Reflections on Kwame Anthony Appiah’s Sharing with Strangers

Appiah reflections
Kwame Anthony Appiah spoke in Halifax on Thursday, March 23rd, at the University of King’s College.  CosmoLocal was one of the event sponsors. These reflections highlight a few of Dr. Appiah’s key points and situate them in terms of CosmoLocal’s focus on international collaboration.
By Brandi Estey-Burtt
PhD Candidate
Department of English, Dalhousie University


Kwame Anthony Appiah, the renowned philosopher and ethicist, feels strongly about the importance of stories.  Stories, he says, weave through projects of nationalism while also connecting people to larger ideas of their place in the world.  As he frequently points out, a major issue emerges, one that proves difficult for many people: that of believing in a story of a particular nation, through patriotism and loyalty, while situating oneself at the same time as a citizen of the cosmopolis – of the world.

Yet the two need not conflict, he suggests.  It is possible to be proud of one’s national or cultural identity while simultaneously upholding the duty to be responsible for people elsewhere in the world.  He cites his father as an example – his father melded his identity as an Ashanti with being Ghanaian as well as a citizen of the world through work with international organizations.

The idea of cosmopolitanism isn’t necessarily new – Appiah traces it back to the Greek philosopher Diogenes – but it has taken on a particular urgency given both the current rise of nationalism (a fairly recent historical development, he points out) and the increasingly interwoven world markets forged by globalization.  But cosmopolitanism, he argues, is more than just trade networks.  Instead, he sees it as a shared ethical project, one which takes a good deal of work.  National narratives often exclude certain groups, with negative consequences such as racism and xenophobia as a result.  The task is to foreground positive stories of inclusion and hospitality that build welcoming possibilities, and the arts offer one way to collaboratively construct these stories.  Though literature and art have often been used for the purposes of nation-building, they can also cultivate empathy and help forge connections across boundary lines.

While Appiah didn’t directly discuss the study of science in his talk, Cosmopolitanism and the Local in Science and Nature recognizes the important role that stories play in the history of science, technology, and medicine, as well as the philosophy of science.  The project examines the different narratives of science that are constructed and circulated in a globalized world.  Often, these stories are skewed towards Eurocentric ideas, to the detriment of highlighting the important work carried out by international scholars.  We rely on international collaboration, particularly with Indian and South Asian partners, in order to understand how such narratives of science are conceptualized and negotiated.

CosmoLocal researchers uniquely balance a commitment to local questions and learning with cosmopolitan perspectives and concerns.  Our partners investigate a broad range of issues, including science and religion, indigenous knowledge, digital objects, and rethinking the roots of the scientific revolution.  They consistently demonstrate Appiah’s insight that it is possible to care for local matters while crossing national boundaries and sharing international perspectives.

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