What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos


Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers


Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge


Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more
With rendition switcher


Question: What is your personal philosophy?

Kwame Anthony Appiah: So if you are a philosopher, you get asked on planes and trains and so on what your philosophy is. And I do have this sort of corny answer, which is that my philosophy is that everything is much more complicated than you first thought. I mean given that that’s what I really do think, I think that reality is very, very complicated and difficult.

Morality is very complicated and difficult, and we need guides to make our way through it. We need pictures, I think; but none of the pictures we have is completely right.

The best physics isn’t quite right. The best biology isn’t quite right. The best philosophy isn’t quite right.

We are ever striving to make better pictures, and pictures are not true or false. They are more or less adequate to what they’re trying to represent. 

So I wouldn’t expect there to be a massive and obvious coherence to my views or anybody else’s. I guess I do have as a result of this thought a kind of, as I say, a tendency to think that there’s going to be some merit in almost any picture. And so to look for the balance; to look for what can be learned from every set of claims, every perspective that’s reasonably on the table.

Rather than trying to bang my way through to one correct picture even of a small subject matter, I like to see what can be gained by looking at something from many points of view. And I think that that’s something that spills over into my view about how you should conduct yourself.

Politically I very much believe in listening to people who have policy views that I regard as preposterous. To try and figure out why they think what they think, and to see whether there might something to be said for their view; and if they’re willing to, tell them how I got to my view and why I think it’s reasonable; and see whether we can, if not come to an agreement, at least understand each other better. 

And sometimes I think not come to an agreement, but shift each other’s position so that we end up in different places as a result of the conversation, even if we don’t end up in the same place. So those are kind of temperamental things, but I think they flow from a picture of what what philosophers might call our epistemological situation; the fact that knowledge is pretty hard to come by.

We’re not very well placed to come by the truth, and we have a better shot, I think, at coming by it if we pay attention to all of the many different attempts at the truth that are out there in many intellectual activities, many sciences, many other disciplines, and in many civilizations and many cultures.

Recorded on: July 31, 2007





The Personal Philosophy of ...

Newsletter: Share: