Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers (Issues of Our Time)

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“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.

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“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.

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Editorial Reviews

The New Yorker
Appiah, a Princeton philosophy professor, articulates a precise yet flexible ethical manifesto for a world characterized by heretofore unthinkable interconnection but riven by escalating fractiousness. Drawing on his Ghanaian roots and on examples from philosophy and literature, he attempts to steer a course between the extremes of liberal universalism, with its tendency to impose our values on others, and cultural relativism, with its implicit conviction that gulfs in understanding cannot be bridged. Cosmopolitanism, in Appiah’s formulation, balances our “obligations to others” with the “value not just of human life but of particular human lives”—what he calls “universality plus difference.” Appiah remains skeptical of simple maxims for ethical behavior—like the Golden Rule, whose failings as a moral precept he swiftly demonstrates—and argues that cosmopolitanism is the name not “of the solution but of the challenge.”
Publishers Weekly
In a world more interconnected than ever, the responsibilities and obligations we share remain matters of volatile debate. Weighing in on a discourse that includes both visions of "clashing civilizations" and often equally misguided cultural relativism, Ghana-born Princeton philosopher Appiah (In My Father's House) reclaims a tradition of creative exchange and imaginative engagement across lines of difference. This cosmopolitan ethic, which he traces from the Greek Cynics and through to the U.N.'s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, must inevitably balance universals with respect for particulars. This balance comes through "conversation," a term Appiah uses literally and metaphorically to signal the depth of encounters across national, religious and other forms of identity. At the same time, Appiah stresses conversation needn't involve consensus, since living together mostly entails just getting used to one another. Amid the good and bad of globalization, the author parses some basic cultural-philosophical beliefs-drawing frequent examples from his own far-flung multicultural family as well as from impersonal relationships of exchange and power-to focus due attention on widespread and unexamined assumptions about identity, difference and morality. A stimulating read, leavened by cheerful, fluid prose, the book will challenge fashionable theories of irreconcilable divides with a practical and pragmatic worldview that revels in difference and the adventure of a shared humanity. This is an excellent start to Norton's new Issues of Our Time series. (Jan.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Foreign Affairs
In this inspiring meditation on global ethics, the eminent political philosopher Appiah poses old questions made urgent by globalization: What does it mean to be a citizen of the world? What do we owe strangers by virtue of our shared humanity? Appiah's answers emerge in an engrossing synthesis of autobiography, history, literature, and philosophy. The author's own personal story — son of an African father and English mother, raised in Ghana, educated in the United Kingdom — nicely fits the border-crossing themes of the book, the central goal of which is to rethink the moral principles of cosmopolitanism, the centuries-old tradition that rejects tribalism and nationalism in favor of a wider embrace of human community. Two strands of cosmopolitan thinking — one that stresses global obligations, one that celebrates local differences — help frame the tension between preserving local values and communities and seeking universal standards. Through anecdote and principled argumentation, Appiah tries to find an ethical terrain that allows for the flourishing of both, a cosmopolitanism in which individuals can give expression to a multiplicity of identities and loyalties while building an enlightened global community through dialogue and discovery.
Library Journal
Do we have ethical obligations to people of other cultures? Appiah, a noted analytical philosopher who grew up in the Asante region of Ghana believes that, yes, we have a duty to aid the impoverished. His cosmopolitanism (a philosophy that dates back to the 4th century B.C.E.), however, does not imply that people should abandon their own culture in a quest for the universal; rather, people have the right to preserve their own forms of life. Appiah also believes that our duty to aid others has its limits: "Each of us should do our fair share; but we cannot be required to do more." To support his view, he presents a penetrating criticism of Ethical Relativism and Positivism. In this first installment of the new series "Issues of Our Time," overseen by scholar and critic Henry Louis Gates Jr. (Afro-American studies, Harvard Univ.), Appiah provides a rich account of numerous cultures, citing such varied sources as the memoirs of British explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton and the novels of Balzac. Cosmopolitanism clearly explains key issues in moral theory and is highly recommended for all collections in philosophy and public affairs. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 9/1/05.]-David Gordon, Bowling Green State Univ., OH Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
New York Times
“Elegantly provocative. . . . Appiah is so sure-footed and gracious in his explorations that one feels engaged, hopeful, advocating his cosmopolitan ambitions.”— Edward Rothstein
Edward Rothstein - New York Times
“Elegantly provocative.”
John Gray - The Nation
“A welcome attempt to resurrect an older tradition of moral and political reflection and to show its relevance to our current condition.”
Thomas Nagel - The New Republic
“Cosmopolitanism is... of wide interest—invitingly written and enlivened by personal history.... Appiah is wonderfully perceptive and levelheaded about this tangle of issues.”
Kofi A. Annan
“[Appiah's] belief in having conversations across boundaries, and in recognizing our obligations to other human beings, offers a welcome prescription for a world still plagued by fanaticism and intolerance.”
Nadine Gordimer
“[Appiah's] exhilarating exposition of his philosophy knocks one right off complacent balance.... All is conveyed with flashes of iconoclastic humor.”
Orham Pamuk
“An attempt to redefine our moral obligations to others based on a very humane and realistic outlook and love of art.... I felt like a better person after I read it, and I recommend the same experience to others.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393061550
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 1/23/2006
  • Series: Issues of Our Time Series
  • Edition description: ANN
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.88 (w) x 8.24 (h) x 0.89 (d)

Meet the Author

Kwame Anthony Appiah, the president of the PEN American Center, is the author of The Ethics of Identity, Thinking It Through: An Introduction to Contemporary Philosophy, The Honor Code, and the prize-winning Cosmopolitanism.
Raised in Ghana and educated in England, he has taught philosophy on three continents and is currently a professor at Princeton University.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 4 )
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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 12, 2006

    important insights

    This is a fascinating book, but in the end it seems incomplete ¿ more like a collection of essays than a single book. The topic is one of vital interest. How should we think about the differences between the ways of life in various countries, and within countries? Some cultural differences seem interesting but unthreatening: spicy food or bland? Other differences go deeper: strict social control, or free-wheeling experimentalism? Can a cosmopolitan somehow stand above the whole range of differences, or is cosmopolitanism just one controversial position among the others? Appiah uses his own life as an example of cosmopolitanism: he grew up in Ghana, where his family participates actively in the traditions of the Asante, as well as those of Great Britain, and now of the whole world, as his family members now live in several countries. With this background, he is in a good position from which to discuss issues of tolerance, cultural change, and authenticity. If he criticizes those who would impose a single set of values, whether conserative or liberal, on the whole world, he is just as critical of those who value fixed cultural identities, to be preserved in the face of globalization. Appiah prefers the vision of ever- changing cultural mixtures, and global interactions going back as far as we can see into history. As an example he points out that the ¿traditional¿ African Kente cloth was always woven from oriental silk, brought to Africa by European traders, and dyed in brilliant colors using European dyes. As he sees it, Kente cloth is at the same time fully African, and fully cosmopolitan. On the critical side, some of Appiah¿s arguments are unconvincing. I thought he was unduly impressed by a sociological study done in the fifties, in which two groups of eleven-year-old boys, artificially separated, developed different ¿cultures¿. Aren¿t there enough ¿real¿ cultures to discuss? In the last chapter Appiah shifts his concern from the nature of cosmopolitanism, to the nature of the responsibility richer people have for helping poorer people. He presents a detailed critique of some claims that the well-off have an extreme moral responsibility to give up a great deal of their resources to help the poor. Appiah defends a more moderate level of responsibility. This is an interesting (and arguable) discussion, but these ethical issues don¿t seem related to questions of cosmopolitanism. I¿m afraid that the last chapter supports an American tendency to think that, in the end, the unfamiliar cultures of the world aren¿t so much subjects of interest or even curiosity, as objects of charity. I look forward to further works by this author, on all the subjects, biographical and philosophical, touched on in this book.

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