Though their world of isolated clans shaped our natures, we live in a world where our most trivial deeds can affect unknown millions on the other side of the globe. Kwame Anthony Appiah, an Anglo-Ghanaian philosophy professor based at Princeton, proposes two principles to enable us to cope with this situation. We are, he asserts, responsible for every other human being. This may seem vapid - the kind of pious over-statement beloved of international organisations. But Appiah takes it seriously, and tries to impose realistic limits on an apparently open-ended duty.
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Though their world of isolated clans shaped our natures, we live in a world where our most trivial deeds can affect unknown millions on the other side of the globe. Kwame Anthony Appiah, an Anglo-Ghanaian philosophy professor based at Princeton, proposes two principles to enable us to cope with this situation.
We are, he asserts, responsible for every other human being. This may seem vapid - the kind of pious over-statement beloved of international organisations.
But Appiah takes it seriously, and tries to impose realistic limits on an apparently open-ended duty. By refusing to equate not saving a person with killing him, except where propinquity places us in a special relationship to his death, Appiah argues that we are not obliged to give all our material wealth to aid the third world. He thinks it may seem shocking that he defends going to the opera when children are dying. According to him, we can do most good not by depriving ourselves of pleasures, but by pondering on the root causes of these ills, and influencing larger policy decisions.
This raises the question of how we are to respect cultural diversity and yet not condone cruel and barbarous social practices, such as the stoning of an adulteress. Can Appiah prevent his cosmopolitanism from degenerating into an "anything goes" morality? Relativism, he tells us, arises out of a scientific view that sharply distinguishes facts from values.
Facts, on this view, are out there in the world, and since there is only one world, our beliefs are true when they correspond with the facts.
Values are merely matters of taste and so immune from rational criticism: if stoning an adulteress is regarded as good by certain societies, it is good for them. Appiah resists this conclusion by arguing that values are more tethered to reason than is here allowed.
We do not learn that kindness is good, or cruelty evil, by experience as we learn that chocolate is nice. Goodness is integral to kindness, and evil to cruelty, so that in grasping these concepts we recognise that we all have good reason to be kind, and to abhor cruelty. It is because we value kindness that we want people to be kind, not the other way around. The westerner does not see viruses invading cells any more than the Asante sees witches producing their malign effects.
When scientists looked at photographs of cloud chambers they saw fuzzy lines which it was rational to interpret as the paths of electrons only because of prior theoretical beliefs. However, he rejects the view that we cannot adjudicate between beliefs in witchcraft and viruses. The former, he declares, are false, the latter true; the theories and ideas of science are "far superior" to those of pre-scientific societies.
Surely, if these beliefs are scientific, he is begging the question in favour of science, and his retreat from relativism is blocked. Drawing vividly upon his experiences of growing up in Ghana, Appiah argues that moral and religious disagreement between cultures is overstated.
Taboos, such as that against eating red pepper on Wednesdays, cannot be brought under familiar moral principles, but we know what it is like to feel polluted.
Aspects of western culture - radios, Coca-cola, a passion for football - have spread to remote Ghanaian villages, and so aid mutual understanding. Where disagreements are real, it is rarely a problem unique to cosmopolitanism since they also occur - consider the controversy over homosexuality - within societies. Conflicts sometimes arise because we share the same value: Palestinians and Israelis clash over Jerusalem because they prize it equally.
Princeton University Press. These may be conservative times, but liberal political theory is poised to make a comeback. And not just the chilly sort that flickers in the hearts of libertarians, but a variety that seeks to revive the traditions of tolerance, pluralism and respect for both individual and group rights that animated liberal thought for the greater part of the last two centuries. Affirmative action, gay marriage, the human rights movement, even the teaching of evolution in the public schools: just about all the hot-button controversies of our moment turn on the scope and limits of individual and group rights Mill attempted to sort out more than a century ago. No wonder, then, that Mill has been claimed by both the left and the right: the N. Appiah uses Mill -- who, over the course of the book, becomes more its touchstone, less its subject -- to focus ethical attention on the notion of identity.
Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers. Not only did cosmopolitans have a very capacious view of the duties we all owed to strangers in foreign lands, but they also suggested that our affinities and affections for our families, friends, and fellow countrypeople likely stood in need of substantial justification. They argued, quite reasonably, that all human beings were entitled to the same concern and respect — and that we are only being parochial when we construct theories of distributive justice that exclude classes of persons and peoples. Ultimately, many cosmopolitans had to accommodate what seems like a psychological imperative: that we have duties first and foremost to our intimates, for what use is a moral system that is wholly out of touch with the people it purports to guide? Those old-school, hard-core cosmopolitans demanded a lot from our sympathetic imaginations in getting us to feel the pain of distant others and from our wallets in suggesting that our moral and political duties required very substantial financial commitments to alleviate that distant pain.