Race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, gender, sexuality: in the past couple of decades, a great deal of attention has been paid to such collective identities. They clamor for recognition and respect, sometimes at the expense of other things we value. But to what extent do "identities" constrain our freedom, our ability to make an individual life, and to what extent do they enable our individuality? In this beautifully written work, renowned philosopher and African Studies scholar Kwame Anthony Appiah draws on thinkers through the ages and across the globe to explore such questions.
The Ethics of Identity takes seriously both the claims of individuality--the task of making a life---and the claims of identity, these large and often abstract social categories through which we define ourselves.
What sort of life one should lead is a subject that has preoccupied moral and political thinkers from Aristotle to Mill. Here, Appiah develops an account of ethics, in just this venerable sense--but an account that connects moral obligations with collective allegiances, our individuality with our identities. As he observes, the question who we are has always been linked to the question what we are.
Adopting a broadly interdisciplinary perspective, Appiah takes aim at the clichés and received ideas amid which talk of identity so often founders. Is "culture" a good? For that matter, does the concept of culture really explain anything? Is diversity of value in itself? Are moral obligations the only kind there are? Has the rhetoric of "human rights" been overstretched? In the end, Appiah's arguments make it harder to think of the world as divided between the West and the Rest; between locals and cosmopolitans; between Us and Them. The result is a new vision of liberal humanism--one that can accommodate the vagaries and variety that make us human.
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"Appiah has written a remarkably impressive book, one that makes a number of important advances on the existing literature and stands as an important contribution to political and moral philosophy and moral psychology. It will be very widely read."--Jacob Levy, University of Chicago
"The Ethics of Identity is a major overhaul of the vocabulary of contemporary political and critical thought--the vocabulary of identity, diversity, authenticity, cosmopolitanism, and culture. The load of hidden assumptions carried by these words had become overwhelming, and someone needed to take them to the shop and give them a thorough philosophical servicing. But Anthony Appiah has done more than that. He has returned those terms to us clarified, refreshed, and ready for use in a more sophisticated and flexible philosophy of Liberalism--and, along the way, he has provided us with a new reading of liberalism's old hero, John Stuart Mill. Appiah's writing is unparalleled in its elegance, its lucidity, and its humanity. Accept no substitutes."--Louis Menand, Harvard University
"In the debates over diversity, rights, group identities or group conflict, The Ethics of Identity, is the land of lucidity. Appiah's elegant book resists the easy alternatives of universal liberalism and multiculturalism and instead defends--and illustrates on every page--a rooted cosmopolitanism. The sparkling prose, vivid examples, and probing questions navigate the choppy waters of personal and political constructions of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, and sexuality. This fine and wise book invites readers to remain willing to distinguish tolerance and respect--and by engaging with both the lives people make for themselves and the communities and narratives that render them meaningful."--Martha Minow, Harvard Law School and author of Identity, Politics, and the LawAbout the Author:
Kwame Anthony Appiah is Laurance S. Rockefeller University Professor of Philosophy and the Center for Human Values at Princeton University. His books include two monographs in the philosophy of language as well as the widely acclaimed In My Father's House: Africa in the Philosophy of Culture, Cosmopolitanism [Norton], and, with Amy Gutmann, Color Conscious: The Political Morality of Race. He has also edited or co-edited many books, including (with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.) Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African-American Experience. His most recent book is Thinking It Through: An Introduction to Contemporary Philosophy.
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