Princeton Philosophy Professor Appiah Analyzes Cosmopolitanism

Kwame Anthony Appiah, winner of the Joseph B. Gittler Prize, Chair of the American Council of Learned Studies and Executive Chair of the American Philosophical Association spoke last Friday night at Kemper Auditorium. Phillips Academy invited Appiah, a philosophy professor at Princeton University, to speak about his book, “Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers.” Kevin O’Connor, Instructor in English, proposed the idea to invite Appiah. While introducing Appiah, O’Connor said that Appiah had always been on the school’s “wish list” of potential speakers. O’Connor said in an interview with The Phillipian that Appiah provided a different view of globalization, “one that is unique in comparison to speakers we have had this year.” Appiah began by explaining the roots of cosmopolitanism and the three most important elements of cosmopolitanism. Cosmopolitanism typically means the unifying of people under a group of rules or ethics. However, Appiah said that he was against the idea of “one total government.” Later, he said that a person must care for the well being of all citizens and use conversation as a manner to communicate and learn more about other citizens to be considered “cosmopolitan.” Appiah drew upon a variety of sources to support his points, ranging from the principles of John Locke to Michael Jackson. David Fox, Instructor in English, said, “He brought forth a particularly thoughtful perspective.” Appiah’s personal experiences supported his second point. He pointed to his own rearing in Kumasi, a diverse city and “a place of polyglots,” as part of the reason why he grew up to be a cosmopolitan. After growing up in Kumasi, he often spent time with his British mother’s relatives, Appiah moved to Cambridge in order to pursue his studies. When asked in an interview what prompted him to become a philosopher, Appiah said, “I originally was going to be a doctor. However, after taking a philosophy class I realized how interesting it truly was.” He continued, “The message of my talk was basically that everything is more complicated than you initially might have assumed. Cosmopolitanism cannot be described as a simple idea.” Rebecca Sykes, Associate Head of School, said, “Given the abstract nature of cosmopolitanism, and all of philosophy, it was fascinating to see him try to put in context and speak about it.” Appiah said, “The interest I have observed in the course of talking about Cosmopolitanism, especially from high school students, has been very rewarding.” The general response from students was positive. Ijioma Ejiogu ’11 said, “He was a really profound intellectual and a very good speaker.” “[The talk] had a surprising twist to an interesting and complicated issue,” said Vivian Wehner ’09. Tiffany Li ’09, said, “Professor Appiah was exactly the kind of fascinating, intellectually-substantive speaker we should invite to campus. His presentation brought campus discourse to a new level.” The Stern’s lecturer is one of the most distinguished honors the school offers. O’Connor said that past Stern’s lecturers have included poet Robert Frost and Irish poet Seamus Heaney. O’Connor said, “[Appiah] has been a wonderful complement to the speakers we’ve had. A number of the people that have spoken about globalism have been very strong in the social sciences. Professor Appiah brought a more philosophical and liberal arts perspective.”