Kwame Anthony Appiah
|Born||8 May 1954|
|Alma mater||Clare College, Cambridge|
|Thesis||Conditions for conditionals (1981)|
|Probabilistic semantics, political theory, moral theory, intellectual history, race and identity theory|
Kwame Akroma-Ampim Kusi Anthony Appiah // AP-ee-ah; born 8 May 1954) is a philosopher, cultural theorist, and novelist whose interests include political and moral theory, the philosophy of language and mind, and African intellectual history. Appiah was the Laurance S. Rockefeller University Professor of Philosophy at Princeton University, before moving to New York University (NYU) in 2014. He holds an appointment at the NYU Department of Philosophy and NYU's School of Law. Appiah was elected President of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in January 2022.(
Appiah was born in London, England, to Peggy Cripps Appiah (née Cripps), an English art historian and writer, and Joe Appiah, a lawyer, diplomat, and politician from Ashanti Region, Ghana. For two years (1970–72) Joe Appiah was the leader of a new opposition party that was made by the country's three opposing parties. Simultaneously, he was the president of the Ghana Bar Association. Between 1977 and 1978, he was Ghana's representative at the United Nations. He died in an Accra hospital in 1990.
Kwame Anthony Appiah was raised in Kumasi, Ghana, and educated at Bryanston School and Clare College, Cambridge, where he earned his BA (First Class) and PhD degrees in philosophy. He has three sisters: Isobel, Adwoa and Abena. As a child, he spent a good deal of time in England, staying with his grandmother Dame Isobel Cripps, widow of the English statesman Sir Stafford Cripps.
Appiah's mother's family has a long political tradition: Sir Stafford was a nephew of Beatrice Webb and was Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer (1947–50) under Clement Attlee; his father, Charles Cripps, was Labour Leader of the House of Lords (1929–31) as Lord Parmoor in Ramsay MacDonald's government; Parmoor had been a Conservative MP before defecting to Labour.
Through his grandmother Isobel Cripps, Appiah is a descendant of John Winthrop and the New England Winthrop family of Boston Brahmins as one of his ancestors, Robert Winthrop, was a Loyalist during the American Revolutionary War and migrated to England, becoming a distinguished Vice Admiral in the British Navy.[failed verification] Through Isobel, he is also descended from the British pharmacist James Crossley Eno.
Through Professor Appiah's father, a Nana of the Ashanti people, he is a direct descendant of Osei Tutu, the warrior emperor of pre-colonial Ghana, whose reigning successor, the Asantehene, is a distant relative of the Appiah family. Also among his African ancestors is the Ashanti nobleman Nana Akroma-Ampim I of Nyaduom, a warrior whose name the Professor now bears.
He lives with his husband, Henry Finder, an editorial director of The New Yorker, in an apartment in Manhattan, and a home in Pennington, New Jersey with a small sheep farm. Appiah has written about what it was like growing up gay in Ghana.
Appiah became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1997. His nephew is the actor Adetomiwa Edun.
Appiah taught philosophy and African-American studies at the University of Ghana, Cornell, Yale, Harvard, and Princeton Universities from 1981 to 1988. He was, until recently, the Laurance S. Rockefeller University Professor of Philosophy at Princeton (with a cross-appointment at the University Center for Human Values) and was serving 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 First Amendment Award. He has taught at Yale, Cornell, Duke, and Harvard universities and lectured at many other institutions in the US, Germany, Ghana and South Africa, and Paris. Until the fall of 2009, he served as a trustee of Ashesi University College in Accra, Ghana. Currently, he is a professor of philosophy and law at NYU.
His Cambridge dissertation explored the foundations of probabilistic semantics. 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 (2005), and Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers (2006). He has been a close collaborator with Henry Louis Gates Jr., with whom he edited Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African-American Experience. Appiah was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1995.
In 2008, Appiah published Experiments in Ethics, in which he reviews the relevance of empirical research to ethical theory. In the same year, he was recognised for his contributions to racial, ethnic, and religious relations when Brandeis University awarded him the first Joseph B. and Toby Gittler Prize.
As well as his academic work, Appiah has also published several works of fiction. His first novel, Avenging Angel, set at the University of Cambridge, involved a murder among the Cambridge Apostles; Sir Patrick Scott is the detective in the novel. Appiah's second and third novels are Nobody Likes Letitia and Another Death in Venice.
Appiah has been nominated for, or received, several honours. He was the 2009 finalist in the arts and humanities for the Eugene R. Gannon Award for the Continued Pursuit of Human Advancement. In 2010, he was named by Foreign Policy magazine on its list of top global thinkers. On 13 February 2012, Appiah was awarded the National Humanities Medal at a ceremony at the White House.
Appiah currently chairs the jury for the Berggruen Prize, and serves on the Berggruen Institute's Philosophy & Culture Center's Academic Board. He was elected as President of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in January 2022.
Appiah argues that the formative denotation of culture is preceded by the efficacy of intellectual interchange.[clarification needed] From this position he views organisations such as UNICEF and Oxfam in two lights: on the one hand he seems to appreciate the immediate action these organisations provide while on the other he points out their long-term futility. 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.
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. His current work tackles three major areas: 1. the philosophical foundations of liberalism; 2. the questioning of methods in arriving at knowledge about values; and 3. the connections between theory and practice in moral life, all of which concepts can also be found in his book Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers.
On postmodern culture, Appiah writes, "Postmodern culture is the culture in which all postmodernisms operate, sometimes in synergy, sometimes in competition; and because contemporary culture is, in a certain sense to which I shall return, transnational, postmodern culture is global – though that emphatically does not mean that it is the culture of every person in the world."
Appiah has been influenced by the cosmopolitanist philosophical tradition, which stretches from German philosophers such as G. W. F. Hegel through W. E. B. Du Bois and others. In his article "Education for Global Citizenship", Appiah outlines his conception of cosmopolitanism. He therein defines cosmopolitanism as "universality plus difference". Building from this definition, he asserts that the first takes precedence over the latter, that is: different cultures are respected "not because cultures matter in themselves, but because people matter, and culture matters to people." But Appiah first defined it as its problems but ultimately determines that practising a citizenship of the world and conversation is not only helpful in a post-9/11 world. Therefore, according to Appiah's take on this ideology, cultural differences are to be respected in so far as they are not harmful to people and in no way conflict with our universal concern for every human's life and well-being.
In his book Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers (2006), Appiah introduces two ideas that "intertwine in the notion of cosmopolitanism" (Emerging, 69). The first is the idea that we have obligations to others that are bigger than just sharing citizenship. The second idea is that we should never take for granted the value of life and become informed of the practices and beliefs of others. Kwame Appiah frequents university campuses to speak to students. One request he makes is, "See one movie with subtitles a month."
In Lies that Bind (2018), Appiah attempts to deconstruct identities of creed, colour, country, and class.
Appiah has been a critic of contemporary theories of Afrocentrism. In his 1997 essay "Europe Upside Down: Fallacies of the New Afrocentrism," he 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."
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Professor Appiah has homes in New York city and near Pennington, in New Jersey, which he shares with his partner, Henry Finder, Editorial Director of the New Yorker magazine. (In Pennington, they have a small sheep farm.)