through advocacy, raising awareness, donations, etc.
Appiah’s Cosmopolitanism does a great job of integrating the similar and different aspects of cultures around the world, and as someone who identifies with that international lifestyle, I can see where the importance of recognizing different values is essential to building connections that would not have been there if the world was not as globalized as it is today. Some aspects of his views, such as the ownership of cultural artifacts, I have to disagree with because as the world expands, so does the number of identities people claim to. This diversity of identities that individuals consider as their own, can only be enhanced if they have tangible tools or objects to link them to those identities. Overall, the main point that Appiah is trying to make in regards to Cosmopolitanism is that conversation is key to bridging the gaps that separate us into different cultures. We might disagree in these conversations, we might value certain beliefs over others, but as long as we respect and understand the opinions of others, the world is better off.