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Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers

3.62  ·  Rating details ·  1,534 ratings  ·  169 reviews
Drawing on a broad range of disciplines, including history, literature, and philosophy—as well as the author's own experience of life on three continents—Cosmopolitanism is a moral manifesto for a planet we share with more than six billion strangers.
Paperback, 224 pages
Published February 17th 2007 by Norton (first published 2006)
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3.62  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,534 ratings  ·  169 reviews

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May 13, 2009 rated it it was ok
As a student of philosophy, and as a person genuinely interested in the type of project that Appiah pursues herein, I became increasingly frustrated with his work here. In an attempt to avoid metaphysical claims--and the subsequent alienation such notions entail--but, in the process, fails to come up with a coherent theory for dealing with these issues. His examples and storytelling feel frequently like counterexamples as much as examples to make his points.

I was very interested in Appiah's proj
Aug 15, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: fans of Tom Friedman, debunkers of Tom Friedman
Appiah writes elegantly about cosmopolitanism, lacing his narrative (employing "we" as in, "we cosmopolitans") with anecdotes, effectively referencing philosophers, authors, and the like. The book is insidious, however...too easy in its conclusions. It celebrates the "contamination" of cosmopolitanism's curiousity and engagement with difference without critiquing seriously enough the uneven distributions of power that produce and map those differences. Moreover, there is little if any acknowledg ...more
Sean Sullivan
Sep 21, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: politics
I have to say I find Appiah’s cosmopolitanism to be incredibly appealing. Call me a globalized liberal who thinks we can work most things out, but the fact that besides a bedrock belief in toleration of all but intolerance, there is little else that exists as a absolute in Appiah's thinking is attractive to me.

I am sick of all encompassing theories. But I am also wary of an all out relativism. Appiah seems to be trying to walk a line somewhere in the middle. He argues that through engagement, "c
Worthless Bum
Apr 29, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: ethics, philosophy
Thoroughly, disappointingly mediocre. A couple of the arguments in this book were pretty terrible, the rest being rather tepid. Appiah disagrees with Peter Singer et al about the conclusions drawn from the Shallow Pond thought experiment, in which we are said to have very demanding ethical obligations to donate as much of our worldly possessions as possible to help the poor in the third world. His objection to this argument? We can't know all of the consequences of our actions, so we can't say t ...more
Julie Bozza
Mar 28, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
I've long liked to think of myself as a citizen of the world, as a cosmopolitan - so I was tad disappointed when bits of this book stuck in my craw. However, I agreed with almost all of it, and some of it was a relief to read - to see some things that had been niggling at me, now set out in black and white, with 'permission' to feel that's OK. Maybe it was more the examples than the messages that bothered me? Anyway! I would need to read it again (and not so fragmentedly) and ponder it well, in ...more
Peter van de Pas
This is a very disappointing book on Cosmopolitanism. For someone who wants the people of the world to enter into conversation with one another Appiah is surprisingly dismissive of others. We are presented with caricatures of anti-globalists, postmodern relativists and people who want to preserve some kind of cultural authenticity, their arguments being presented in an overly simplistic fashion so that Appiah can easily wave them away.
But even in these situations he is hardly convincing. To the
Dec 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
What are our ethical obligations to strangers? Appiah's answer, packaged int his relatively short, readable book, is the philosophy of cosmopolitanism. If the word conjures up images of chic city dwellers or the frou-frou drinks they possibly consume, rest assured: Appiah's using cosmopolitanism in the sense of the original root word: cosmos. So, if we're all citizens of the cosmos -- or, to scale it back, the planet -- how should we interact with and treat each other?

Appiah covers a lot of diff
Jan 13, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone!
Recommended to Louise by: Susan Yelavich
Everyone everywhere who lives in a complex world should read this book. It takes a difficult topic: How do we live in a world that's diverse and contradictory – and engages a thoughtful and gentle conversation and consideration about this subject

This books is intensely well-written. Appiah's concepts and arguments are exemplified and explained anecdotally through his own personal experience. He generously uses these diverse cultural experiences as models, thus cutting down the abstraction of phi
Bryn Hammond
Feb 08, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5. With reservations.

I chased up a book by him on the strength of this more topical talk:
also written up in the Guardian:
It's one of the book's arguments from another angle: to make an idol of Western Civ is to ignore the interpenetration of cultures.
Jun 19, 2015 rated it did not like it
"Would you really want to live in a world in which the only thing anyone had ever cared about was saving lives?" pg 166. lol for reals? easily the most offensive thing i've read in a while. definitely no mbembe. he and gavin newsom should go jack off over policy together.
Oct 03, 2018 rated it liked it
I didn’t hate this as much as many of my classmates did. It was pretty interesting. Appiah isn’t in the business of giving answers but into provoking thought about deep questions— what does it mean to be a citizen of the world? How does one do the most good? Saw lots of connections with All American Boys, Happiness, Go Went Gone, The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas...also The Good Place which is my new binge show.
David Withun
Dec 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: philosophy, favorites
Apr 08, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very readable account of Appiah's own experiences of cosmopolitanism linked to theory. Somewhat too popular science-y for what I was looking for (academic background text) but definitely worthwhile if you come at it from a general reader perspective.
Jul 21, 2017 marked it as to-read
Kwame Anthony Appiah was interviewed on the Ezra Klein Show (podcast) in May 2017. Among the topics discussed was his modern take on the philosophy of Cosmopolitanism.

Note to self: see Jeffers, Chike. “Appiah’s Cosmopolitanism.” The Southern Journal of Philosophy 51.4 (2013): 488-510, already in possession (DOI 10.1111/sjp.12040).
Phillip Rhoades
Mar 15, 2010 rated it really liked it
My interest in Professor Appiah's work began a week ago when he presented at SUU on the topic of "Moral Disagreement", one of the chapters in this book. I was pleased to witness a writing style as engaging as his oration. Kwame Appiah explains a complicated philosophy with both whit and wisdom; he uses modern examples to highlight the central tenants of ageless cosmopolitanism. While the book succeeds at detailing a philosophy that deals with the challenges of a "global", modern life (though as ...more
Jun 21, 2015 rated it it was ok
I don't have much to say about this book. I have been aware of it for several years, have seen it referenced in various places and decided I should actually read the thing. Turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. It felt like a book that just glanced around on the surface of the author's "we are one world under it all" philosophy. Every once in a while it would start down an interesting path, but cut it off quickly with a homily. It's not that I necessarily disagree with the book's message, ...more
Jun 17, 2009 rated it really liked it
I don't always find books by philosophers easy to read, but I think that's just because I often don't understand the shorthand references to "Hegalian" perspectives and such that require a knowledge of philosophy to interpret.

But this book is a really nicely balanced discussion of Appiah's personal history, globalism (or cosmopolitanism in the author's terminology) and ethics. It goes beyond the simplicity of 'multiculturalism' or 'globalization' to investigate and value the ways in which we are
John Zorko
Dec 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing
... a very thoughtful, at times critical, but affirming look at ethics from the perspective of those of us (myself included) who put at least as much value in being a citizen of the world as that of any one country, who see difference in peoples and cultures more as an opportunity for learning more about the human condition as an amalgamate of _all_ human experience, rather than a reason to wall off from one another. I enjoyed this book very much.
This is a thought-provoking, very practical and applicable study of cosmopolitanism -- the title really says it all. I loved reading this and applying Appiah's understandings of cosmopolitanism to Moby Dick, which was why we had to read this text. I am so thrilled my professor introduced Appiah to me. I had a chance to hear him speak last semester, and I recommend it to anyone who has the time.
3.5 stars tbh. I kind of was looking for more of a bite but I think it's a good book I'd want a lot of people to read.
Cyrus Samii
Jan 02, 2018 rated it liked it
Appiah defines cosmopolitanism as a stance that prioritizes the virtues of “caring” and “curiosity”—that is, a disposition toward caring for all of humanity but then also having a curiosity based on a belief that we have important things to learn from the diversity of human experience and perspectives. The curiosity tempers the extent to which caring might lead to a “civilizing mission” mindset, which might follow from “caring” combined with a lack of “curiosity” that comes when one thinks they’ ...more
Chuck Kollars
Jun 27, 2017 rated it liked it
A very complete, carefully reasoned and composed, dispassionate, description of the idea we're no longer a member of some tribe but rather a "global citizen", and as such should be equally nice to everybody. Grapples with the issue that sometimes people are so different that what seems "normal" to them seems "downright immoral" to some others. Just where is the line separating interest/toleration from forced conventionality?

Despite what you might expect from a professional philosopher, this book
Dec 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
There's something really clever going on in Appiah's take on ethics in a global world. He goes out of his way to point out that while the main thrust of his positive argument is "you care about X because your neighbour does" is easy to articulate, it's damn hard to get there in most ethical systems.

I don't think this will appeal or even make sense to anyone interested in defining their identity with nations and states. In many ways, Appiah's moral compass only makes sense in a post-colonial con
Dec 31, 2017 rated it did not like it
Read full book and watched lecture on YouTube. Appiah's naive thesis--never clearly articulated--appears to be that the world would be a better place, more "cosmopolitan"--in the paradoxical Greek sense of the word--if we only sought to share and understand each other better. For example, illegally and legally obtained art currently held in European museums might often serve "humanity" better by remaining there, so long as it can be widely shared (i.e. Web, itinerant exhibitions). He rejects ind ...more
Aug 10, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm still compiling notes for an essay investigating the idea of "global citizenship", a prominent concept at the college where I teach and one that seems not nearly as much in harmony with the political climate of today (2018) as when this book was first published (2006), which also was more or less when our college first explicitly embraced the concept. Reading this book today, then, seems a bit anachronistic, but I still find Appiah's arguments as appealing as ever--and probably more necessar ...more
Aboozar Hadavand
To do justice to future readers I should say that this book has very little to do with cosmopolitanism in spite of the author's insistence on calling it so. There is no coherent theory in the book and if there is a theory it basically is about mutual respect and understanding each other blah blah (you might as well call it how to be a human and not necessarily cosmopolitan). I can't wrap my head around author's calling himself a cosmopolitan throughout the book and stating in various parts of th ...more
Dec 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
An intelligent though not perfect exploration of what it means to live in a globalised world. Appiah uses examples from the Ghanian side of his family as introductions to discussions of moral disagreement, practical ethics, dealing with strangers, globalisation, and culture and cultural appropriation. He ends with a discussion of how to behave ethically in a world where far-away people are now much closer than they used to be. This last will appear to people who dislike Peter Singer's drowning c ...more
Rohan Arthur
An inconsistent book that makes a case for living and let live in an increasingly cosmopolitan world. There is little to argue in Appiah's general argument that conversations (and through conversations, understanding) happen more between individual people than between cultures or nations. And while there is a lot to admire in Appiah's stances, there is a lot to disagree with. He is confident of the ability of local identities to take care of themselves against the forces of cultural homogenisati ...more
Dec 03, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
For the majority, I found the book to be simply boring; the thesis presented in the first chapter is simply rehashed over and over again, with anecdotes that are sometimes interesting and sometimes boring. The final chapter, though, tipped me over from "dull" to "bad"; the level of reasoning is illustrated by the quote:

"For if so many people in the world are not doing their share - and they are clearly not - it seems to me I cannot be required to derail my life to take up the slack."

That's not s
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What do we owe strangers? 1 17 Apr 02, 2010 09:50AM  
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  • On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness
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  • Frontiers of Justice: Disability, Nationality, Species Membership
  • Justice for Hedgehogs
  • Multiculturalism
  • Public Philosophy: Essays on Morality in Politics
  • The Quest for Certainty: A Study of the Relation of Knowledge and Action
  • Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy
  • Respect in a World of Inequality
  • Liberty: Incorporating Four Essays on Liberty
  • Essays in Understanding, 1930-1954: Formation, Exile, and Totalitarianism
  • Illusion of Free Markets
  • Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization
  • The American Evasion of Philosophy: A Genealogy of Pragmatism
  • Global Shadows: Africa in the Neoliberal World Order
  • A Short History Of Ethics: A History Of Moral Philosophy From The Homeric Age To The Twentieth Century
Kwame Anthony Appiah, the president of the PEN American Center, is the author of The Ethics of Identity, Thinking It Through: An Introduction to Contemporary Philosophy, The Honor Code and the prize-winning Cosmopolitanism. Raised in Ghana and educated in England, he has taught philosophy on three continents and is a former professor at Princeton University and currently has a position at NYU.

“I am urging that we should learn about people in other places, take an interest in their civilizations, their arguments, their errors, their achievements, not because that will bring us to agreement, but because it will help us get used to one another.” 5 likes
“Once you start offering reasons for ignoring the interests of others, however, reasoning itself will usually draw you into a kind of universality. A reason is an offer of a ground for thinking or feeling or doing something. And it isn’t a ground for me, unless it’s a ground for you. If someone really thinks that some group of people genuinely doesn’t matter at all, he will suppose they are outside the circle of those to whom justifications are due.” 2 likes
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