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Kwame Appiah discusses ‘World Citizenship’ at FIU


An excerpt from Appiah’s book, Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers, will serve as common reading in global learning courses beginning fall 2010.

By Sissi Aguila ’99, MA ’08

Internationally known philosopher and cultural theorist Kwame Anthony Appiah asked one thing of FIU students, faculty and staff during a lecture at Modesto A. Maidique Campus: “See one movie with subtitles a month.”

Appiah wanted the audience to engage in global conversation and, “do what people all around the world are already doing with American movies.” Because you can’t literally converse with the other six or seven billion strangers who inhabit the planet, Appiah suggested, movies, books and the Internet as a gateway to “World Citizenship,” the topic of his lecture.

Appiah, who serves as the Laurance S. Rockefeller University Professor of Philosophy at Princeton University, spoke at FIU as part of the Life of the Mind lectures series April 12.

Appiah’s talk, based on his new book, Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers, explored a concept that dates back to the fourth century B.C., when Greek philosopher Diogenes of Sinope coined the term cosmopolitan, meaning “citizen of the world (kosmopolitês).” His theory signaled “a rejection of the conventional view that every civilized person belonged to a community among communities,” he said.

For Appiah, cosmopolitanism asks individuals from varying locations to enter relationships of mutual respect despite their differing beliefs. Modern technology has made it increasingly possible for individuals to share their stories and build a common narrative.

“A global community of cosmopolitans will want to learn about other ways of life on radio, on television shows, through anthropology and history, through novels movies, news stories and newspapers, and on the Web,” he said.

FIU professors joined the conversation asking the audience to question their beliefs on global issues. Political Science Professor Judith Stiehm asked whether the discussion needed to include law and what constitutes a nation. Should the United Nations, Stiehm inquired, decide what is required – geographical size, population, economy – to be considered a country?

Paul Kowert, professor of international relations, spoke directly to students. “Don’t worry whether or not you believe the right thing – even when you’ve been taught the right things. Whether you have the right identity,” he said. “Worry if you only have one identity or belief that really matters to you.”

The discussion underscored FIU’s Global Learning initiative, which aims to educate FIU students about global citizenship and empower them to actively address issues and challenges in an interconnected world.  An excerpt from Appiah’s book will serve as the common reading in global learning courses beginning fall 2010.

“[Global citizenship] is about learning as much as about teaching. It’s about listening as much as about talking,” concluded Appiah. And even when trying to persuade someone that what they see as right is wrong, he added, “I hear their arguments that what I think is wrong is right.”

For highlights of the event, click on the video below.

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