Kwame Anthony Appiah has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society and was inducted in 2008 into the American Academy of Arts and Letters; and he has served on the boards of the PEN American Center, the National Humanities Center and the American Academy in Berlin. Until the fall of 2009, he served as a trustee of Ashesi University College in Accra, Ghana, and now serves on its Academic Advisory Board. He has also been a member of the Advisory Board of the United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDEF). He has honorary degrees from the University of Richmond, (2000), Colgate University (2003) Bard College (2004), Fairleigh Dickinson University (2006) and Swarthmore College(2006), and received the degree of Honorary Doctor of Philosophy in May 2008 from Dickinson College, where he gave the Commencement Address in the pouring rain. In the fall of 2008, he was awarded the first Joseph B. and Toby Gittler Prize by Brandeis University for “outstanding and lasting scholarly contributions to racial, ethnic and/or religious relations.” In May 2009, in the course of a busy week, he received honorary degrees from Columbia University and the New School, and presented the Sue Kaufman award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters to Charles Bock. Colby College honored him with a Doctorate of Laws at their 189th commencement in 2010. In September 2010, he was granted an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters at a Convocation Lecture at Berea College.
In 2007, Professor Appiah was the President of the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association (APA) and he then served from 2008 to 2011 as Chair of the APA’s Executive Board. For six years, ending in 2012, he was Chair of the Board of the American Council of Learned Societies. In March 2009, he succeeded Francine Prose as President of the PEN American Center, a position he held for three years. In December 2010, Foreign Policy named him one of the top 100 global thinkers. President Obama presented him (and eight others, including his friends Andrew Delbanco, Amartya Sen, Ramón Saldívar and Teo Ruiz) with the National Humanities Medal on February 13, 2012. On April 30, 2012, he was appointed by the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian to the Advisory Board of the National Museum for African Art. On May 20, 2012, he gave the Commencement Address at President Obama’s alma mater, Occidental College, on its 125th anniversary; and a few days later he traveled to Boston to receive the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws at Harvard’s 361st Commencement, which brought to an end the celebrations for Harvard’s 375th anniversary. (With his Columbia honorary degree of 2009, he now has honorary degrees from each of the colleges or universities at which President Obama earned his degrees!)
On October 18, 2013, Kwame Anthony Appiah received an honorary Doctorate of Laws from the University of Edinburgh, in recognition of his “global influence on philosophy and politics,” alongside his friends John Kufuor, former President of Ghana, the historian Emma Rothschild, and the legal philosopher Jeremy Waldron. They were all members of the Global Citizenship Commission, which held its first meeting in Edinburgh the same weekend.
On May 21, 2015, he spoke at the NYU Law School Commencement ceremonies for the graduating class of LLM students; and then gave a commencement address at Sarah Lawrence College the next day. Also in May of 2015, he was elected to an Honorary Fellowship at Clare College, Cambridge. In January 2016, Professor Appiah had the honor of becoming the president of the Modern Language Association. In May 2016, he spoke to the doctoral degree recipients in the College of Arts and Sciences at NYU and received an honorary degree from Wesleyan University.
The World Post listed Professor Appiah as #95 on its Global Thought Leaders Index in December 2015, which was led by Pope Francis (#1), Paul Coehlo (#2) and Muhammad Yunus (#3), and included philosophers such as Peter Singer (#16), Daniel Dennett (#22) and Martha Nussbaum (#23).
In August 2016, Kwame Anthony Appiah was enstoloed as Nana Gyamfi Akroma-Ampim Nkosuahene of Nyaduom, in Adanse, pledging allegiance to his paternal uncle, the Nyaduomhene, traditional ruler of the town which was founded by their ancestor, the early eighteenth century Asante general, Akroma-Ampim.
On November 24, 2016, Professor Appiah received the Spinozalens Prize, given by the Spinoza Prize Foundation, from the mayor of Amsterdam. (His prize lecture was published in De Groene Amsterdammer.) The prize, which is awarded biennially, pairs a living thinker with a dead one, and is “for thinkers who concern themselves with ethics and society.” Professor Appiah was paired with Hannah Arendt. On the same day, the Dutch translation of The Honor Code was published. While in the Low Countries to receive the prize, he gave lectures on “The Challenges of Identity” at Leuven University and Radboud University in Nijmegen, and discussed questions of honor with a prize-winning group of high-school students in philosophy, who had produced videos asking questions about honor.
In the Spring of 2017, he was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. On the 4th of July 2017, the Carnegie Corporation of New York honored Professor Appiah as one of their 2017 Great Immigrants.
In May 2018, he received an honorary doctorate of letters from Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania, where he gave a commencement address. In the early summer of 2019, he received an honorary degree from Duke University.
Professor Appiah has served on the Boards of Facing History and Ourselves, the New York Public Library, the Public Theater, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and on the Advisory Board of the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum for African Art and the Visiting Committee for the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, at New York’s Metropolitan Museum; and he has served on the International Team of Experts for the Humboldt Forum im Berliner Schloss. He is also a founding member of the Society for Progress, which aims to advance the integration of ethical considerations into the conduct of business.
Kwame Anthony Appiah has served as a juror for the Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction in 2004; was a member of the Holberg Prize committee from 2008 to 2013; and chaired the jury for the first Berggruen Philosophy Prize from 2016 to 2020, which was won by Charles Taylor (2016), Onora O’Neil (2017), Martha Nussbaum (2018) and Ruth Bader Ginsburg (2019). In 2018, he chaired the committee of judges for the Man Booker Prize, in London. Anna Burns won the 2018 Man Booker Prize for her novel Milkman. In 2019 he served on the Jury for the Aga Khan Award for Architecture. In the spring of 2020, the Getty Foundation awarded him the Getty Medal because his “writings on culture and identity are of the greatest importance as we confront increasing populism and ethnic nationalism in our daily lives.”
Kwame Anthony Appiah’s life changed direction significantly as a result of two meetings. The first, in November 1961, was when Queen Elizabeth II, the British Queen, passed by his bed while visiting a hospital in Kumasi, and stopped to greet him. As the party was departing, Prince Philip, her husband, turned and said, “Do give my regards to your mother.” (The prince had met her as a member of the small English community in Kumasi on an earlier occasion.) As a result, President Nkrumah became aware that his royal visitors knew who the boy was. Since Kwame’s father was then a political prisoner, held without trial, this embarrassed and angered the President and led him to have the boy’s doctor dismissed. This incident recieved wide coverage in the international press, and, since it was a source of tension with the president, Peggy Appiah decided to send her son to his grandmother in England, where he could continue his recovery. This was why Kwame’s primary education, which his parents had intended to complete in Ghana, occurred in England.
A second signficant encounter, many year’s later, in 1973, was with Henry Louis (“Skip”) Gates, at Cambridge. Gates was a Mellon Fellow at Clare College, studying English literature for his doctorate, after his Yale undergraduate degree. It was their friendship, which began then, that led Kwame Anthony Appiah to visit the United States in 1978, thus opening the way for his decision, a few years later, to take up a professorship at Yale, where Professor Gates had been appointed upon his return from England. Professor Appiah has said that if he hadn’t known Skip Gates he almost certainly would not have come to the United States.