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Paperback Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers Book

ISBN: 039332933X

ISBN13: 9780393329339

Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers

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Book Overview

"A brilliant and humane philosophy for our confused age."--Samantha Power, author of A Problem from Hell Drawing on a broad range of disciplines, including history, literature, and philosophy--as well as the author's own experience of life on three continents-- Cosmopolitanism is a moral manifesto for a planet we share with more than six billion strangers.

Customer Reviews

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A Easy to Read Introduction to an Appealing Ethical System

I have to say I find Appiah's cosmopolitanism to be incredibly appealing. Call me a globalized liberal who thinks we can work most things out, but the fact that besides a bedrock belief in toleration of all but intolerance, there is little else that exists as a absolute in Appiah's thinking is attractive to me. Appiah (like me, I'd say) is not interested in all encompassing theories. But he is also wary of an all out relativism. Appiah seems to be trying to walk a line somewhere in the middle. He argues that through engagement, "contamination" and tolerance we can create a new ethics what exactly this means in practical application isn't always clear, and this small book doesn't answer all the questions I have, but it's a start. And an excellent jumping off point for the kind of thinking we need to be doing in today's age.

An importance exploration of what it means to be a responsible part of today's world

There are few individuals more qualified to write a book on the idea of cosmopolitanism than Kwame Anthony Appiah. Biracial, raised in both Ghana and England, multicultural, multilingual, educated at Cambridge but teaching at Princeton, Appiah has an inside familiarity with larger world that few can rival. It is tremendously encouraging to me, a WASP who has been unable to engage in any real travel, that we both seem to share precisely the same ideals. My experience of the world counts for little; his a great deal. Yet it shows that people with extremely different backgrounds can embrace the same ideals. Appiah is a philosopher, but though he has clearly been raised in the Anglo-American linguistic philosophical tradition, he has not found himself restricted by it. From the various philosophers he quotes, I'm sure that he and had had similar philosophical training. I envy the way that he can make what I learned as logical positivism (Appiah lops off the "logical") and make it relevant in a discussion of wider cultural issues. Though he obviously was trained in the tradition honed by Russell, Carnap, Frege, Ryle, Austin, Anscombe, Dummett, and the large contingent of American and British logicians and philosophers of language, none of them have informed his literary style. In fact, the two writers Appiah reminds me of most are Herodotus and Montaigne. Like them, he feels a license to bring into his discussion almost anything. If he is cosmopolitan on a moral and social level, he is also as a multidisciplinarian. Nor does he hesitate at mixing cultures. Many of the most compelling passages in the book detail incidents from his experience in Ghana. The point of the book is to discuss many of the problems that arise if one attempts to embrace--as Appiah clearly feels we all should--cosmopolitan ideals. He deals interestingly with a host of issues, from the idea of who owns the products of a culture to the incommensurability of values from one culture to another (or their possible commensurability) to whether it is problematic when there are conflicts on fundamental issues. As a person he seems to have been deeply molded by all of the cultural influences in which he grew up, but as a philosopher he is exceptionally British. Over the decades there have been a number of British thinkers who have been able to cut through a thick wad of nonsense and discuss issues in a balanced, commonsensical manner. Gilbert Ryle had this capacity, as did (sometimes) G. E. Moore, and so also Mary Midgley. While his views are unquestionably progressive, Appiah always seems to avoid extremes to arrive at conclusions that are, above all else, balanced and reasonable. He is a master at making sense. So when philosopher Peter Unger argues that we all have a moral obligation to give every penny that we do not need for our own sustenance to organizations like UNICEF and OXFAM so that food and medicine can be purchased for the desperately poor in the Third W

Becoming Cosmopolitan

One of the most pernicious ideas has spung from the myth that we are necessarily separated and segregated into groups that are defined by criteria like gender, language, race, religion or some other kind of boundary. And it is easy to see that these boundaries are a major cause of conflict. The author of this enthralling book - Kwame Anthony Appiah - challenges this kind of separative thinking by resurrecting the ancient philosophy of "cosmopolitanism." This school of thought that dates back almost 2500 years to the Cynics of Ancient Greece. They first articulated the cosmopolitan ideal that all human beings were citizens of the world. Later on, these ideas were elaborated by another group of philosophers: the Stoics. According to Appiah, the influence of cosmopolitanism has stretched down the ages and through to the Enlightenment. He takes Immanuel Kant's notion of a League of Nations and the Declaration of the Rights of Man to be two manifestations of this ancient idea. Appiah sees cosmopolitanism as a dynamic concept based on two fundamental ideas. First is the idea that we have responsibilities to others that are beyond those based on kinship or citizenship. Second is something often forgotten: just because other people have different customs and beliefs from ours, they will likely still have meaning and value. We may not agree with someone else, but mutual understanding should be a first goal. The book is full of personal experiences. I doubt that anyone else could have written it: His mother was an English author and daughter of the statesman Sir Stafford Cripps, and his father a Ghanaian barrister and politician, who reminded his children to remember that they were "citizens of the world." Appiah was educated in Ghana and England and has taught in both countries. He now holds a chair of Philosophy at Princeton. He is no starry eyed idealist, and he knows that differences between groups and nations cannot be wished away or ignored. But he contends, rightly, I think, that differences can be accepted without being allowed to become barriers. As he says, "Cosmopolitans suppose that all cultures have enough overlap in their vocabulary of values to begin a conversation. But they don't suppose, like some Universalists, that we could all come to agreement if only we had the same vocabulary." The reason is simply this: most of us arrive at our values not on the basis of careful reasoning, but by lifelong conditioning and subjective beliefs and attitudes. In parts of Europe, there have recently been misgivings about the growing diversity and multiculturalism of countries like the United Kingdom, with people asking whether it is doing no more than fracturing society. Appiah tackles this question head on. He has this to say, "If we want to preserve a wide range of human conditions because it allows free people the best chance to make their own lives, there is no place for the enforcement of diversity by trapping people within a kind of differe

Citizens of the World

In this short, brilliantly written book, Princeton philosophy professor Kwame Anthony Appiah attempts to articulate an ethical theory that applies to our current age of globalization. Taking as his starting point the writings of Diogenes, the 4th century Greek Cynic philosopher, Appiah develops a philosophy of cosmopolitanism modeled on Diogenes' "citizen of the world." A citizen of the world regards the individual rather than family, tribe, or nation as the primary focus of ethical agency. And that it is important to recognize that individuals are bound by belief systems and cultures that are not only different but may also be opposed to their own. Cosmopolitanism is an ethics somewhere between relativism and universalism that can build a working relationship between adherents of different belief systems enabling coexistance but not necessarily agreement. This is not as easy as it sounds; in fact, it doesn't even sound easy. Cosmopolitanism is, in addition to Diogenes legacy, a product of the Enlightenment in that it celebrates diversity and multiculturalism; it is tolerant of diverse moralities. However, it is intolerant of those who would deny tolerance of this diversity or plurality. This is the central dilemma of cosmopolitanism. It attempts to reconcile liberal universal values with the values of those who disagree with them. Cosmopolitanism believes in the basic freedoms, including freedom of speech but it will curb any speech that calls for restricting that freedom. This dilemma is currently playing itself out worldwide with the publication in a Danish newspaper cartoons depicting Mohammed. Denmark is a quintessential liberal country and regards mocking belief systems as a basic human right. On the other hand, for Muslim fundamentalists the content of the cartoons roils beliefs that they live and die for. Other European countries expressed solidarity with the Danes, reaffirming their rights to freedom of speech. Likewise, Muslim extremists worldwide are rioting and calling it blasphemy. Appiah is, of course, a product of Western schooling, so his position is probably more on the side of the Danes. (I'm assuming since this book was written before the incident.) Appiah's cosmpolitanism stands for enlightened liberal values, but with a difference. He recognizes that Muslim fundamentalism is a challenge to cosmopolitanism - he calls them counter-cosmopolitans - because it too is a morality, a universal one. However, Muslim fundamentalism is not a tolerant universalism. Appiah's cosmopolitanism believes in universal truth as well, "though we are less certain we already have all of it." This is not skepticism nor is it relativism, it is a more humble relationship with universal truth. Cosmopolitans believe that there are many values worth living for, its just that we cannot live for all of them, but we can live alongside them. And how will the cartoon drama play itself out? My guess is that the Muslim fundamentalists wi

Coming to Our Senses

There is, so far, no better or more mature book on moral cosmopolitanism than Appiah's Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers. In it, Appiah makes plain, by well-crafted appeals to the reader's good sense that are replete with ethnographic examples and real-world insights, what romantics and theologians have been telling us for ages: There is but a hair's breadth of difference between us; a tiny space that we can fill with causes for consternation and hatred, or with salutary joy at considering that difference. This Appiah does without in any way suggesting that there can ever be an end to the moral and cultural tensions that those differences do and must invite. He sketches the tenable cosmopolitanism we have been waiting for, and he parts company with the sentimentalist versions that remain - and should remain - in the shallow end of the pool. Appiah, here as elsewhere (The Ethics of Identity), marvels that so many intellectuals have distorted the truth about the key insights of cosmopolitans, and he takes them to task. These have argued that cosmopolitanism contains an incredible and/or dangerous set of normative proposals and disregards the "facts" of human nature (that we are an insular species, with a territoriality that is red in tooth and claw). Appiah deftly replies that it is the cultural conservative, the jejune jingoist or nationalist, the duped hyper-contextualist, whose view of the world and of human nature is distorted, for the history of human social, cultural and even sexual intercourse is replete with cross-pollinations of language, religion, art, dress, rites, metaphysical outlooks, and progeny, all bespeaking an enormous aptitude for cooperation, bonding and friendship. We are an inter-cultural, intertwined, and interdependent species, just like every other on the planet. The view of ourselves as culturally isolated is the view that bears the burden of proof. It is, in fact, demonstrably false. Appiah laments that so many philosophers and intellectuals, adopting a bad historicism, have argued, falsely, that we humans can only see the world up to the point of our own contextual "walls." He joins many - George Lakoff, Martha Nussbaum, William Sloane Coffin, Mohandis K. Gandhi, R.W. Emerson - in arguing that the greater truth of our humanity is our ability to imaginatively think new thoughts, to reconsider plans of life, to fashion new worlds of possibility, while acknowledging that each of us has a home that we should cherish, improve, perfect, and defend. However, I in turn lament that this volume has failed to address what continues to go missing in normative literature - the role of love in moral imagination. For it seems to me that it is love - a word we are so often afraid to use in our secular and public discourse - that has the most power to make proper use of that hair's breadth of difference that we often find so important, that we are so ready to murder and maim for - where we, sometimes and lamentably, len
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