The Modern and the Post modern 8th (final) assignment {Wesleyan / Coursera}

Which two thinkers in our class do you think Anthony Appiah would consider “cosmopolitan” in his terms?

Cosmopolitan versus the Really real.

Richard Rorty’s analytical philosophy introduces the concept of post-modern pragmatism and the dire relationship of the vocabulary we use and perceive as “truth” with the community we belong to. Worlds outside this community do not qualify for us to review or judge, since we are in effect irrelevant to these and these to us.  The notion is close to the Hegelian ideals and their sense that human dignity and moral derive from being a part of the community [4].

Kwame Anthony Appiah takes this idea a step further and suggests that people, who belong in different communities, are in fact capable of exchanging ideas about morality – what’s right or wrong – thus engaging in a globalized discourse. These people are considered “cosmopolitans” [1], a term coined from the 4th century BCE Ancient Greek words “cosmos” (world) and “polis” (city state). A global citizen of the world is briefly described in his book “Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers”:

Cosmopolitans think human variety matters because people are entitled to the options they need to shape their lives in partnership with others”. [1]

He’s being careful while analyzing the “cosmopolitan” post-modernist identity by refusing to put fixed cultural tags to specific groups of people; one can rather accumulate a range of characteristics from various communities in order to shape his own cultural identity through a multiplicity of traditions. In a sense a cosmopolitan identity is an overlap of identities; depending on what context one finds oneself, one projects the most suitable part of it accordingly.

What about the criticism against “global citizens”? Well, Appiah doesn’t advocate the purity of a certain tradition – meaning that it is only meant for members of that particular community alone to uphold – but he doesn’t want to abandon the sense of belonging to your community either. Originally a paradox but Appiah explains that we in fact need to both have a healthy sense of national pride as well as understanding international neighbor communities without letting our own background overlap all others. He remarks

And the one thought that cosmopolitans share is that no local loyalty can ever justify forgetting that each human being has responsibilities to every other”[1]

Appiah might have considered some key figures of (post -)modernist philosophy and art as “cosmopolitans”.  Rorty after all believes that it is in art we must seek to converse, in order to discover our identity:

“The principal backup for historiography is not philosophy but the arts, which serve to develop and modify a group’s self-image by, for example, apotheosizing its heroes, diabolizing its enemies, mounting dialogues among its members, and refocusing its attention”.[4]

 In his poem “Crowds” [2], Baudelaire wanders around the boulevards of Paris, with no particular reason. His idea of the “flâneur“ means essentially finding delight in observing people and witnessing unknown scenes of human interaction, which might come as a refreshing surprise to the viewer. In retrospect the wanderer becomes less selfish by getting out of his lonely shell, of his boring sheltered space and delving into the wider world, “the Crowd”. Appiah’s words do portray a sense of belonging to a broader world yet the backbone of his philosophy is there in Paris Spleen; go out and meet the world, whether that’s the Earth’s countries or just the other part of the city you rarely visit.

Coming to a more recent thinker, Butler seems to uphold that same “cosmopolitan” ideal as well, despite focusing on gender issues alone. In her book “Undoing Gender” she is convinced that gender is “a practice of improvisation with a sense of constraint.” [3] If we take this definition and apply it to having a globalized identity then

  1. People do improvise when coming to terms with other customs, religions, beliefs in their attempt to understand them
  2. People are constrained in their own social, economic and cultural background, thus making it hard to wholly embrace the “Other” – in return they engage in a dialogue with it, trying to understand it – achieving the “cosmopolitan” global ideal.

Appiah’s post-modern tradition is interesting, since it connects the modern human world with a sense of practicality. It also reaches out equally to developed and emerging societies, without falling victim of euphemology or global utopia (Hippy 60s style). He shows a deep understanding of how difficult the task of global understanding is, he respects tradition as well as co-existence and offers valuable insight instead of vague empty philosophical rhetoric of what’s really “Real”.

Works cited:

  1. Appiah, Anthony “Cosmopolitan Contamination” from Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers. 2006.
  2. Baudelaire, Charles: Le Spleen de Paris. 1869. Web. Retrieved 13th May 2013 from
  3. Butler, Judith.  “Undoing Gender”.  2004.
  4. Rorty, Richard. “Postmodern Bourgeois Liberalism”. The Journal of Philosophy
    Vol. 80, No. 10, Part 1: Eightieth Annual Meeting of the American Philosophical Association, Eastern Division. 1983

2 comments on “The Modern and the Post modern 8th (final) assignment {Wesleyan / Coursera}

  1. Are you still submitting these essays for this Coursera course? Because I’m currently grading peers and this essay has appeared in one of students submissions. If its not your submission then I will grade as zero and flag the submission for plagiarism.

    • Dear Tristram

      I took this course earlier this year so it’s definetely not my submission this time around – plz feel free to report the plagiarism incident… I am so appalled by this behavior…..

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