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Kwame Anthony Appiah

Kwame Anthony Appiah
File:Kwame Anthony Appiah by David Shankbone.jpg
Born (1954-05-08) May 8, 1954 (age 66)
London, England, United Kingdom
Era Contemporary philosophy
School Cosmopolitanism
Main interests
Probabilistic semantics, political theory, moral theory, intellectual history, race and identity theory

Kwame Anthony Appiah (/ˈæpɪɑː/ API-ah; born May 8, 1954) is a [1] philosopher, cultural theorist, and novelist whose interests include political and moral theory, the philosophy of language and mind, and African intellectual history. Kwame Anthony Appiah grew up in Ghana and earned a Ph.D. at Cambridge University. He was the Laurance S. Rockefeller University Professor of Philosophy at Princeton University,[2] before moving to New York University in 2014.[3] He currently holds an appointment at NYU’s Department of Philosophy and NYU's School of Law.[4]

Personal life and education

Appiah was born in London[5] to Enid Margaret Appiah, an art historian and writer, and Joe Emmanuel Appiah (born 16 November 1918), a lawyer, diplomat, and politician from the Asante region, once part of the British Gold Coast colony but now part of 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 the years 1977 and 1978, he was Ghana's representative at the United Nations. He died on 8 July 1990 in an Accra hospital at the age of 71.[6]

Anthony Appiah was raised in Kumasi, Ghana, and educated at Bryanston School and Clare College, Cambridge, where he earned his BA (First Class) and Ph.D. in philosophy. Appiah has three sisters: Isobel, Adwoa and Abena. As a child, he also spent a good deal of time in England, staying with his grandmother Isobel, the Honourable Lady Cripps, widow of the English statesman the Right Honourable Sir Stafford Cripps.

His family has a long political tradition: his maternal grandfather Sir Stafford was Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer (1947–50) under Clement Attlee. His great grandfather, Charles Cripps, 1st Baron Parmoor, was the Labour Leader of the House of Lords (1929–31) under Ramsay MacDonald; 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 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.[7] [8]

Through Professor Appiah's father, a Nana of the Ashanti people, he is also 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.

He lives with his husband, Henry Finder,[9] in an apartment in Chelsea, Manhattan, and a home in Pennington, New Jersey.[5] Appiah has written about what it was like growing up gay in Ghana.[10]


Kwame Anthony Appiah during a lecture and visit to Knox College in 2006.

Appiah has 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, a 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.[11] 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 the 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.[12]

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 recognized for his contributions to racial, ethnic, and religious relations when Brandeis University awarded him the first Joseph B. and Toby Glitter 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.[13] In 2010, he was named by Foreign Policy magazine on its list of top global thinkers.[14] On February 13, 2012, Appiah was awarded the National Humanities Medal at a ceremony at the White House.[15]


Appiah 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.

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.[16]

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. Which all of these 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."[17]


Appiah has been influenced by the cosmopolitanist philosophical tradition, which stretches from German philosophers such as 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 practicing 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.[18]

In his book Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers,[19] Appiah introduces two ideas that "intertwine in the notion of cosmopolitanism" (Emerging, 59). 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.”[20]

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."[21] Appiah's critique of contemporary Afrocentrism has been 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."[22]

In popular culture

See also


  • Lines of Descent: W. E. B. Du Bois and the Emergence of Identity (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014)
  • The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen. New York: W. W. Norton, 2010
  • Mi cosmopolitismo, Buenos Aires/Madrid: Katz Editores S.A, 2008, ISBN 978-84-96859-37-1 (En coedición con el Centro de Cultura Contemporánea de Barcelona)
  • Experiments in Ethics. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2008. (Trad. esp.: Experimentos de ética, Buenos Aires/Madrid: Katz Editores S.A, 2010, ISBN 978-84-92946-11-2)
  • Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers. New York: W. W. Norton, 2006. (Trad. esp.: Cosmopolitismo. La ética en un mundo de extraños, Buenos Aires/Madrid: Katz Editores S.A, 2007, ISBN 978-84-96859-08-1)
  • The Ethics of Identity, Princeton University Press, 2005. (Trad. esp.: La ética de la identidad, Buenos Aires/Madrid: Katz Editores S.A, 2007, ISBN 978-84-935432-4-2)
  • Thinking It Through: An Introduction to Contemporary Philosophy. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.
  • Africana: The Concise Desk Reference, edited with H. L. Gates Jr. Philadelphia: Running Press, 2003.
  • Kosmopolitische Patriotismus. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 2002.
  • Bu Me Bé: The Proverbs of the Akan. With Peggy Appiah, and with the assistance of Ivor Agyeman-Duah. Accra: The Center for Intellectual Renewal, 2002.
  • Color Conscious: The Political Morality of Race. With Amy Gutmann, introduction by David Wilkins. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996.
  • In My Father's House: Africa in the Philosophy of Culture. London: Methuen, 1992; New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.
  • Necessary Questions: An Introduction to Philosophy. New York: Prentice-Hall/Calmann & King, 1989.
  • For Truth in Semantics. Oxford: Blackwell's, 1986.
  • Assertion and Conditionals. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985.
  • The Politics of Culture, the Politics of Identity Toronto: Royal Ontario Museum, 2008.

Other publications


  • Another Death in Venice: A Sir Patrick Scott Investigation. London: Constable, 1995.
  • Nobody Likes Letitia. London: Constable, 1994.
  • Avenging Angel. London: Constable, 1990; New York: St. Martin's Press, 1991.

Selected essays

  • “Understanding reparations: a preliminary reflection”. Forthcoming in Cahiers d’Etudes Africaine.
  • ”Sen's identities” in Arguments for a better world: essays in honor of Amartya Sen, Volume I: Ethics, welfare, and measurement by Kanbur, Ravi and Basu, Kaushik. Oxford New York: Oxford University Press, 2009, pp. 475–488. ISBN 9780199239115
  • “Stereotypes and the Shaping of Identity.” In Prejudicial Appearances: The Logic of American Anti-Discrimination Law by Robert C. Post, with K. Anthony Appiah, Judith Butler, Thomas C. Grey, and Reva B. Siegel. Durham: Duke University Press, 2001, pp. 55–71.
  • “Grounding Human Rights.” In Human Rights As Politics and Idolatry by Michael Ignatieff with commentaries by K. Anthony Appiah, David Hollinger, Thomas W. Laqueur and Diane F. Orentlicher, edited by Amy Gutmann. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001, pp. 101–116.
  • “Aufklärung und Dialog der Kulturen,” In Zukunftsstreit, ed. by Wilhelm Krull. Weilerswist: Velbrück Wissenschaft, 2000, pp. 305–328.
  • “Yambo Ouolouguem and the Meaning of Postcoloniality.” In Yambo Ouologuem: Postcolonial Writer, Islamic Militant. Christopher Wise (ed.) Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1999, pp. 55–63.
  • “Race, Pluralism and Afrocentricity” The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, 19 (Spring 1998), pp. 116–118.
  • “Identity: Political not Cultural.” In Field Work: Sites in Literary and Cultural Studies. Marjorie Garber, Rebecca L. Walkowitz, Paul B. Franklin (eds), New York: Routledge, 1997, pp. 34–40.
  • “Is the 'Post-' in 'Postcolonial' the 'Post-' in 'Postmodern'?”. In Dangerous Liaisons. Anne McClintock, Aamir Mufti, Ella Shohat (eds and introd.) MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1997, pp. 420–444.
  • “Race, Culture, Identity: Misunderstood Connections.” The Tanner Lectures on Human Values, No. 17. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1996, pp. 51–136.
  • “Philosophy and Necessary Questions.” in Readings in African Philosophy: An Akan Collection. Safro Kwame (ed.), Washington, DC: University Press of America, 1995, pp. 1–22.
  • “Identity, Authenticity, Survival: Multicultural Societies and Social Reproduction.” In Multiculturalism: Examining "The Politics of Recognition." An essay by Charles Taylor, with commentary by Amy Gutmann (editor), K. Anthony Appiah, Jürgen Habermas, Steven C. Rockefeller, Michael Walzer, Susan Wolf. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994, pp. 149–164.
  • “The Impact of African Studies on Philosophy”, with V. Y. Mudimbe. In The Impact of African Studies on the Disciplines. Edited by Robert Bates, V. Y. Mudimbe and Jean O'Barr. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1993, pp. 113–138.
  • “African-American Philosophy?” Philosophical Forum, Vol. XXIV, Nos. 1–3 (Fall-Spring 1992–93), pp. 1–24. Reprinted in John Pittman (ed.), African-American Philosophical Perspectives and Philosophical Traditions, pp. 11–34. New York: Routledge, 1997.
  • “African Identities.” In Constructions identitaires: questionnements théoriques et études de cas. Jean-Loup Amselle, Anthony Appiah, Shaka Bagayogo, Jean-Pierre Chrétien, Jocelyne Dakhlia, Ernest Gellner, Richard LaRue, Valentin-Yves Mudimbe, Jerzy Topolski, Fernande Saint-Martin sous la direction de Bogumil Jewsiewicki et Jocelyn Létourneau, Actes du Célat No. 6, Mai 1992. CÉLAT, Université Laval, 1992.
  • “Introductory Essay.” Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. London: Everyman, 1992.
  • “Inventing an African Practice in Philosophy: Epistemological Issues.” In V. Y. Mudimbe (ed.), The Surreptitious Speech: Présence Africaine and the Politics of Otherness 1947–1987 (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1992), pp. 227–237.
  • "But would that still be me? Notes on gender, 'race,' ethnicity as sources of identity." The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. LXXXVII, No. 10 (October 1990), pp. 493–499.
  • “Alexander Crummell and the Invention of Africa.” The Massachusetts Review, Vol. XXXI, No. 3 (Autumn 1990), pp. 385–406.
  • “Tolerable Falsehoods: Agency and the Interests of Theory.” In Consequences of Theory. Barbara Johnson & Jonathan Arac (eds), Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991, pp. 63–90.
  • “Racisms.” In Anatomy of Racism. David Goldberg (ed.), Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press, 1990. pp. 3–17.
  • “Race.” In Critical Terms for Literary Study. Frank Lentricchia & Tom McLaughlin (eds), Chicago University Press, 1989, pp. 274–287.
  • “Out of Africa: Topologies of Nativism.” The Yale Journal of Criticism, 2.1, (1988) pp. 153–178.
  • “A Long Way From Home: Richard Wright in the Gold Coast.” In Richard Wright. Harold Bloom (ed.), New York: Chelsea House, Modern Critical Views, 1987, pp. 173–190.
  • “Racism and Moral Pollution.” Philosophical Forum, Vol. XVIII, Nos. 2–3 (Winter-Spring 1986–1987), pp. 185–202. *“The Uncompleted Argument: Du Bois and the Illusion of Race.” Critical Inquiry, 12 (Autumn 1985).
  • “Are We Ethnic? The Theory and Practice of American Pluralism.” Black American Literature Forum, 20 (Spring-Summer 1986), pp. 209–224.
  • "Deconstruction and the Philosophy of Language." Diacritics, Spring 1986, pp. 49–64
  • "The Importance of Triviality." Philosophical Review, 95 (April 1986), pp. 209–231.
  • "Verificationism and the Manifestations of Meaning." Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume, 59 (1985), pp. 17–31.
  • "Soyinka and the Philosophy of Culture." In Philosophy in Africa: Trends and Perspectives. P.O. Bodunrin (ed.) Ile-Ife: University of Ife Press, 1985, pp. 250–263.
  • "Generalizing the Probabilistic Semantics of Conditionals." Journal of Philosophical Logic, 13 (1985), pp. 351–372.
  • "An Argument Against Anti-realist Semantics." Mind 93 (October 1984), pp. 559–565.
  • "On Structuralism and African Fiction: An analytic critique." Black American Literature Forum, 15 (Winter 1981). In Black Literature and Literary Theory, Henry Louis Gates Jr. (ed.), London: Methuen, 1984, pp. 127–150.[24]


  1. ^ "Biography, "Kwame Anthony Appiah", Stanford Presidential Lectures in the Humanities and Arts". Retrieved 2014-01-21. 
  2. ^ Biography at Princeton University
  3. ^ NY Times: Noted Philosopher Moves to N.Y.U. — and Beyond By JENNIFER SCHUESSLER, NOVEMBER 26, 2013.
  4. ^ NYU Law welcomes renowned philosopher Kwame Appiah to the faculty
  5. ^ a b Biography, Kwame Anthony Appiah. Accessed February 15, 2011. "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.)"
  6. ^ ERIC PACEPublished: July 12, 1990 (1990-07-12). "Eric Pace, "Joe Appiah Is Dead; Ghanaian Politician And Ex-Envoy, 71", ''New York Times'', July 12, 1990. Accessed March 28, 2012". Retrieved 2014-01-21. 
  7. ^ Howard, Joseph. Visitation of England and Wales, Volume 7. England, 1899, pages 150-151.
  8. ^ Stark, James. The loyalists of Massachusetts and the other side of the American Revolution. Boston, 1910, pages 426-429.
  9. ^ "Is Race Real? How Does Identity Matter?". The Chronicle of Higher Education. April 5, 2002. 
  10. ^ "Ghanaians Like Sex Too Much to Be Homophobic". 
  11. ^ "Kwame Anthony Appiah: 2009 Inaugural Remarks | PEN World voices Festival". 2009-03-17. Retrieved 2014-01-21. 
  12. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter A" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 19 April 2011. 
  13. ^ Gannon Award: "The Gannon Award". Retrieved June 14, 2010.
  14. ^ Rothkopf, David. "''Foreign Policy Magazine''". Retrieved 2014-01-21. 
  15. ^ "Jacket Copy". Los Angeles Times. 
  16. ^ Appiah, Kwame Anthony, "Moral Disagreement" and "Kindness to Strangers" in Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers (2006), pp. 45–68, 155–174.
  17. ^ Appiah, Kwame Anthony (Winter 2009). "Is the Post- in Postmodernism the Post- in Postcolonial?". Critical Inquiry 17 (2): 336–357. 
  18. ^ Appiah, K. A. (2008). Education for Global Citizenship. In Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education. 107 (1), pp. 83–99.
  19. ^ Appiah, Kwame (2006). Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers. ISBN 0-393-06155-8
  20. ^ "Sissi Aguila, "Kwame Appiah discusses ‘World Citizenship’ at FIU", ''FIU News'', April 23, 2010". Retrieved 2014-01-21. 
  21. ^ Kwame Anthony Appiah, "Europe Upside Down: Fallacies of the New Afrocentrism" in Perspectives on Africa, ed. Richard Roy Grinker and Christopher B. Steiner (London: Blackwell Publishers, 1997), pp. 728–731.
  22. ^ "A Quick Reading of Rhetorical Jingoism: Anthony Appiah and his Fallacies | Dr. Molefi Kete Asante". Retrieved 2010-10-10. 
  23. ^ "". Retrieved 2014-01-21. 
  24. ^ a b "Kwame Anthony Appiah website". Retrieved 2014-01-21. 
  25. ^ "HERSKOVITS AT THE HEART OF BLACKNESS | Documentary Film | Independent Lens". PBS. Retrieved 2014-01-21. 

Further reading

External links

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