Kwame Anthony Appiah

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Kwame Anthony Appiah

Kwame Anthony Appiah by David Shankbone.jpg
Born (1954-05-08) 8 May 1954 (age 68)
London, England
Alma materClare College, Cambridge
SpouseHenry Finder
EraContemporary philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
African philosophy
ThesisConditions for conditionals (1981)
Main interests
Probabilistic semantics, political theory, moral theory, intellectual history, race and identity theory

Kwame Akroma-Ampim Kusi Anthony Appiah FRSL (/ˈæpiɑː/ AP-ee-ah; born 8 May 1954) is a philosopher, cultural theorist, and novelist whose interests include political and moral theory, the philosophy of language and mind, and African intellectual history. Appiah was the Laurance S. Rockefeller University Professor of Philosophy at Princeton University,[2] before moving to New York University (NYU) in 2014.[3] He holds an appointment at the NYU Department of Philosophy and NYU's School of Law.[4] Appiah was elected President of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in January 2022.[5]

Personal life and education[edit]

Appiah was born in London, England,[6] to Peggy Cripps Appiah (née Cripps), an English art historian and writer, and Joe Appiah, a lawyer, diplomat, and politician from Ashanti Region, 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 1977 and 1978, he was Ghana's representative at the United Nations.[7]

Kwame Anthony Appiah was raised in Kumasi, Ghana, and educated at Bryanston School and Clare College, Cambridge, where he earned his BA (First Class) and PhD degrees in philosophy.[8] He has three sisters: Isobel, Adwoa and Abena. As a child, he spent a good deal of time in England, staying with his grandmother Dame Isobel Cripps, widow of the English statesman Sir Stafford Cripps.

Appiah's mother's family has a long political tradition: Sir Stafford was a nephew of Beatrice Webb and was Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer (1947–50) under Clement Attlee; his father, Charles Cripps, was Labour Leader of the House of Lords (1929–31) as Lord Parmoor in Ramsay MacDonald's government; 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 of Boston Brahmins 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.[9][10][failed verification] Through Isobel, he is also descended from the British pharmacist James Crossley Eno.

Through Professor Appiah's father, a Nana of the Ashanti people, he is 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. Also among his African ancestors is the Ashanti nobleman Nana Akroma-Ampim I of Nyaduom, a warrior whose name the Professor now bears.

He lives with his husband, Henry Finder, an editorial director of The New Yorker,[11] in an apartment in Manhattan, and a home in Pennington, New Jersey with a small sheep farm.[6] Appiah has written about what it was like growing up gay in Ghana.[12]

Appiah became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1997.[13][14] His nephew is the actor Adetomiwa Edun.[15]


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, the 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.[16] 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 a 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.[17]

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 recognised for his contributions to racial, ethnic, and religious relations when Brandeis University awarded him the first Joseph B. and Toby Gittler Prize.[18]

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.[19] In 2010, he was named by Foreign Policy magazine on its list of top global thinkers.[20] On 13 February 2012, Appiah was awarded the National Humanities Medal at a ceremony at the White House.[21]

Appiah currently chairs the jury for the Berggruen Prize, and serves on the Berggruen Institute's Philosophy & Culture Center's Academic Board.[22] He was elected as President of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in January 2022.[5]


Appiah argues that the formative denotation of culture is preceded by the efficacy of intellectual interchange.[clarification needed] From this position he views organisations such as UNICEF and Oxfam in two lights: on the one hand he seems to appreciate the immediate action these organisations provide while on the other he points out their long-term futility. 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.[23]

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, all of which 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."[24]


Appiah has been influenced by the cosmopolitanist philosophical tradition, which stretches from German thinkers such as G. W. F. Hegel to African American thinkers like W. E. B. Du Bois, among 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 practising 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.[25]

In his book Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers (2006),[26] 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."[27]

In Lies that Bind (2018), Appiah attempts to deconstruct identities of creed, colour, country, and class.[28]

Criticism of Afrocentric world view[edit]

Appiah has been a critic of contemporary theories of Afrocentrism. In his 1997 essay "Europe Upside Down: Fallacies of the New Afrocentrism," he 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."[29]

In popular culture[edit]

  • In 2007, Appiah was a contributing scholar in the PBS-broadcast documentary Prince Among Slaves produced by Unity Productions Foundation.[30]
  • In 2007 he also appeared in the TV documentary series Racism: A History as an on-screen contributor.[31]
  • Appiah appeared alongside a number of contemporary philosophers in Astra Taylor's 2008 film Examined Life, discussing his views on cosmopolitanism.
  • In 2009, he was an on-screen contributor to the movie Herskovits: At the Heart of Blackness.[32]
  • In 2015, he became one of three contributors to the New York Times Magazine column "The Ethicist",[33] before assuming sole authorship of the column later that year.[34]
  • He delivered the BBC's Reith Lectures in late 2016 on the theme of Mistaken Identities.[35]
  • In late 2016, he contended that Western civilization did not exist, and argued that many uniquely Western attributes and values were instead shared among many "non-western" cultures and/or eras.[36]
  • In 2018, Appiah appeared in the episode "Can We Live Forever?" of the documentary series Explained.[37]

Awards and honours[edit]



  • Assertion and Conditionals. Cambridge Studies in Philosophy Series. Cambridge Cambridgeshire New York: Cambridge University Press. 1985. ISBN 9780521304115.
  • For Truth in Semantics. Philosophical Theory Series. Oxford, UK; New York, NY, USA: B. Blackwell. 1986. ISBN 9780631145967.
  • Necessary Questions: An Introduction to Philosophy. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall. 1989. ISBN 9780136113287.
  • In My Father's House: Africa in the Philosophy of Culture. London / New York: Methuen / Oxford University Press. 1992. ISBN 9780195068511.
  • With Gutmann, Amy (1996). Color Conscious: The Political Morality of Race. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. ISBN 9780691026619.
  • With Appiah, Peggy; Agyeman-Duah, Ivor (2007) [2002]. Bu me b?: Proverbs of the Akans (2nd ed.). Oxfordshire, UK: Ayebia Clarke. ISBN 9780955507922.
  • Kosmopolitischer Patriotismus (in German). Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp. 2001. ISBN 9783518122303.
  • With Gates Jr., Henry Louis, ed. (2003). Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience: the concise desk reference. Philadelphia: Running Press. ISBN 9780762416424.
  • Thinking It Through: An Introduction to Contemporary Philosophy. Oxford New York: Oxford University Press. 2003. ISBN 9780195134582.
  • The Ethics of Identity. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. 2005. ISBN 9780691130286. Archived from the original on 18 October 2006. Retrieved 11 January 2006.
Translated as: La Ética de la identidad (in Spanish). Buenos Aires, Madrid: Katz Editores. 2007. ISBN 9788493543242.
Translated as: Cosmopolitismo: la ética en un mundo de extraños (in Spanish). Buenos Aires, Madrid: Katz Editores. 2007. ISBN 9788496859081.
Translated as: Experimentos de ética (in Spanish). Buenos Aires, Madrid: Katz Editores. 2010. ISBN 9788492946112.

Book chapters[edit]

Journal articles[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Appiah, Kwame Anthony (9 November 2010), "Religious Faith and John Rawls", The New York Review of Books.
  2. ^ "LAPA Faculty Associate: Kwame Anthony Appiah". Program in Law and Public Affairs, Princeton University. Archived from the original on 3 June 2013.
  3. ^ Schuessler, Jennifer (26 November 2013). "Noted Philosopher Moves to N.Y.U. — and Beyond". The New York Times.
  4. ^ "NYU Law welcomes renowned philosopher Kwame Appiah to the faculty". School of Law, NYU. 26 November 2013.
  5. ^ a b Weinberg, Justin (28 January 2022). "Appiah Named Next President of the American Academy of Arts and Letters". Retrieved 1 February 2022.
  6. ^ a b Appiah, Kwame Anthony. "Biography". Kwame Anthony Appiah. Archived from the original on 3 February 2011. Retrieved 15 February 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.)
  7. ^ Pace, Eric (12 July 1990). "Joe Appiah Is Dead; Ghanaian Politician And Ex-Envoy, 71". The New York Times. Retrieved 28 March 2012.
  8. ^ Appiah, Kwame Akroma-Ampim Kusi Anthony (1981). Conditions for conditionals (PhD thesis). Clare College, Cambridge. OCLC 52897706.
  9. ^ Howard, Joseph Jackson; Crisp, Frederick Arthur, eds. (1899). Visitation of England and Wales, Volume VII. England: Privately printed. pp. 150–151. OCLC 786249679. Online.
  10. ^ Stark, James Henry (1910). The loyalists of Massachusetts and the other side of the American Revolution. Boston, Massachusetts: J.H. Stark. pp. 426–429. OCLC 1655711.
  11. ^ Postel, Danny (5 April 2002). "Is Race Real? How Does Identity Matter?". The Chronicle of Higher Education.
  12. ^ Appiah, Kwame Anthony (20 September 2010). "Ghanaians like sex too much to be homophobic". Big Think.
  13. ^ "Biography, "Kwame Anthony Appiah", Stanford Presidential Lectures in the Humanities and Arts". Stanford University. Retrieved 1 January 2014.
  14. ^ "Kwame Anthony Appiah". Retrieved 28 December 2021.
  15. ^ "My Nephew | Kwame Anthony Appiah".
  16. ^ Appiah, Kwame Anthony (17 March 2009). "2009 Inaugural Remarks | PEN World voices Festival". PEN World Voices Festival. Retrieved 1 January 2014.
  17. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter A" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences (AAAS). Retrieved 19 April 2011.
  18. ^ "Joseph B. and Toby Gittler Prize". Brandeis University. 2008. Retrieved 8 November 2016.
  19. ^ "Gannon Award". The Gannon Award. Archived from the original on 24 July 2012. Retrieved 14 June 2010.
  20. ^ Rothkopf, David (29 November 2010). "The FT top 100 global thinkers". Foreign Policy Magazine. Archived from the original on 19 November 2014. Retrieved 21 January 2014.
  21. ^ Kellogg, Carolyn (10 February 2012). "Jacket copy: National medal of arts and national humanities medals announced". Los Angeles Times.
  22. ^ Simmons, Ann M. (6 October 2017), Canadian Charles Margrave Taylor wins inaugural Berggruen Prize for Philosophy, Los Angeles Times: "Kwame Anthony Appiah, a New York University professor and philosopher who chaired this year's Berggruen Prize jury, praised the 'breadth and depth' of Taylor's intellectual contributions."
  23. ^ Appiah, Anthony Kwame (2006). ""Moral disagreement" and "Kindness to strangers"". In Appiah, Anthony Kwame (ed.). Cosmopolitanism: ethics in a world of strangers. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. pp. 45–68 and 155–174. ISBN 9780141027814.
  24. ^ Appiah, Kwame Anthony (Winter 2009). "Is the Post- in Postmodernism the Post- in Postcolonial?". Critical Inquiry. 17 (2): 336–357. doi:10.1086/448586. S2CID 162294784.
  25. ^ Appiah, Kwame Anthony (April 2008). "Chapter 6: Education for global citizenship". Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education. 107 (1): 83–99. doi:10.1111/j.1744-7984.2008.00133.x.
  26. ^ Appiah, Kwame (2006). Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers. ISBN 0-393-06155-8
  27. ^ Aguila, Sissi (23 April 2010). "Kwame Appiah discusses 'World Citizenship' at FIU". FIU News. Florida International University. Retrieved 21 January 2014.
  28. ^ Hirsch, Afua. "The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity by Kwame Anthony Appiah". Sun 23 Sep 2018. Retrieved 12 August 2020.
  29. ^ 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.
  30. ^ "Home page". Unity Productions Foundation. Retrieved 21 January 2014.
  31. ^ Appiah, Kwame Anthony. "Curriculum vitae". Kwame Anthony Appiah.
  32. ^ "Herskovits at the Heart of Blackness | Independent Lens". PBS. Retrieved 21 January 2014.
  33. ^ "The Ethicist". The New York Times Magazine.
  34. ^ Appiah, Kwame Anthony (30 September 2015). "What Should an Ethicist Tell His Readers". The New York Times.
  35. ^ "Kwame Anthony Appiah". BBC. Retrieved 13 January 2018.
  36. ^ ""There is no such thing as western civilization" by Kwame Anthony Appiah". The Guardian. 9 November 2016. Retrieved 10 November 2016.
  37. ^ "Explained: Can We Live Forever?". IMDb. Retrieved 15 August 2018.
  38. ^ "In My Father's House".
  39. ^ "James Russell Lowell Prize Winners".
  40. ^ "Herskovits Award Winners". 2 May 2013.
  41. ^ "APS Member History". Retrieved 12 July 2021.
  42. ^ "Kwame Anthony Appiah", Royal Society of Literature.
  43. ^ Onwuemezi, Natasha (7 June 2017), "Rankin, McDermid and Levy named new RSL fellows", The Bookseller.
  44. ^ Ford, Celeste (29 June 2017), "July Fourth Tribute Honors 38 Distinguished Immigrants", Carnegie Corporation of New York.
  45. ^ "Kwame Anthony Appiah, NYU Philosopher, Named 'Great Immigrant'", New York University, 29 June 2017.
  46. ^ "Soyinka, nine others receive Cambridge varsity honorary degrees". Punch Newspapers. 23 June 2022. Retrieved 24 June 2022.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]