Posted by GhanaNation.com on
Kwame Anthony Appiah (born 1954 in London) is a Ghanaian philosopher, cultural theorist, and novelist whose interests include political and moral theo...
Kwame Anthony Appiah (born 1954 in London) is a Ghanaian philosopher, cultural theorist, and novelist whose interests include political and moral theory, the philosophy of language and mind, and African intellectual history. He is currently the Laurance S. Rockefeller University Professor of Philosophy at Princeton University.
Appiah was raised in Asante, Ghana, and educated at Bryanston School and Clare College, Cambridge, where he earned a Ph.D. in philosophy. His father was the Ghanaian politician and barrister Joe Appiah, and his mother was Peggy Cripps, a children's-book author. His family has a long political tradition: his maternal grandfather was Sir Stafford Cripps, a Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer (1947-1950) under Clement Attlee. Sir Stafford's father was Charles Cripps, 1st Baron Parmoor, the Labour Leader of the House of Lords (1929-1931) under Ramsay MacDonald; Parmoor had been a Conservative MP before defecting to Labour.
Appiah has taught philosophy and African and African-American studies at the University of Ghana, Cambridge, Duke, Cornell, Yale, Harvard, and Princeton Universities. He is currently Laurance S. Rockefeller University Professor of Philosophy at Princeton (with a cross-appointment at the University Center for Human Values) and will serve as the Bacon-Kilkenny Professor of Law at Fordham University in the fall of 2008. Appiah also served on the board of PEN American Center, and was on a panel of judges for the PEN/Newman's Own Award. He is openly gay and lives with his partner, Henry Finder, in an apartment in [[Chelsea, Manhattan]and a home in Pennington, N.J.
In 1992, Appiah published In My Father's House, which won the Herskovitz Prize for African Studies in English; among his later books are Colour Conscious (with Amy Gutmann), The Ethics of Identity, which appeared in 2005, and Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers (2006). He has been a close collaborator with Henry Louis Gates Jr., together with whom he is an editor for Transition Magazine.
In 2008, Appiah published Experiments in Ethics (Harvard University Press), in which he reviews the relevance of empirical research to ethical theory.
Appiah is the 2009 finalist in the arts and humanities and potential first ever recipient of the Eugene R. Gannon Award for the Continued Pursuit of Human Advancement
As a respected western intellectual, he argues that the formative denotation of culture is ultimately preceded by the efficacy of intellectual interchange. From this position, his views on the efficacy of organizations such as UNICEF and OXFAM are notable for their duality: on the one hand he seems to appreciate the immediate action these organizations provide while on the other hand he points out the long-term futility of such intervention.
His focus is, instead, on the long-term political and economic development of nations according to the Western capitalist/ democratic model, an approach that relies on continued growth in the “marketplace” that is the capital-driven modern world.
In “Under Western Eyes, Revisited,” Chandra Talpade Mohanty refers to this as the colonization of corporate globalization, something that is Eurocentric and which presumes that capitalism is or should be universally valued as a way of life and modernity (234-237).
However, when capitalism is introduced and it does not “take off” as in the Western world, the livelihood of the peoples involved is at stake. Thus, the ethical questions involved are certainly complex, yet the general impression in Appiah’s “Kindness to Strangers” is one which implies that it is not up to “us” to save the poor and starving, but up to their own governments. Nation-states must assume responsibility for their citizens, and a cosmopolitan’s role is to appeal to “our own” government to ensure that these nation-states respect, provide for, and protect their citizens.
If they will not, “we” are obliged to change their minds; if they cannot, “we” are obliged to provide assistance, but only our “fair share,” that is, not at the expense of our own comfort, or the comfort of those “nearest and dearest” to us.
Appiah's early philosophical work dealt with probabilistic semantics and theories of meaning, but his more recent books have tackled philosophical problems of race and racism, identity, and moral theory. He has been influenced by the cosmopolitanist philosophical tradition, which stretches from German philosophers such as Hegel through W. E. B. Du Bois and others.
His first novel, Avenging Angel, set in the University of Cambridge, involved a murder among the Cambridge Apostles. His second and third novels are Nobody Likes Letitia and Another Death in Venice.
Criticism of Afrocentric World View
Appiah has been a critic of contemporary theories of Afrocentrism. In his essay "Europe Upside Down: Fallacies of the New Afrocentrism," Appiah argues that current Afrocentricism is striking for "how thoroughly at home it is in the frameworks of nineteenth century European thought," particularly as a mirror image to Eurocentric constructions of race and a preoccupation with the ancient world. Appiah also finds an irony in the conception that if the source of the "West" lies in ancient Egypt via Greece, then "its legacy of ethnocentrism is presumably one of our moral liabilities. Appiah's critique of contemporary Afrocentrism has been strongly criticized by some of its leading proponents, such as Temple University African American Studies scholar and activist Molefi Asante, who has characterized Appiah's work as "anti-African."
Other media appearances
Appeared alongside a number of contemporary philosophers in Astra Taylor's 2008 film Examined Life and discussed his views on cosmopolitanism.