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Do you consider that your work belongs to the field of "political theory", and why? If so, what has drawn you to do political theory and to describe your work as belonging to the field?
It is easiest to answer these questions in reverse order, since what draws me to political theory both explains my conception of it and makes evident why some of my work belongs to the field conceived in that way.
So: my interest in academic research in political theory grew originally out of my pre-occupation with two sets of issues that interested me for personal reasons. One was the theoretical underpinnings of Pan-Africanism as a movement. My father was active in that movement and participated in the struggle for national independence and decolonisation in Ghana, in particular, and in Africa more generally. He was much influenced by W. E. B. Du Bois, whom he had met at the Fifth Pan-African Congress in Manchester in 1945, and by Kwame Nkrumah, whom he represented in London in the early 1950s. The first course I taught at Yale, where I had my first job as an Assistant Professor, was on Pan-Africanism. The accident of my beginnings in Medical Sciences made me skeptical of the sorts of biological reductionism about racial identity that were still quite common at that time. But it also seemed obvious to me that the Black identity that had been created in the African Atlantic Diaspora was not limited to people whose ancestry lay entirely in the African Continent. (This was to some extent a personal matter for me, of course, because my mother came from England…

  • Aristotle
  • ethics
  • eudaimonia
  • humanities
  • ideographic
  • identity
  • nomothetic
  • Pan-Africanism
  • philosophy
  • political theory
  • John Rawls
  • Tommie Shelby
  • social sciences
  • Michael Walzer
  • Cornel West
  • Wilhelm Windelband
Kwame Anthony Appiah
Kwame Anthony Appiah was born in London and grew up in Ghana. Since receiving undergraduate and doctoral degrees at Cambridge, he has taught at Yale, Cornell, Duke, Harvard, Princeton and, most recently, at New York University, where he is Professor of Philosophy and Law. His earliest work was in the philosophy of language, including two books, Assertion and Conditionals (1985) and For Truth in Semantics (1986), that dealt with issues in the theory of meaning. Since, then he has worked a good deal in the philosophy of culture and in ethics and political theory, publishing In My Father's House: Africa in the philosophy of Culture (1992), Color Conscious: The Political Morality of Race, with Amy Gutmann (1996), The Ethics of Identity (2005), Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers (2006), Experiments in Ethics (2008), The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen (2010), Lines of Descent: W. E. B. Du Bois and the Emergence of Identity (2014), As If: Idealization and Ideals (2017), and The Lies that Bind: Rethinking Identity (2018). Along with these books (and three novels), he has published hundreds of articles and reviews both in scholarly journals and in the public press. He has served on the Boards of the New York Public Theater and the New York Public Library, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters, chaired the Boards of the American Council of Learned Societies and the American Philosophical Association and the Booker Prize committee of judges, and been President of the PEN American Center and the Modern Language Association. President Obama presented him with the National Humanities Medal in 2012.
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