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Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers (Issues of Our Time Series) Hardcover – January 23, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

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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From 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."
Copyright © 2006 The New Yorker

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Product Details

  • Series: Issues of Our Time
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton; annotated edition edition (January 23, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393061558
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393061550
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.8 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #166,515 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About 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. He maintains a website at

Customer Reviews

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42 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Richard G. Petty on February 4, 2007
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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.
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113 of 123 people found the following review helpful By Dr. D. E. McClean on January 13, 2006
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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.
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33 of 34 people found the following review helpful By D. S. Heersink on April 20, 2006
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Appiah has written an intelligent, urbane, and concise analysis of, and prescription for, the global world we have come to inhabit. His title "Cosmopolitan" is intended to evoke its etymology, that we are "citizens of the world." Unlike Robert Wright in "The Moral Animal," Appiah rejects a one-world government, insisting we need to maintain a pluralistic system of governments for the ostensible purpose of creative enhancements, e.g., changes to the existent models through new insights, programs, and trial-and-error (hopefully, with errors corrected).

This book tackles some of the ethical issues involved as the global perspective is taking shape. Most of his prescriptions are pragmatic (Chap. 4: "Primacy of Practice"), rather than doctrinaire, evidenced most clearly in his chapter on pluralistic cultures and how best to "manage" their differences (Chap. 8: "Whose Culture Is It, Anyway?"). He clearly disdains the positivist approach ("Escape from Positivism"), yet in spite of this disdain, he keeps to the empirical side of most questions (Chap. 3: "Evidence on the Ground"). Aristotlean common-sense is offered where it's needed.

That we are all neighbors should by now be obvious (Chap. 5: "Imaginary Strangers" and passim), and while capitalism is accepted, not without its fetters. Islamic and Christian fundamentalism are reproved appropriately (Chap. 9: "The Counter-Cosmopolitans"), while the Anglican-type of latitudinarianism is espoused (without the religious particulars). "Pluralism" is our global credo, to which I heartily reply, "Amen." I often wish we recognized it as our national credo as well.
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