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on March 25, 2015
Reading through Appiah’s Cosmopolitanism, I was pretty fascinated by the fact that references to its underlying concept date back to the fourth century BC, which interestingly, was a time where this term’s very meaning could not have been understood in the manner as we possibly can grasp it today.

Interestingly, I had watched a TED talk by Appiah not too long back in which he had drawn a comparison between the Asante community and the Western world to note that in case of the former, there were a set of assumptions dictated by religion, which any explanation of either the physical or the spiritual had to satisfy before possibly gaining widespread acceptance. In this regard, Appiah’s example of the virus being the basis of some of the diseases and the parallel explanation for that through witchcraft as understood in his Asante community, was pretty insightful.

In chapter 7, Appiah speaks approvingly of the exchange (or contamination) that comes about as a result of globalization. While the benefits he attributes to this process are significant, he fails to properly identify the associated harms. An example of such a harm can be drawn from Equiano’s description of how slave traders who brought European goods to exchange for slaves, essentially incited the natives to indulge in slave trade and consequently, disrupted the previously established economic equilibrium of the native community.

While I enjoyed reading Cosmopolitanism, I couldn’t help but sense its utopian nature, which we can attempt to approximate but are not very likely to attain.
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on July 4, 2017
Kwame Appiah is a unique writer because his life has been unique. (How many of us weave effortlessly between worlds of African royalty and American academia?)

If you can handle reading many ideas at once without needing a clear, direct path to any particular conclusion, you will be able to appreciate Appiah. Though he wants you to see something particular, he's unable to express it without giving you numerous anecdotes in a haphazard, avuncular way. I love hearing interesting stories from well-traveled people, so I enjoyed the book, especially its two main points:

"What is reasonable for you to think...depends on what ideas you already have."

Talk, discuss, and be curious--it will help us "get used to one another," and in this prosaic method, bring peace and tolerance.

These are seemingly simple concepts, but Appiah--with his diverse background--is able to express them in ways a less-traveled person cannot. Pick up the book, and enjoy the journey.
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on March 10, 2015
Solid ideas and food for thought wrapped in a dense package making it a slow, hard read. The author incorporates his personal experience effectively, but unfortunately it is without much humor or playfulness. Idea after idea, theory after theory, he makes his way to a satisfying conclusion.
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on March 16, 2016
I got this book a while ago and still go back to reread the book. It's about cultures and its influences on a human nature. Since the author carries more than one culture within himself, he provides great examples of what it is like to see the world through many unlike perspectives that have been formed under different cultures.
Thought provoking. Definitely recommend.
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on February 5, 2013
Philosophy is hard. Approach starts with a conversational tone and many interesting stories about his family and his native Ghana. Perhaps it's easier for him to see how we should take on our responsibilities for the other people in the world because he's had to adapt to so many changes in cultures.. He discusses intellectual and artistic properties and where they rightly belong, but doesn't in any way talk about social media and how it is drawing the world closer together. I think he's interesting, but still very hard to understand.
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on April 20, 2006
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.

He forthrightly repudiates Singer's and Unger's utilitarian "moral calculi," and extols a person-centered ethic in their stead. He also insists that the "stranger" is no longer an alien, and we still need to heed the New Testament's advice (Rom. 12:11: "Contribute to the needs of the saints, extend hospitality to strangers"). Indeed, we all come "at" our situations with different assumptions and histories, and, with some obvious exceptions, we owe each other respect as we "converse" in hopes of appreciating our differences and understanding our common ground.

Multiculturalism, besides being incoherent, is not the solution, because "original cultures" are a myth, and not all cultures are "equal." He takes issue with cultural "contamination" and its typical reaction of "disgust," offering examples of inappropriate stigmitization (e.g., homosexuality, unusual religious beliefs, etc.). Only when we recognize each other as "fellow citizens," and respect everyone enough to engage them seriously, then we're on the course to mutual respect, pluralistic tolerance, and genuine concern. And the Golden Rule, while not perfect, isn't a bad place to start. Ultimately, there is no "us" vs. "them," for we're all citizens of the same world.
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on July 23, 2015
It's a very good book but it was a little difficult to read at first. I had to reread it a couple of times to understand.
It did have a lot of notes with pen which was a little annoying but it was a used book so i cant complaint.
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on February 15, 2015
I've read many books, but none ever spoke to me so closely to who I am than this one. This book is very much about the cosmopolitan world and my own thoughts very much align with many of the author. I think I found my "people" within the examples.
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on August 22, 2010
We can move to a better neighborhood or to a different country. But all humanity is our neighbor, like them or not.

Mr. Appiah, the renowned Princeton philosophy professor, challenges us with the paradox of a common humanity, among which, different ethnic and religious groups often do not share customs, or even the same values. The Cosmopolitan thesis is that, despite being strangers in many ways, our common humanity provides a basis for mutual respect and compassion.

What anchors the paradox at one end is that, for most of human history, we knew only our own kind, with limited need to understand, let alone to accept, the customs of people in other groups. Over the last few centuries, increased trade and communication, as well as industrial pollution and international terrorism, has changed framework. Since our actions can affect "lives everywhere," ethical living implies responsibilities beyond our immediate environment and social group. Humanity has become, in a sense, one "tribe."

Mr. Appiah reminds us that the view of being a citizen of the world reflects intellectual traditions at least as old as classical times; that Marcus Aurelius, whose works were attractive to many Christian intellectuals, himself sought to suppress Christianity; that, then again, Christianity, whose allegiances have often fueled persecution, originally spread from Paul's assertion of "neither Jew nor Greek . . . . for ye are all one in Christ Jesus." Yet, Mr. Appiah also reminds us, respect for those different includes respect for their freedom to be separate, as in the case of the Amish in the United States.

If you find yourself often straddling the same paradox and long to find a partner in the journey, you will find one in Mr. Appiah's short (196 pp.), varied, and challenging book. He provides examples of agreeing, yet agreeing to disagree. The non-Muslim for example, would agree on the devout's right to make a hajj to Mecca, but may not agree that a Deity has commanded it, or that avoiding pork is appropriate. The paradox is exemplified in explanations of the natural world. Even an agreement on facts leaves ambiguity in theories; e.g., whether it is germs or (many tiny) spirits that cause disease. Mr. Appiah makes a case that there are even fewer compelling arguments based on fact in the determination of values. The journey continues to the Ghana of the author's father, where we find out about "taboos" dealing with bush meat and menstruating women. A distinction made here is that, while taboos separate peoples, or classes within peoples (rulers, nobles, and slaves), morals differ in that they guide us in the treatment of others, so a taboo is a distinction with less of a difference. Even so, taboos are common to all cultures; westerners eat pigs but not cats.

A cosmopolitan understands and can live with difference, even when the differences are mutually understood. A "universalist," on the other hand, expects agreement through understanding. Mr. Appiah has us step back from taboos, to the more engaging questions of values. Still, while most people in a society value fair punishment, not all agree that punishment is worth the risk of punishing the innocent; while men in different societies relate their honor to the chastity of related women, not all of these men would agree that honor compels killing a woman who is raped. We find that reasoned argument does not compel either of these positions to those taking them. There seems to be a sort of getting "used to," that even a great mathematician (von Neumann) would endorse as reason's companion.

Mr. Appiah's treads lightly across serious subjects, and perhaps that is a cosmopolitan virtue. He contends that strangers are beyond communication mainly when they are imaginary; that is, when they are people we have not met one-to-one. Also, that, among diversity, there are inevitable commonalities: "I have failed to get people interested in Zeno's paradox in three continents." That, when caring about others requires an "out-group," one's caring is perhaps mere self-comfort.

Mr. Appiah explores the concept of cultural preservation. He proposes a difference between preserving culture and preserving cultures. He challenges the idea of "authenticity," as limited by the facts of history, such as the role of trade in the development of kente cloth and bagpipes. The need to "preserve" is argued as an ignorance of how free non-Westerners are to interpret American TV and consumer products. At worst, an attitude of cultural preservation condescends. We learn that the ancients saw the value of "contamination": stoic teachers traveling between city states, an African-born playwright, Publius Terentius Afer, using Greek ideas in Roman drama. We are offered, quoting this playright, a golden rule: "I am human: nothing is alien to me."

We are given a glimpse of the founder of the scouting movement, collecting (or looting?), as a prelude to a discussion of cultural objects. Mr. Appiah takes us to the question of whether a Norse goblet is more valuable in a Spanish museum or in a Norwegian family's living room. Cosmopolitanism proposes that the connection through ethnic identity across centuries is no less real than the connection through a common humanity.

Mr. Appiah includes some discussion of counter-cosmopolitans, for example, Islamic fundamentalists, to help us understand by way of contrast. The universal aspect in this case, and in others, is one that looks beyond borders or ethnicity, and excludes those who disbelieve. This discussion evokes the cosmopolitan understanding that different people will have different values, and that this is quite acceptable (with some exception for values not worth having). The cosmopolitan knows that one can learn from those with whom one disagrees. The counter-cosmopolitan sees nothing to be gained by reaching out from the faithful.

Finally, we are given the author's reflection on questions of sacrifice for the benefit of others. So, how much would we sacrifice to save the life of a child in a foreign country with nutrition and medicine? One hundred dollars? If that much, why not more - say, another hundred dollars. Or is there a point when it's more important to go the opera? And - is it really possible to save another's life for more than a few days, given the harsh realities of their life situation. Is it as easy as deciding to ruin a suit in order to save a child from drowning, and why? What is the principle behind the answers to these questions, if there is one.

The journey continues: Mr. Appiah provides an informative and provocative guide to how to treat strangers, meant of course, in the large. I do not guarantee the reader will find comfortable answers, only insights and surprising information, and that your answers, which are how you actually live, will now have questions to challenge them.
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on July 1, 2011
In my opinion this book deserves considerably less acclaim than it appears to have received. As a modest call for understanding among cultural groups, who could disagree? Appiah, however, himself a product of two contrasting cultures, here takes on a more daunting task: reconciling his respect for the cultures of both his African father and English mother, but the result is a rather incoherent narrative, especially in chapters 2 and 3. This is perhaps best demonstrated by two statements that appear on p-42. In defense of his paternal culture, he first writes "There is nothing unreasonable, then, about my kinsmen's belief in witchcraft." His word "then" is a reflection of his claim, made on the previous pages, that the "Duhem thesis" allows him to argue that all attempts to grasp reality are culturally conditioned and can therefore be regarded as "valid" within the cultures in which they arise. However, this claim seriously misconstrues the Duhem thesis, with Appiah's arguments reflecting the postmodernist thinking of the "science wars" era of some 30 years ago that is now largely discredited. But then comes his second statement as his mother's culture comes to the fore: "What's wrong with the theory of witchcraft is not that it doesn't make sense but that it isn't true." In these two statements one can see the tension in Appiah's struggle to reconcile his bicultural upbringing. That his Asante father really believes he is communicating with his ancestors when he pours whiskey on the floor (p-34) may be interesting, but that is hardly a convincing alternative to the scientific worldview of his maternal forebearers.

Another problem is Appiah's seeming unawareness that "culture" can be a literal prison for a sensitive person raised within it. In defense of what used to be called "female genital mutilation" he here (p-73) tells African women that the operation can be regarded as "an expression of your cultural identity." Try telling that to Hirsi Ali, whose efforts to free herself, at considerable personal risk, of the bonds of a very similar cultural background after having received such a "cultural identity" mark has attracted worldwide attention. Also unmentioned by him is any recognition that over the span of human history it has often been precisely those who found the courage to think and act in opposition to their cultural heritage who became some of humanity's greatest benefactors. When confronted by epilepsy Jesus saw only a boy possessed by demons, but 400 years earlier while discussing that same disease Hippocrates mocked his cultural compatriots and their demon-haunted world by claiming that epilepsy was nothing more than the result of natural causes, and he thereby laid the foundations for the long journey that culminated in the benefits of modern medicine. Appiah's primary motivation seems to be a desire to step on no one's toes, but his efforts are unconvincing, and he might well have considered these comments of Edward Grant, a major figure in understanding the history of science. While speaking of the cultural backwardness of medieval Europe when faced by the superior cultures of the Middle East, Grant wrote:

"Latin scholars in the 12th century recognized that not all cultures are equal. They were painfully aware that with respect to science and natural philosophy, their civilization was manifestly inferior to that of Islam. They faced an obvious choice: learn from their superiors or remain inferior forever. They chose to learn. Had they assumed that all cultures were equal . . . they would have had no reason to seek out Arab learning and the glorious scientific legacy that followed would not have occurred."

Well said, even though Appiah provides little evidence of grasping the significance of such a perspective.
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