A Conversation with Kwame Anthony Appiah Transcript
- Before we dive into questions, I just want to say that your works have really helped me deconstruct my own identities, and understand how they relate to cosmopolitanism, and just cosmopolitanist philosophical tradition. So thanks for being a pioneer, in your own philosophical field.
- Thank you very much
- Not necessarily reading philosophy, but writing philosophy, Sometimes I arrive at answers that I don't necessarily anticipate. So have you ever come to unexpected conclusions that challenged your beliefs?
- Oh, well all the time. I mean, I think, you know, you, you think about a question and you have a first off reaction and intuition about what the right answer might be, but then you have to write down a defensive bit. You have to, and, explore the question. And then in the course of writing you discover, I think one of the things that you discover in philosophy is that if you go very carefully through the argument, there are steps where you identify assumptions that you've made and you realize that you don't actually, you don't actually believe the assumptions, but sometimes you think, well, when I actually think about this question where I've made this assumption is something else. And you see that when you, when you make that recognition, the argument goes somewhere that you didn't expect. So, so yes, absolutely all the time. I mean, I always tell my students, nobody knows what they think until you try and argue for it until you try and make a careful defensive bit. It's one of the great privileges of a literate society that we all have access, not just to reading, but to writing as a mode of thinking. Writing as a mode of thinking is very different from the interior monologue as a mode of thinking. And you can be more disciplined if you write it down because you can, you can go back over the argument again and again, holding things constant in, in when you're thinking about things in your head, it's very difficult to keep everything and exchange one thing at a time as it were. In writing, you can write down the the assumptions and, and connect them through arguments in a way that's that I think explain some of the reasons why certain kinds of intellectual progress in human history only began after writing.
- Over the course of your career. Is there a particular discovery shift or change in the field of philosophy that's particularly surprised or impacted you?
- The turn among this generation, And it started a little while ago, but it's certainly present in this generation of graduate students and younger philosophers to a real concern, to engage with problems in the world. Cornell west wrote a wonderful book called the The American evasion of philosophy whose central thesis was that American philosophy professionalized itself in the mid 20th century, by moving away from the kind of the philosophy that someone like John Dewey did, which was engaged with the world into a professionalized discourse, which focused on issues in epistemology and philosophy of language and mind, that were not things that had much to do with politics or social life. When I was becoming a philosophy undergraduate, John Rawls had just published A theory of justice and that book, whatever you think of the merits of the theory in it, revivified analytic, normative philosophy. It did provide a framework for thinking about applied questions, and it also began a move, which has now really been realized to, to engage with questions about, about identity and politics and power and equality in a way that's not just about dotting I's and crossing T's, but it's about thinking what's helpful to move us ahead. I wrote a paper on racism in the eighties, there was very, very little on that topic written by philosophers. There was lots on that topic. It's one of the central topics of American sociology. going back at least to one of the great classics of American sociology, which is Du Bois' Philadelphia Negro, there are various things you could say in defense, like most philosophers thought racism was so obviously wrong that they didn't see what the point was of saying, Certainly they thought, well, how could anybody defend this? But, but in, in thinking that they neglected the fact that most people didn't have a clear conceptual understanding of what racism was. And I think that's still the case. I think people, we, it's a word we use without any clear consensus on what it is we're saying. That's what I'm going to be talking about when I give my talk on it at Amherst.
- Awesome. Well, thank you again for taking the time to speak with me. Yeah, I look forward to reading more of your work in the future, and really the questions interesting your work Have definitely changed the way I live from day to day. So perhaps in the future, maybe in grad school, or if I go to NYU or something like that, I'll find myself in one of your classes, learning about the things that I didn't think.
- Thank you so much.