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.
Mi cosmopolitismo, Buenos Aires/Madrid, Katz editores S.A, 2008, ISBN 9788496859371 (En coedición con el Centro de Cultura Contemporánea de Barcelona)
Experiments in Ethics. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2008.
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 9788496859081)
The Ethics of Identity Princeton University Press, 2005. (Trad. esp.: La ética de la identidad, Buenos Aires/Madrid, Katz editores S.A, 2007, ISBN 9788493543242)
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 Gutman, 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.
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.
Early African-American Classics. (edited with an introduction) New York: Bantam, 1990.
Langston Hughes: Critical Perspectives Past and Present. Ed. with Henry Louis Gates Jr. Amistad Literary Series. New York: Amistad Press, 1993.
Zora Neale Hurston: Critical Perspectives Past and Present. Ed. with Henry Louis Gates Jr. Amistad Literary Series. New York: Amistad Press, 1993.
Toni Morrison: Critical Perspectives Past and Present. Ed. with Henry Louis Gates Jr. Amistad Literary Series. New York: Amistad Press, 1993.
Gloria Naylor: Critical Perspectives Past and Present. Ed. with Henry Louis Gates Jr. Amistad Literary Series. New York: Amistad Press, 1993.
Alice Walker: Critical Perspectives Past and Present. Ed. with Henry Louis Gates Jr. Amistad Literary Series. New York: Amistad Press, 1993.
Richard Wright: Critical Perspectives Past and Present. Ed. with Henry Louis Gates Jr. Amistad Literary Series. New York: Amistad Press, 1993.
Chinua Achebe: Critical Perspectives Past and Present. Ed. with Henry Louis Gates Jr. Amistad Literary Series. New York: Amistad Press, 1993.
Ann Petry: Critical Perspectives Past and Present. Ed. with Henry Louis Gates Jr. Amistad Literary Series. New York: Amistad Press, 1994.
Frederick Douglass: Critical Perspectives Past and Present. Ed. with Henry Louis Gates Jr. Amistad Literary Series. New York: Amistad Press, 1994.
Identities. Ed. with Henry Louis Gates Jr. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1995.
A Dictionary of Global Culture. Ed. with Henry Louis Gates Jr. New York: Knopf, 1996.
Encarta Africana. Ed. with Henry Louis Gates Jr. Redmond, Washington: Microsoft, 1999.
Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African-American Experience. Ed. with Henry Louis Gates Jr. New York: Basic-Civitas, 1999.
Encarta Africana 2000. Ed. with Henry Louis Gates Jr. Redmond, Washington: Microsoft, 1999.
The Poetry of our World: An International Anthology of Contemporary Poetry. Ed. by Jeffrey Paine with Kwame Anthony Appiah, Sven Birkerts, Joseph Brodsky, Carolyn Forché, and Helen Vendler (Edited and introduced African section.) New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2000.
Buying Freedom: The Ethics and Economics of Slave Redemption Ed. by Martin Bunzl and Kwame Anthony Appiah, with an introduction by Kevin Bales. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007.
“Understanding reparations: a preliminary reflection”. Forthcoming in Cahiers d’ Etudes Africaine.
“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. p. 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. p. 101-116.
“Aufklärung und Dialog der Kulturen,” In Zukunftsstreit, ed. by Wilhelm Krull. Weilerswist: Velbrück Wissenschaft, 2000. p. 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. p. 55-63.
“Race, Pluralism and Afrocentricity” The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, 19 (Spring 1998) p. 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. p. 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. p. 420-444.
“Race, Culture, Identity: Misunderstood Connections.” The Tanner Lectures on Human Values, No.17. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1996. p. 51-136.
“Philosophy and Necessary Questions.” in Readings in African Philosophy: An Akan Collection. Safro Kwame (ed.) Washington, DC: University Press of America, 1995. p. 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. p. 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. p. 113-138.
“African-American Philosophy?” Philosophical Forum. Vol. XXIV, Nos. 1-3 (Fall-Spring 1992-93) p. 1-24. Reprinted in African-American Philosophical Perspectives and Philosophical Traditions, p. 11-34. John Pittman (ed.) 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 The Surreptitious Speech: Présence Africaine and the Politics of Otherness 1947-1987. V.Y. Mudimbe (ed.) (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) p. 493-499.
“Alexander Crummell and the Invention of Africa.” The Massachusetts Review, Vol. XXXI, No. 3 (Autumn, 1990) p. 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 p. 63-90.
“Racisms.” In Anatomy of Racism. David Goldberg (ed.) Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press, 1990. p. 3-17.
“Race.” In Critical Terms for Literary Study. Frank Lentricchia & Tom McLaughlin (eds.) Chicago University Press, 1989. p. 274-287.
“Out of Africa: Topologies of Nativism.” The Yale Journal of Criticism, 2.1, (1988) p. 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. p. 173-190.
“Racism and Moral Pollution.” Philosophical Forum, Vol. XVIII, Nos. 2-3 (Winter-Spring, 1986-1987. p. 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) p. 209-224.
“Deconstruction and the Philosophy of Language.” Diacritics, Spring 1986, p. 49-64
“The Importance of Triviality.” Philosophical Review, 95 (April 1986) p. 209-231.
“Verificationism and the Manifestations of Meaning.” Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume, 59 (1985) p. 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. p. 250-263.
“Generalizing the Probabilistic Semantics of Conditionals.” Journal of Philosophical Logic, 13 (1985) p. 351-372.
“An Argument Against Anti-realist Semantics.” Mind 93, (October 1984) p. 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. p. 127-150.