Searching for Bedrock

Cosmopolitanism Ethics in a World of Strangers Kwame Anthony Appiah Norton, $23.95, 196 pp. _____________________________ Philosophy, John Dewey said, is not knowledge but wisdom, by which he meant the use of the best available knowledge to advance “a sense for the better kind of life to be led.” Hence, philosophy was best conceived as a kind of cultural criticism, offering “ground maps” for moral life. At its best, philosophy would cut across ethical divides and become “a messenger, a liaison officer, making reciprocally intelligible voices speaking provincial tongues, and thereby enlarging as well as rectifying the meanings with which they are charged.” Dewey’s conception of the philosopher’s role was idiosyncratic in his own day, and is even more so today. Kwame Anthony Appiah is among those contemporary professional philosophers who still share it, and he has made a particular effort with his considerable dialectical skills to untangle for a wide audience the conundrums of cultural difference and identity. His latest book is a brief and bracing argument for “cosmopolitanism” as the guide to a better kind of life in a highly interdependent world of unavoidable cultural confrontation, not least because it promises to bridge the gaps between those speaking provincial ethical tongues. Cosmopolitanism, which Appiah traces to the Cynics of the fourth century BC, began as a reaction against...

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About the Author

Robert Westbrook teaches modern American history at the University of Rochester. He is the author of Democratic Hope: Pragmatism and the Politics of Truth.