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.
When adults are challenged to behave like adults, by a child, they can go in one of two directions.
A disturbing interview given by a KGB defector in 1984 describes America of today and outlines four stages of mass brainwashing used by the KGB.
- Bezmenov described this process as "a great brainwashing" which has four basic stages.
- The first stage is called "demoralization" which takes from 15 to 20 years to achieve.
- According to the former KGB agent, that is the minimum number of years it takes to re-educate one generation of students that is normally exposed to the ideology of its country.
When it comes to scientific theory, (or your personal life) be sure to question everything.
- The theories we build to navigate the world, both scientifically and in our personal lives, all contain assumptions. They're a critical part of scientific theory.
- Cognitive psychologist Donald Hoffman urges us to always question those assumptions. In this way, by challenging ourselves, we come to a deeper understanding of the task at hand.
- Historically, humans have come to some of our greatest discoveries by simply questioning assumed information.