Appiah, Anthony 1954-

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Appiah, Anthony 1954-

(K. Anthony Appiah, Kwame Anthony Appiah)

PERSONAL: Born May 8, 1954, in London, England; son of Joseph Emmanuel (a lawyer, diplomat, and politician) and Enid Margaret (an art historian and writer) Appiah; partner of Henry David Finder, 1986—. Ethnicity: “Anglo-Ghanian (Ghanaian father, English mother).” Education: Clare College, Cambridge, B.A. (with honors), 1975, M.A., 1980, Ph.D., 1982. Politics: “Complicated.” Hobbies and other interests: Music, reading.

ADDRESSES: HomeNew York, NY; Pennington, NJ. Office—Department of Philosophy, Princeton University, 208 Marx Hall, Princeton, NJ 08544. Agent—Lynn Nesbit, Janklow & Nesbit Associates, 598 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10022. E-mail[email protected]

CAREER: University of Ghana, Legon, teaching assistant, 1975-76; Clare College, Cambridge, director of studies in philosophy, 1980; Yale University, New Haven, CT, visiting lecturer, 1979, director of undergraduate studies, African studies, and Afro-American studies, 1981-83, assistant professor, 1981-85, associate professor of philosophy, 1985-86, associate director of Center for Research in Education, Culture and Ethnicity, 1985-86; Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, associate professor, 1986-89, professor of philosophy, 1989; Duke University, Durham, NC, professor of philosophy and literature, 1990-91; Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, professor of Afro-American studies and philosophy, 1991-99, Charles H. Carswell professor of Afro-American studies and philosophy, 1999-2002, chair of Committee on African Studies, 1995—, director of graduate African American studies, 2001—; Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, Laurance S. Rockefeller University Professor of Philosophy, 2002—. Machette lecturer, Brooklyn College, 1994; Avenali professor, University of California—Berkley, 1994; Tanner lecturer, University of CaliforniaSan Diego, 1994, and Cambridge University, 2001; Spencer-Leavitt visiting professor, Union College, Schenectady, NY, 1994; visiting interdisciplinary scholar, University of Kansas, Humanities Center, 1996; resident scholar, Mankato University, 1996; Hans Maeder lecturer, New School for Social Research, 1997. Social Science Research Council and American Council of Learned Societies, chair of Joint Committee on African Studies, 1991—; Boston Algebra in the Middle Schools, member of community board; Facing History, member of advisor board of trustees, 1996—; consultant to International Labor Organization; member of board of PEN American Center; chair of Freedom to Write Committee, 1996-2002; member of advisory council for Green Center, University of Texas, 1998; member of board of Rift Valley Institute; governing board member, Institute for Human Rights and Development, The Gambia; trustee for Ashesi University College and National Humanities Center.

MEMBER: Society for African Philosophy in North America (founding member; president, 1991-92), African Literature Association, American Philosophical Association, Aristotelian Society, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Modern Language Association of America, English Institute, Century Club.

AWARDS, HONORS: Research fellow, Clare College, Cambridge, 1979-81; Morse fellow, Yale University, 1983-84; junior fellow, Cornell University, Society for the Humanities, 1985-86; Walter Channing Cabot fellow, Harvard University, 1998-99; Woodrow Wilson fellow, Florida A & M University, 1989, and Dillard University, 1991; Andrew W. Mellon fellow, Duke University, National Humanities Center, 1990-91; honorary A.M., Harvard University, 1991; Annisfield-Wolf Award, 1993, for In My Father’s House: Africa in the Philosophy of Culture; Herskovits Award, African Studies Association, 1993, for In My Father’s House; Annual Book Award, North American Society for Social Philosophy, 1996; Ralph J. Bunche Award, American Political Science Association, 1997; recipient of honorary degrees from University of Richmond, D.Litt., 2000, Colgate University, 2003, Bard College, 2004, Fairleigh Dickinson University, 2006, Swarthmore College, 2006, and Dickinson College, 2008.


Assertion and Conditionals, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1985.

For Truth in Semantics, Basil Blackwell (New York, NY), 1986.

Necessary Questions: An Introduction to Philosophy, Prentice-Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1989.

(Editor and author of introduction) Early African-American Classics, Bantam (New York, NY), 1990.

Avenging Angel (novel), Constable (London, England), 1990, St. Martin’s Press (New York, NY), 1991.

In My Father’s House: Africa in the Philosophy of Culture, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1992.

(Editor, with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.) Alice Walker: Critical Perspectives Past and Present, Amistad (New York, NY), 1993.

(Editor, with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.) Gloria Naylor:Critical Perspectives Past and Present, Amistad (New York, NY), 1993.

(Editor, with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.) Langston Hughes:Critical Perspectives Past and Present, Amistad (New York, NY), 1993.

(Editor, with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.) Toni Morrison: Critical Perspectives Past and Present, Amistad (New York, NY), 1993.

(Editor, with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.) Zora Neale Hur-ston: Critical Perspectives Past and Present, Amis-tad (New York, NY), 1993.

(Editor, with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.) Richard Wright:Critical Perspectives Past and Present, Amistad(New York, NY), 1993.

Nobody Likes Letitia, Constable (London, England), 1994.

(Editor, with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.) Identities, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1995.

(With Amy Gutmann) Color Conscious: The Political Morality of Race, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1996.

The Dictionary of Global Culture, Knopf (New York, NY), 1997.

(Editor, with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.) Harriet A. Jacobs: Critical Perspectives Past and Present, Amistad Press (New York, NY), 1997.

(Editor, with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.) Chinua Achebe: Critical Perspectives Past and Present, Amistad Press (New York, NY), 1997.

(Editor, with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.) Frederick Douglass: Critical Perspectives Past and Present, Amistad Press (New York, NY), 1997.

(Editor, with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.) Ralph Ellison:Critical Perspectives Past and Present, Amistad Press (New York, NY), 1997.

(Editor, with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.) The White Issue: Transition 73, Duke University Press (Durham, NC), 1998.

Microsoft Encarta Africana: Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Black History and Culture (CD-ROM), Microsoft (Redmond, WA), 1999.

Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience, Basic Civitas Books (NewYork, NY), 1999.

(Editor, with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.) Transition 75/76: The Anniversary, Duke University Press (Durham, NC), 1999.

(Coauthor) Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 2001.

(With Peggy Appiah and Ivor Agyeman-Duah) Bu Me Bé: Akan Proverbs, Center for Intellectual Renewal, 2002.

Thinking It Through: An Introduction to Contemporary Philosophy, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2003.

The Ethics of Identity, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 2005.

Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers, W.W. Norton & Co. (New York, NY), 2006.

(Editor, with Martin Bunzl) Buying Freedom: The Ethics and Economics of Slave Redemption, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 2007.

Experiments in Ethics, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 2007.

(Contributor) Cassandra Coblentz, Lyle Ashton Harris: Blow Up, Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (Scottsdale, AZ), 2008.

Contributor to periodicals. Assistant editor, Theoria to Theory, 1974-79; associate editor, Philosophical Review, 1987-89; editor, Transition, 1991—. Member of editorial board, Universitas, 1976, Perspectives in Auditing and Information Systems, 1986—, Diacritics, 1987—, Common Knowledge, 1990—, and GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, 1992—; member of editorial collective, Public Culture, 1989—; member of editorial advisory board, Callaloo, 1990—. Cofounder of Africana Web site.

SIDELIGHTS: Anthony Appiah is a philosopher and scholar whose career has taken him from the University of Ghana to elite American educational institutions, including Harvard and Princeton. At Harvard, he and his former classmate Henry Louis Gates, Jr., were responsible for building up one of the world’s premier departments of African-American studies. The two men worked together on a series of literary criticism focusing on important black authors, and they were also behind the creation of Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience, which was conceived as the Afro-centric equivalent to the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Now a citizen of the United States, Appiah was born in London, England, the child of a British mother and a Ghanaian father. His intellectual capabilities were evident early on, and he became the first person of African descent to earn a Ph.D. in philosophy from the prestigious Cambridge University in London. It was there that he met Gates, with whom he has collaborated on many projects, including numerous books and, which presents black history, art, and culture. Gates, a high-profile scholar, has often overshadowed Appiah, but Appiah has done a great deal of important work on his own, including writing several volumes of philosophy, novels, and the acclaimed and controversial book In My Father’s House: Africa in the Philosophy of Culture, in which he rejects the idea of a biological foundation for race.

The monumental Africana encyclopedia project was initially conceived in 1909, with the influential black sociologist and historian W.E.B. DuBois. Realizing that black history was misunderstood and misrepresented in publications produced by whites, DuBois had proposed the creation of what he called the “Negro Encyclopedia.” He was not able to bring this idea into reality, but Appiah and Gates kept it alive after DuBois’s death in 1963. Once they gained clout by taking on their major roles at Harvard, they were able to secure financing and other backing for the project. Eventually, Africana comprised some three thousand articles, contributed by four hundred scholars. The goal was to present a comprehensive picture not just of the African continent but also of those cultures, such as African-American culture, that have grown up from people exiled in slavery from Africa. The finished work was available as either a bound volume or in a CD-ROM version, Microsoft Encarta Africana: Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Black History and Culture. Some reviewers complained that the work suffered from omissions and political bias, but others lauded the success of the hugely ambitious project. As Anthony O. Edwards stated in the Library Journal, Gates and Appiah “have admirably fulfilled the dream” first visualized by DuBois.

When Appiah left Harvard for Princeton in 2002, his departure unfolded against a backdrop of racial issues at Harvard. Lawrence Summers had taken over as president of the university, and he was soon criticized as unsupportive of affirmative action and generally unfriendly to black interests. Appiah, however, maintained that his reasons for leaving Harvard were purely personal.

While his work is often discussed for its political implications, the author himself told Jenny Attiyeh in an interview for the Christian Science Monitor that he did not think intellectuals, like himself, were well-suited for politics: “The fundamental vocation of the intellectual is to figure things out, you know, intellego, to understand. And politics isn’t about understanding, politics is about getting things done. Understanding can be an instrument of getting things done, but nuance and complexity of understanding can be an obstacle to getting things done. Politics—it’s the art of the possible, and sometimes in order to do the best that can be done, you have to ride roughshod over what are, for an intellectual, important distinctions—for example, between the truth and the untruth.”

Commenting on his continuing work, Appiah told Tanu T. Henry of the Africana Web site that he was most interested in “a set of questions concerning ethics and politics, the interface of the two fields. I’m also interested in what we now call identity in ethical and political life. Race is one important paradigm of this. Of course, gender is another; so are national identity and sexual orientation and religion. They are all important dimensions of identity that are central to ethical life and a sense of how one conceives of the value of one’s life. How should we take these forms of identity into account when thinking about our political life? We also want to avoid invidious discrimination based on those things, but we can’t afford to ignore them in the life of the state. These are the normative questions that interest me and are at the center of my thinking.”

In Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers, Appiah looks at the idea of cosmopolitanism as it refers to a belief that the world should be considered as a single, global neighborhood, and everyone’s actions should be weighed against the well-being not just of one’s family or local community, or even one’s own nation, but in relation to the best interests of all. Appiah argues that this outlook is overly militant and unreasonable. It would be far more beneficial and ethical for people to take a more divided approach, or to make their decisions and take action based on a “partial cosmopolitanism.” He notes that wealthy individuals and wealthy nations should do more for individuals, communities, and nations in need, but also admits that he does not find it unreasonable for the wealthy or individuals who are comfortable to put the needs of their own families and communities first. He takes a balanced approach that allows that altruism is an important part of keeping the world afloat, but at the same time, it is not necessary for a person to only and always think of others first, or even at all. James Seaton, in a review for the Weekly Standard, remarked that “one of the most attractive aspects of Appiah’s cosmopolitanism is its recognition that culture at its best reveals a shared humanity transcending national and ethnic boundaries.” A reviewer for Publishers Weekly called Appiah’s effort “a stimulating read, leavened by cheerful, fluid prose,” and praised it as “a practical and pragmatic worldview that revels in difference and the adventure of a shared humanity.”

Experiments in Ethics, which Appiah published through Harvard University Press in 2007, addresses the age-old conflict between good and evil, and how one is supposed to determine the difference between the two, particularly as pertains to gray areas of ethics. Appiah frowns upon the use of abstracts in trying to make such a determination, and criticizes modern philosophers for drifting away from the absolutes and practical applications that are necessary when considering the question of good versus evil in everyday life. He contends that the use of science to look at questions that are traditionally considered to be strictly philosophical can help to add that practical side to the issues, but at the same time does not detract from the moral point of view. Bryce Christensen, in a review for Booklist, noted that in some sections of the book Appiah used terminology that might be unfamiliar to the lay reader, but overall, he concluded, “his general thrust draws everyone into a much-needed conversation about how the community collaborates to make goodness.” In a review for the Library Journal, David Gordon opined that “this book is illuminating and erudite; highly recommended for philosophy collections.”

Appiah once told CA: "In the preface to In My Father’s House, I wrote: ‘My first memories are of a place called Mbrom, a small neighborhood in Kumasi, capital of Asante, as that kingdom turned from being part of the British Gold Coast colony to being a region of the Republic of Ghana…. We went from time to time to my mother’s native country, to England, to stay with my grandmother in the rural West Country… and the life there… seems, at least now, to have been mostly not too different.’ Later I took degrees in philosophy at Cambridge and came to the United States in the early eighties to teach philosophy and African-American studies.

“All of this is relevant because, though I write—and enjoy writing—about many things, most of my publications have grown out of my philosophical training, my upbringing in Europe and in Africa, my explorations of African-American culture and history, and my love of reading. (Professors of literature these days are supposed to hide their enjoyment of fiction. I’m a philosopher, so I don’t have to be coy.)”



African American Review, winter, 1995, Yoshinobu Hakutani, review of Richard Wright: Critical Perspectives Past and Present, p. 683.

American Prospect, June 17, 2002, Gara Lamarche, review of Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry, p. A13.

Archaeology, September-October, 1999, Robert L. Douglas, review of Microsoft Encarta Africana: Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Black History and Culture, p. 73.

Booklist, November 1, 1996, Mary Carroll, review of Color Conscious: The Political Morality of Race, p. 463; February 15, 2000, Mary Ellen Quinn, review of Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience, p. 1132; March 15, 2003, Bryce Christensen, review of Thinking It Through: An Introduction to Contemporary Philosophy, p. 1255; December 1, 2007, Bryce Christensen, review of Experiments in Ethics, p. 6.

Christian Science Monitor, December 9, 1999, Trudy C. Palmer, review of Africana, p. 19; August 22, 2002, Jenny Attiyeh, “In Defense of the Ivory Tower: Philosopher Anthony Appiah Argues the Importance of ‘Figuring Things Out’ over ‘Doing,”’ p. 12.

Chronicle of Higher Education, April 5, 2002, Danny Postel, “Is Race Real?, p. A10.

Commonweal, February 25, 2000, Julia Vitullo-Martin, reviews of Africana and Microsoft Encarta Africana, p. 26.

Economist, January 15, 2000, review of Africana, p. 84.

Ethics, July, 1994, Oladip Fashina, review of In My Father’s House: Africa in the Philosophy of Culture, pp. 900-902.

Independent, March 21, 1998, Jonathon Green, review of The Dictionary of Global Culture, p. 15.

Journal of Black Studies, November, 1995, Thomas Houessou-Adin, “The Big Con: Europe Upside Down,” p. 185.

Library Journal, November 1, 1999, review of Africana, p. 108; November 15, 1999, Anthony O. Edmonds, Africana, p. 58; April 15, 2000, Brian E.

Coutts, review of Africana, p. 55; March 15, 2003, Leslie Armour, review of Thinking It Through, p. 87; November 1, 2007, David Gordon, review of Experiments in Ethics, p. 70.

Los Angeles Times, February 6, 2000, Julius Lester, review of Africana, p. El.

New Statesman, December 13, 1996, Stephen Howe, review of Color Conscious, p. 45.

New York Times, January 26, 2002, Jacques Steinberg, “A Harvard Star in Black Studies Joins Princeton,” p. Al; January 27, 2002, Jacques Steinberg, “Princeton Embraces Scholar of Black Studies,” p. 20.

New York Times Book Review, January 16, 2000, review of Africana, p. 24.

Publishers Weekly, September 16, 1996, review of Color Conscious, p. 58; October 25, 1999, review of Africana, p. 60; November 1, 1999, review of Africana, p. 49; December 13, 1999, review of Africana, p. 44; November 21, 2005, review of Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers, p. 42.

Research in African Literatures, spring, 1996, Tsenay Serequeberhan, Reflections on In My Father’s House, p. 110, William Slaymaker, “Agents and Actors in African Antifoundational Aesthetics: Theory and Narrative in Appiah and Mudimbe,” p. 119, Katya Gibel Azoulay, “Outside Our Parents’ House: Race, Culture, and Identity,” p. 129; Lekan Oyegoke, “Leaky Mansion? Appiah’s Theory of African Cultures,” p. 143; summer, 1999, Thomas J. Kitson, “Tempering Race and Nation: Recent Debates in Diaspora Identity,” p. 88.

Rocky Mountain News, November 28, 1999, review of Africana, p. E2.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer (Seattle, WA), August 11, 1998, review of Microsoft Encarta Africana, p. D6.

Star-Ledger (Newark, NJ), January 27, 2002, Matthew J. Dowling, “Renowned Professor Is Lured to Princeton,” p. 22.

Wall Street Journal, January 7, 1999, Walter S. Mossberg, review of Microsoft Encarta Africana, p. A13.

Weekly Standard, October 9, 2006, James Seaton, review of Cosmopolitanism.

Whole Earth, summer, 2000, review of Microsoft Encarta Africana, p. 79.


Africana Web site, (November 5, 2002), Tanu T. Henry, “A Dream Team Defection: A Chat with K. Anthony Appiah.”

Kwame Anthony Appiah Web site, (April 18, 2008).