Kwame Anthony Appiah on cosmopolitanism

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Few words are as reviled in American politics as “cosmopolitan.” The term invokes sneering, urban, elite condescension. It’s those smug cosmopolitans who led to Donald Trump’s election. It’s those rootless cosmopolitans who’re shipping jobs overseas with no thought for their home communities. Cosmopolitans. Ick. Kwame Anthony Appiah is a British-born Ghanaian-American philosopher at New York University, as well the writer of the New York Times Magazine’s “Ethicist” column. He’s also the author of the wonderful book Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers. And this is a conversation I’ve been wanting to have with him for a long time. “For most of human history, we were born into small societies of a few score people, bands of hunters and gatherers, and would see, on a typical day, only people we had known most of our lives,” Appiah writes. “Everything our long-ago ancestors ate or wore, every tool they used, every shrine at which they worshipped, was made within that group. Their knowledge came from their ancestors or from their own experiences. That is the world that shaped us, the world in which our nature was formed.”“Now, if I walk down New York’s Fifth Avenue on an ordinary day, I will have within sight more human beings than most of those prehistoric hunter-gatherers saw in a lifetime.”This, Appiah says, is the challenge we face today: how to live in a world much larger and more diverse than the one we were built for. The answer, he argues, is an ethic of cosmopolitanism — an ethic that honors our moral obligations to each other even as we recognize and respect the differences between us.In this podcast, we dive deep into Appiah’s philosophy of cosmopolitanism. What do we owe a Syrian refugee? How much more should the lives of our neighbors mean to us than the lives of those in foreign lands? When is difference something to be celebrated, and when is it something to be battled? And how did the term “cosmopolitan” become such a slur anyway?We also discuss the controversy in philosophy circles over Rebecca Tuvel’s essay on “transracial” identity, what Appiah has learned as the Ethicist, the moral quandary facing Trump staffers who want to make things better from the inside but realize that means becoming complicit in what’s done, and more. Enjoy!Books:The Philosophy of 'As If' by Hans VaihingerThings Fall Apart by Chinua AchebeAny anthology of Thomas Hardy’s poems

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