The Ethics of Identity

The Ethics of Identity

Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 384
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    The Ethics of Identity
    Book Description:

    Race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, gender, sexuality: in the past couple of decades, a great deal of attention has been paid to such collective identities. They clamor for recognition and respect, sometimes at the expense of other things we value. But to what extent do "identities" constrain our freedom, our ability to make an individual life, and to what extent do they enable our individuality? In this beautifully written work, renowned philosopher and African Studies scholar Kwame Anthony Appiah draws on thinkers through the ages and across the globe to explore such questions.

    The Ethics of Identitytakes seriously both the claims of individuality--the task of making a life---and the claims of identity, these large and often abstract social categories through which we define ourselves.

    What sort of life one should lead is a subject that has preoccupied moral and political thinkers from Aristotle to Mill. Here, Appiah develops an account of ethics, in just this venerable sense--but an account that connects moral obligations with collective allegiances, our individuality with our identities. As he observes, the questionwhowe are has always been linked to the questionwhatwe are.

    Adopting a broadly interdisciplinary perspective, Appiah takes aim at the clichés and received ideas amid which talk of identity so often founders. Is "culture" a good? For that matter, does the concept of culture really explain anything? Is diversity of value in itself? Are moral obligations the only kind there are? Has the rhetoric of "human rights" been overstretched? In the end, Appiah's arguments make it harder to think of the world as divided between the West and the Rest; between locals and cosmopolitans; between Us and Them. The result is a new vision of liberal humanism--one that can accommodate the vagaries and variety that make us human.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2619-3
    Subjects: Philosophy, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xx)
  4. Chapter One The Ethics of Individuality
    (pp. 1-35)

    Depending upon how you look at it, John Stuart Mill’s celebrated education was either a case study in individuality or a vigorous attempt to erase it. He himself seems to have been unable to decide which. He called his education “the experiment,” and the account he provided in hisAutobiographyensured that it would become the stuff of legend. He was learning Greek at three, and by the time he was twelve, he had read the whole of Herodotus, a fair amount of Xenophon, Virgil’sEcloguesand the first six books of theAeneid, most of Horace, and major works...

  5. Chapter Two Autonomy and Its Critics
    (pp. 36-61)

    Anna Karenina’s dissolute brother has a weakness for oysters, and cigars, and unmarried governesses, but what a recent generation of ethicists has found most worrying is how totally he lacks a proper independence of mind. Here is Tolstoy’s often-quoted description:

    Stepan Arkadyich subscribed to and read a liberal newspaper, not an extreme one, but one with the tendency to which the majority held. And though neither science, nor art, nor politics itself interested him, he firmly held the same views on all these subjects as the majority and his newspaper did, and changed them only when the majority did, or,...

  6. Chapter Three The Demands of Identity
    (pp. 62-113)

    In the summer of 1953, a team of researchers assembled two groups of eleven-year-old boys at adjoining but separate campsites in the Sans Bois Mountains, part of Oklahoma’s Robbers Cave State Park. The boys were drawn from the Oklahoma City area and, though previously unacquainted, came from a fairly homogeneous background—they were Protestant, white, middle-class. All this was by careful design. The researchers sought to study the formation of in-groups and out-groups—the way that tension developed between them and the way it might be alleviated—and the Robbers Cave experiment has justly become something of a classic in...

  7. Chapter Four The Trouble with Culture
    (pp. 114-154)

    It hasn’t escaped notice that “culture”—the word—has been getting a hefty workout in recent years. The notion seems to be that everything from anorexia to zydeco is illuminated by being displayed as the product of some group’s culture.¹ It has reached the point that when you hear the word “culture,” you reach for your dictionary.

    Culture’s major rival in its kudzu-like progression is “diversity,” a favorite now of corporate CEOs and educational administrators, politicians and pundits. And “cultural diversity” brings these two trends together. It has become one of the most pious of the pieties of our age...

  8. Chapter Five Soul Making
    (pp. 155-212)

    In Mill’s view, the excellence of government was to be gauged by the excellence of its citizens—by its success in promoting “the virtue and intelligence of the people themselves.”¹ This is one of the themes in his work that seem very old and very new. It was Plato who first taught that politics was the art of caring for souls. But the notion that the state should concern itself with the character of its citizenry could hardly be more current. It is a mainstay of the so-called republican revival, which draws inspiration from a Roman civic humanism that connects...

  9. Chapter Six Rooted Cosmopolitanism
    (pp. 213-272)

    When my father died, my sisters and I found a handwritten draft of the final message he had meant to leave us. It began by reminding us of the history of our two families, his in Ghana and our mother’s in England, which he took to be a summary account of who we were. But then he wrote, “Remember that you are citizens of the world.” He told us that wherever we chose to live—and, as citizens of the world, we could surely choose to live anywhere that would have us—we should endeavor to leave that place “better...

  10. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 273-276)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 277-340)
  12. Index
    (pp. 341-358)