The Cosmopolitan Predicament   /   Fall 2009   /    Interview

Making Sense of Cosmopolitanism

A Conversation with Kwame Anthony Appiah

Joshua J. Yates

Kwame Anthony Appiah, 2011.

Joshua J. Yates (JJY): What is a cosmopolitan? what does it mean to be a “citizen of the world”?

Kwame Anthony Appiah (KAA): You might think that these two terms are interchangeable, so let me say what I think the essence of cosmopolitanism is. “Cosmopolitanism” etymologically comes from an expression that means “citizen of the cosmos.” When the Cynics and the Stoics invented this term, they understood citizenship in the particular way that people understood citizenship in the ancient world, which is different than the way we understand it now.

What I take from that tradition is the notion of cosmopolitanism as combining two things: The first is something that I think every cosmopolitan has always had as part of her arsenal of ideas, which is the idea that every human being is responsible for the whole human community. In this sense, your obligations aren’t limited by the particular society that you’re in. So there’s an element of universality. But—and this is the second part—the particular kind of cosmopolitanism that I’d like to defend combines that universality with a respect for legitimate kinds of difference.

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