What is your question?
Kwame Anthony Appiah is a philosopher, novelist, and professor of philosophy at Princeton University. Appiah was born in London but moved as an infant to Ghana, where he grew up. His father, Joseph Emmanuel Appiah, a lawyer and politician, was also, at various times, a Member of Parliament, an Ambassador, and a President of the Ghana Bar Association. His mother, Peggy Appiah, whose family was English, was a novelist, children’s writer, and social activist. In 1970, Appiah's great-uncle, Otumfuo Sir Osei Agyeman Prempeh II, was succeeded by his uncle, Otumfuo Nana Poku Ware II, as king of Ashanti.
Appiah was educated abroad in England, ultimately graduating from Clare College, Cambridge University, in England, where he took both B.A. and Ph.D. degrees in the philosophy department. Since Cambridge, he has taught at Princeton, Yale, Cornell, Duke, and Harvard universities and lectured at many other institutions in the United States, Germany, Ghana and South Africa, as well as at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris.
Appiah is the author of several books including "The Ethics of Identity," "Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers," "Experiment in Ethics," and "The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen." He has also written three novels and reviews regularly for the New York Review of Books.
He currently serves as President of the PEN American Center. He 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.
Kwame Anthony Appiah: Well it goes back, I think, to the epistemological problem that I think we face as creatures in our world.
One question that I think is always useful to ask in political context is: If I am so sure I’m right, how come she’s so sure she’s right too? If it’s obvious what to me the answer is; if the answer’s obvious, why isn’t it obvious to the other person?
And I think just that sort of turn taking – walking in the other man’s moccasins kind of thing, of saying: Well I’m so sure I’m right about this, and yet here are these other people who don’t think what I think. How is that? Are they just fools or irrational? Or is there some part of reality that’s hidden from them? Or could it be that I ought to reflect more carefully on what I think, and listen a bit more to what they have to say.
So that’s a kind of question you’d expect from a philosopher. It’s a question you asked me; a question about questions. It’s an answer about answers. It’s an answer about questions about questions.
But I think that it is a useful perspective to adopt given the conflicts that we have in the world today about many important matters.
Recorded on: July 31 2007
Maybe we should re-evaluate the whole idea of certainty.
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