From 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.)
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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 behaviorlike the Golden Rule, whose failings as a moral precept he swiftly demonstratesand argues that cosmopolitanism is the name not "of the solution but of the challenge."
Copyright © 2006 The New Yorker