Kwame Anthony Appiah

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Kwame Anthony Appiah
Kwame Anthony Appiah by David Shankbone.jpg
Born Kwame Akroma-Ampim Kusi Anthony Appiah
May 8, 1954 (age 62)
London, England, United Kingdom
Academic background
Alma mater Clare College, Cambridge
Thesis title Conditions for conditionals
Thesis url https://www.worldcat.org/oclc/52897706
Thesis year 1981
School or tradition Cosmopolitanism
Influences G. W. F. Hegel, W. E. B. Du Bois, John Rawls
Academic work
Era Contemporary philosophy
Main interests Probabilistic semantics, political theory, moral theory, intellectual history, race and identity theory
Partner        Henry Finder

Kwame Akroma-Ampim Kusi Anthony Appiah (/ˈæpɪɑː/ API-ah; born May 8, 1954) is a British-born Ghanaian-American[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 the NYU 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, 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 (1970–1972) 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 1977 and 1978, he was Ghana's representative at the United Nations. He died in an Accra hospitall.[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.[7] 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.[8][9]

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,[10] in an apartment in Manhattan, and a home in Pennington, New Jersey.[5] Appiah has written about what it was like growing up gay in Ghana.[11]


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

Appiah 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.[12] 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.[13]

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.[14] In 2010, he was named by Foreign Policy magazine on its list of top global thinkers.[15] On February 13, 2012, Appiah was awarded the National Humanities Medal at a ceremony at the White House.[16]


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.[17]

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."[18]



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.[19]

In his book Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers,[20] Appiah introduces two ideas that "intertwine in the notion of cosmopolitanism" (Emerging, 69). 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.”[21]

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."[22] 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."[23]

In popular culture

See also



  • Appiah, Anthony (1985). Assertion and conditionals. Cambridge Studies in Philosophy Series. Cambridge Cambridgeshire New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521304115.
  • Appiah, Anthony (1986). For truth in semantics. Philosophical Theory Series. Oxford, UK New York, NY, USA: B. Blackwell. ISBN 9780631145967.
  • Appiah, Anthony (1989). Necessary questions: an introduction to philosophy. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall. ISBN 9780136113287.
  • Appiah, Kwame Anthony (1992). In my father's house: Africa in the philosophy of culture. London / New York: Methuen / Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195068511.
  • Appiah, K. Anthony; Gutmann, Amy (1996). Color conscious: the political morality of race. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. ISBN 9780691026619.
  • Appiah, K. Anthony; Appiah, Peggy; Agyeman-Duah, Ivor (2007) [2002]. Bu me bɛ: proverbs of the Akans (2nd ed.). Oxfordshire, UK: Ayebia Clarke. ISBN 9780955507922.
  • Appiah, Anthony (2001). Kosmopolitischer Patriotismus (in German). Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp. ISBN 9783518122303.
  • Appiah, Kwame Anthony; Gates Jr., Henry Louis, eds. (2003). Africana: the encyclopedia of the African and African American experience: the concise desk reference. Philadelphia: Running Press. ISBN 9780762416424.
  • Appiah, Kwame Anthony (2003). Thinking it through: an introduction to contemporary philosophy. Oxford New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195134582.
  • Appiah, Kwame Anthony (2005). The ethics of identity. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. ISBN 9780691130286.
Translated as: Appiah, Kwame Anthony (2007). La Ética de la identidad (in Spanish). Buenos Aires, Madrid: Katz Editores. ISBN 9788493543242.
  • Appiah, Anthony Kwame (2006). Cosmopolitanism: ethics in a world of strangers. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. ISBN 9780141027814.
Translated as: Appiah, Kwame Anthony (2007). Cosmopolitismo: la ética en un mundo de extraños (in Spanish). Buenos Aires, Madrid: Katz Editores. ISBN 9788496859081.
Translated as: Appiah, Kwame Anthony (2010). Experimentos de ética (in Spanish). Buenos Aires, Madrid: Katz Editores. ISBN 9788492946112.

Book chapters

  • Appiah, Anthony (1984), "Strictures on structures: the prospects for a structuralist poetics of African fiction", in Gates, Jr., Henry Louis, Black literature and literary theory, New York: Methuen, pp. 127–150, ISBN 9780415903349.
  • Appiah, Anthony (1985), "Soyinka and the philosophy of culture", in Bodunrin, P.O., Philosophy in Africa: trends and perspectives, Ile-Ife, Nigeria: University of Ife Press, pp. 250–263, ISBN 9789781360725.
  • Appiah, Anthony (1987), "A long way from home: Richard Wright in the Gold Coast", in Bloom, Harold, Richard Wright, Modern Critical views Series, New York: Chelsea House Publishers, pp. 173–190, ISBN 9780877546399.
  • Appiah, Anthony (1990), "Race", in Lentricchia, Frank; McLaughlin, Tom, Critical terms for literary study, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 274–287, ISBN 9780226472027.
  • Appiah, Anthony (1990), "Racisms", in Goldberg, David, Anatomy of racism, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, pp. 3–17, ISBN 9780816618040.
  • Appiah, Anthony (1991), "Tolerable falsehoods: agency and the interests of theory", in Johnson, Barbara; Arac, Jonathan, Consequences of theory, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, pp. 63–90, ISBN 9780801840456.
  • Appiah, Anthony (1992), "Inventing an African practice in philosophy: epistemological issues", in Mudimbe, Valentin-Yves, The surreptitious speech: Présence Africaine and the politics of otherness, 1947-1987, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 227–237, ISBN 9780226545073.
  • Appiah, Kwame Anthony (1992), "Introduction", in Achebe, Chinua, Things fall apart, Everyman's Library Series, No. 135, New York: Knopf Distributed by Random House, pp. ix–xvii, ISBN 9780679446231.
  • Appiah, Anthony (1992), "African identities", in Amselle, Jean-Loup; Appiah, Anthony; Bagayogo, Shaka; Chrétien, Jean-Pierre; Dakhlia, Jocelyne; Gellner, Ernest; LaRue, Richard; Mudimbe, Valentin-Yves; Topolski, Jerzy, Constructions identitaires: questionnements théoriques et études de cas, Québec: CÉLAT, Université Laval, ISBN 9782920576445. Fernande Saint-Martin sous la direction de Bogumil Jewsiewicki et Jocelyn Létourneau, Actes du Célat No. 6, Mai 1992.
  • Appiah, Kwame Anthony; Mudimbe, V. Y. (1993), "The impact of African studies on philosophy", in Bates, Robert H.; Mudimbe, V. Y.; O'Barr, Jean, Africa and the disciplines: the contributions of research in Africa to the social sciences and humanities, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 113–138, ISBN 9780226039015.
  • Appiah, K. Anthony (1994), "Identity, authenticity, survival: multicultural societies and social reproduction", in Taylor, Charles; Gutmann, Amy, Multiculturalism: examining the politics of recognition, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, pp. 149–164, ISBN 9780691037790.
  • Appiah, Kwame Anthony (1995), "Philosophy and necessary questions", in Kwame, Safro, Readings in African philosophy: an Akan collection, Lanham: University Press of America, pp. 1–22, ISBN 9780819199119.
  • Appiah, K. Anthony (1996), "Race, culture, identity: misunderstood connections", in Peterson, Grethe B., The Tanner lectures on human values XVII, Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, pp. 51–136, ISBN 9780585197708. Pdf.
  • Appiah, K. Anthony (1997), "African-American philosophy?", in Pittman, John, African-American perspectives and philosophical traditions, New York: Routledge, pp. 11–34, ISBN 9780415916400.
  • Appiah, Kwame Anthony (1997), "Europe upside down: fallacies of the new Afrocentrism", in Grinker, Roy Richard; Steiner, Christopher B., Perspectives on Africa: a reader in culture, history, and representation, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Blackwell, pp. 728–731, ISBN 9781557866868.
  • Appiah, Kwame Anthony (1997), "Is the 'post-' in 'postcolonial' the 'post-' in 'postmodern'?", in McClintock, Anne; Mufti, Aamir; Shohat, Ella, Dangerous liaisons: gender, nation, and postcolonial perspectives, Minnesota, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, pp. 420–444, ISBN 9780816626496.
  • Appiah, Kwame Anthony (1996), "Identity: political not cultural", in Garber, Marjorie; Walkowitz, Rebecca L.; Franklin, Paul B., Field work: sites in literary and cultural studies, New York: Routledge, pp. 34–40, ISBN 9780415914550.
  • Appiah, Kwame Anthony (1999), "Yambo Ouolouguem and the meaning of postcoloniality", in Wise, Christopher, Yambo Ouologuem: postcolonial writer, Islamic militant, Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publishers, pp. 55–63, ISBN 9780894108617.
  • Appiah, Kwame Anthony (2000), "Aufklärung und dialog der kulturen", in Krull, Wilhelm, Zukunftsstreit (in German), Weilerwist: Velbrück Wissenschaft, pp. 305–328, ISBN 9783934730175.
  • Appiah, K. Anthony (2001), "Grounding human rights", in Gutmann, Amy, Michael Ignatieff: Human rights as politics and idolatry, The University Center for Human Values Series, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, pp. 101–116, ISBN 9780691114743.
  • Appiah, K. Anthony (2001), "Stereotypes and the shaping of identity", in Post, Robert C., Prejudicial appearances: the logic of American antidiscrimination law, Durham: Duke University Press, pp. 55–71, ISBN 9780822327134.
  • Appiah, Kwame Anthony (2002), "The State and the shaping of identity", in Peterson, Grethe B., The Tanner lectures on human values XXIII, Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, pp. 235–297, ISBN 9780874807189 Pdf.
  • Appiah, Kwame Anthony (2009), "Sen's identities", in Kanbur, Ravi; Basu, Kaushik, Arguments for a better world: essays in honor of Amartya Sen | Volume I: Ethics, welfare, and measurement, Oxford New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 475–488, ISBN 9780199239115.

Journal articles






The Ethics of Identity


In My Father's House: Africa in the Philosophy of Culture


Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers


Lines of Descent (The W. E. B. Du Bois Lectures)


Human Rights As Politics and Idolatry (University Center for Human Values)

Michael IgnatieffKwame Anthony Appiah