The Western articulation of the idea of world-citizenship begins with Diogenes’s idea of the κόσμου πολίτης. Since, for fourth-century Greeks, a πολίτης came from a πολίς, the Cynic philosopher must have meant the idea to be paradoxical, since the thought was that you could have the universe as your hometown. A modern oxymoron that does a similar job, I suppose, is the idea of the global village. But that doesn’t quite get it, since the πολίς, unlike a village, was the highest unit of government … a “city-state,” we would now say. Πόλεις could join in alliances, leagues—as Homer’s Achaeans did—but they were constitutionally independent. Because Diogenes’ phrase was an oxymoron, we have to assume that he took it figuratively: he knew there was no world-state of which he could be a citizen. So ancient cosmopolitans, like modern ones in the world since the Enlightenment, have mostly not aimed at the construction of a world government, or at becoming literal citizens of one cosmic society. This makes these Western traditions somewhat different from ancient Chinese ideals: Confucians thought all those under heaven—tianxia (天下)—should properly be ruled by the Emperor who had the mandate of heaven, so their “cosmopolitanism” did imply a universal empire. Western cosmopolitans, in contrast, have thought of the whole human community as bound together by an ethical bond rather than a political one, with each human being having a call on the moral concern of every other. Furthermore, far from supposing that everyone should live in the same way, joining a uniform universal civilization, they’ve tended to favor the recognition that human beings live best in many diverse ways in disparate societies, each with languages and literatures, laws, arts and traditions of its own. That’s why a modern cosmopolitan is likely to display an interest in literature and arts from many places, to be keen on visiting the Great Wall, the Pyramids, Pompeii and Machu Picchu, and to be in the audience for world music and a great variety of global cinema. A unified world with a uniform culture wouldn’t produce the range of cultural artifacts that a cosmopolitan aesthetics admires. So too, in politics, the cosmopolitan favors a world of alliances among societies, operating at many levels, not the accumulation of political authority into a single state. Or, at any rate, those are the ideals of this cosmopolitan.
What are we thinking Capri Talk << Click to read the talk I gave in Capri.
An Arabic edition of The Honor Code is now available online via Kalima, an online publication project. I’ll post a message when the hardback is available.
The brilliant Sarah-Jane Leslie has a series of fascinating Philosophical Conversations on the Marc Sanders Foundation website, one of which, so far, is with me! (Like all such material on the web, you can also find it by going to Audio and Video under Press on this site.)
You can now listen to my lecture on culture, identity and human rights in the lecture series Fragile Freedoms: the Global Struggle for Human Rights at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg. (The lecture’s also available under “Audio and Video” on the Press tab.) The series is co-curated with the University of Manitoba‘s Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics.
I got to tour the building, which is going to open next September: it’s a splendid piece of architecture.
Earlier speakers in the series were Martha Nussbaum and A. C. Grayling; future speakers are listed here.
NYU announced yesterday that I would be moving there in January to start a new job as Professor of Philosophy and Law. I am sad to be leaving Princeton, which has been a wonderful place to teach and to think; but the new job will involve exciting challenges in another great philosophy department and in a terrific law school, where I have taught before. What’s distinctive about the job is the idea of trying to bring together students across the global network of NYU’s campuses to think together about global ethics. I am a long-time proponent of conversations across societies; now I would like to see how to build this into my teaching as well as my research. I’m spending the spring thinking about this with colleagues in New York–including those who are expert in using digital technologies for teaching–as well as with some in other parts of our global network university with whom I would like to co-teach. Collaboration will begin with conversation and with learning–much of it on my part–about the people and the resources in New York, Abu Dhabi, Shanghai, Accra, Buenos Aires …. there are so many thrilling possibilities. (Here is the piece in today’s New York Times about the move. Click here to read. And one in the Chronicle of Higher Education. And one in Diverse: Issues in Higher Education. Opinions as well as facts, as they say, “on them”!) Both Princeton and NYU have given me much to be thankful for over this Thanksgiving holiday.
Graham and Sarah Coxhead hosted a lovely dinner party for me while I was giving the Douglas Robb lectures at the University of Auckland. Sarah is Sir Douglass Robb’s daughter. While at their house, Graham took a picture of me with (a picture of) Sir Douglas! As Private Eye would have asked: “Separated at birth?”
After many hours in the recording studio for me and some trusty producers, audio versions of Cosmopolitanism and The Honor Code are now available at Audible.com. Click on the titles to go to the site! There’s a chance to listen to an audio sample by clicking below the image of the book’s cover. On your next long ride, you could take them with you! Enjoy.
That is what we say in Ashanti when a great man or woman dies. And the death of Chinua Achebe is indeed the death of a great writer, and a great human being. The obituaries have rightly been reverential. I’ve tried to say something about how important his work was in this piece for The Root.
I’ve just returned from an enjoyable day at Oberlin College, where I had a chance to talk to Johnetta Cole, who runs the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art, about art and identity.