Rawls' Tradition and Appiah's Cosmopolitanism

WDF 2441901


An article on ethics philosophy

Shattered beings are best represented by bits and pieces. Rainer Maria Rilke


1. Introduction

Nowadays, writing about ethics philosophy seems impossible without reading and understanding Rawls' book ofA Theory of Justice(free download). Rawls by formulizing some abstract concepts in ethics created a new tradition in ethics philosophy and also affected philosophy, in general, for more than half a century. Rawls, in his book, is fundamentally discussing on justice and mankind's basic rights. A Theory of Justice has new approaches to ethics philosophy through its methodology and different perspective to the topic. Thus, certainly most of ethics philosophers are in some ways affected by Rawls' ideas and methodology.

Rawls' methodology is based on shifting between hypothetical situation and reality to create a network of what should be and what there are. He always bridges between hypothetical phase and the real phase. Rawls actually makes a hypothetical framework and then puts the real-life phenomena into that to shape a new understanding of the subject. What makes Rawls' methodology different in ethics philosophy from other philosophers is that Rawls puts the realism into the frame of his idealism, but before him, philosophers mostly were trying to idealize the real-life stories.

However, there normally exist different interpretations of Rawls' comprehensive theory such that consequently led to variant approaches in ethics philosophy.

Appiah is also one of those philosophers who could not get away from Rawls' tradition. This paper intends to question how much and how Appiah has followed Rawls tradition in shaping Cosmopolitanism.

Appiah emphasizes mostly on two key concepts in his book:Cosmopolitanism and Strangers.I am trying to explain what they are meaning in Appiah's philosophy; and how much Appiah was successful in defining these key concepts?

2. Cosmopolitanism

When we read the title of the book, we realize that the cosmopolitanism would be a different approach from the globalization and should have a different feature. It is also expected by audiences to know why Appiah brought the cosmopolitanism instead of the globalization in this argument.

As much as you are going deep to the discussion, and searching for answers, you find it out that Appiah probably wanted to open a new window to ethics philosophy by using the concept of the cosmopolitanism, but he could not be successful. Maybe, he could not, or he did not want to give a certain and specific description of his cosmopolitanism. He just briefly argues at the beginning and leaves it immature.

Appiah begins his book with the story of Shattered Mirror, to point it out that there is not a single and certain meaning of Faith and Truth in the world, but each human community represents a part of the truth as a piece of a shattered mirror:

"All Faith is false, all Faith is true;

Truth is the shattered mirror strown

In myriad bits; wile each believes

His little bit the whole to own". (Appiah, 2007: 5)

Appiah is trying to have a profound approach to the roots of human being as the basic elements of his framework. In this case, Appiah is also following Rawls' tradition. He uses the example of the Shattered Mirror to say what is behind the real-life stories, and on what fields our behaviour are based; as Rawls based his discussion on some fundamental human rights such as freedom and voluntarily actions.

In spite of Appiahs' attempt to identify diversities in human-being as the first step of the cosmopolitanism discussion, he was not successful in introducing this fact as a cosmopolitanism characteristic. What he said in the Shattered Mirror story does merely indicate the concept of pluralism and dissimilarity which is accepted as a basic fact of the globalism. Moreover, Appiah is relying more on cultural pattern; and consider social-cultural diversities as the characteristics of the globalism.

The witchcraft story is another Appiah's key example to show how much societies' understandings from the natural phenomena are different. He does not judge whether which interpretation is true or false; but he firstly emphasizes how differently people understand their lives' facts, and secondly their perceptions are based on various resources.

Appiah apparently recognizes witchcraft in Ghanaian culture as a tool of that society to encounter their natural obstacles. He does not consider the potential conflict between modernism and traditionalism, and just tries to demonstrate the differences. Furthermore, he evidences that even people of a modern society have some irrational beliefs. Appiah believes that our beliefs are based on our personal experiences, our culture and our life circumstances in which we grow up: "There is nothing unreasonable, then, about my kinsmen's belief in witchcraft. They think only what most people would think, given the concepts and belief they inherited; if you grow up with their beliefs and had their experience, that is what you would believe, too" (Appiah, 2007: 42).

Appiah is writing conservatively and not interested to discuss what are true or false, but he just consider that recognizing others' behaviour – even seems irrational- is the first step of the cosmopolitanism; but in this context, he also forgets that this is one of the globalization facts, that titledTolerance.

In this context, Appiah obviously tried to follow Rawl's tradition to enhance the feature of globalization, and bring it to the upper level and shape the term of Cosmopolitanism. This means that what Appiah is focusing on in order to establish his ethical framework are exactly the elements of Globalization. A pluralism approach to the world from a modern and postmodern perspective is what makes Appiah's cosmopolitanism close to globalization; but Appiah is wisely using Rawls' methodology to look at the real-life phenomena from a very basic view. Rawls' in A Theory of Justiceby shaping a hypothetical framework tried to discuss on justice, party and so on. Rawls' initiation was that he changed the perspective to ethics. Before Rawls' Theory the argument on justice was concentrated on production and distribution of goods in society. Rawls' went to the back of such meanings of justice, and tried to look at inequality, human-being, justice and fair, hypothetically. This methodology indeed helped Rawls to make a certain framework to analyze the roots of inequalities not merely as an economical issue, but a philosophical and ethical subject.

Appiah followed Rawls' tradition and applied a similar abstract framework to enrich the term of globalization and create cosmopolitanism concept.

 Now, I am going to figure out this common question "What is the difference between globalization and cosmopolitanism".

As Appiah mentioned, the term of globalization firstly referred to a marketing strategy, and gradually encompassed other fields of human society. Multicultural communities, mass media, telecommunication technology, and particularly internet worked as the tools of shaping globalization concept. The idea behind the globalization is that each society has opportunity to share its goods with others. Though a very complicated network of goods production and distribution has been created and it has been assumed that everybody is supplying her/his cultural, economical and even political products; but the direction of globalization flow has been from the West to the Rest. For example, "the economic dimension of globalization is the expansion and transformation of capitalism into an integrated global economy" (dictionary of sociology, 2006:168). The globalization is also accompanied by some other concepts such as tolerance, democracy and human rights. Therefore, the term of globalization covers a combination of facts by which the relationships among societies are indentified.

On the other side, if we accept the term of Cosmo refers to universe, and has a more abstract meaning than the World and its geographical feature, then we should assume a new understanding of that. Cosmopolitanism is the assumption of mankind existence in the world as a single, rational and equal creature; what makes closer sense to Appiahs' idea. Globalization implies multidimensional connections between societies; but cosmopolitanism means thinking as a mankind in the world regardless societal, economical and political belongings.

As mentioned above, Appiah was not successful to draw a certain boundary between these two concepts, but he confused cosmopolitanism with globalization.

 2.1 How Cosmopolitanism created by Rawls tradition?

Appiah uses absolutely Rawls methodology to discuss his idea of "A Citizen of the World". Rawls established most of his concepts on the concept of Veil of Ignorance. Behind the veil, everybody is equal because everything which depends on human's belongings is removed, such as education, social class, income and etc; and consequently everybody is assumed as a human kind without differences. What Appiah also tried to discuss as the cosmopolitanism is derived from this Rawls' method. In cosmopolitanism, everybody is a citizen of the world; as citizenship implies the equality of a group of people in a city, country, and in this way, in the world. Each citizen has those rights that the other one has. In this context, Appiah shaped his immature idea by Rawls' Veil of Ignorance; but Appiah could not continue the process of Rawls' methodology to link the hypothetical phase to reality and give a concrete meaning of his idea; as Rawls actually based the concept of Original Position on the Veil of Ignorance concept, and discussed how people can stands in their proper places.

Consequently Appiah's idea remained in an idealistic level. He is talking about "a citizen of the world" without considering the realities in human societies. How is it possible to think and behave as a citizen of the world, in the age of political and economical dominance by the West; or when mass media affected different fields of human-life and can change the meaning of certain concepts very easily? Appiah does not say how almost 7 billion people can behave as citizens of the world with equal rights of citizenship, when there exist millions of different actors who shape humankind relationships, politics, culture and economics? Whereas Appiha himself confirm that different understanding that led to different moral value is based on accessibility to material: " Those of us who were given scientific educations have a significant advantage. It's not that we are individually more reasonable; it's that we have been given more materials with which to think about the world." (Appiah, 2007: 42)

3. Who are strangers?

The term of stranger is mostly used in anthropology and sociology referring immigrants and refugees who are residing in a new community. In this sense, strangers are a group of people who have to re-create their identity in a new situation by using different surrounding elements. Some metropolitan cities like Chicago, are established by a combination of strangers' cultures. In this regard Bauman says that: "City life is carried on by strangers among strangers. In the words of Michael Schluter and David Lee, the stranger is "every of us going out" (Bauman, 1995: 126).

However, Appiah's Strangers is almost different. He tried to abstract the notion of strangers and using that as a term to identify world's citizens. In Appiah's words, stranger means everybody in the world who is acting at the same time as a citizen of the world. Therefore, Appiah once again emphatically says that due to cultural differences, everybody in the world is a stranger who should act as a citizen of the world.

4. Postmodern approach

In spite of Rawls' affection on Appiah's ethics philosophy, there is a prominent difference between them. Rawls was the philosopher of the modern era and wrote his book in the time of the Cold War, when the clash between ideologies culminated. Although, Rawls was really successful to escape from ideological atmosphere, he could not discuss on ethics out of the modern boundaries. He believed in equality and inequality, fair and unfair and etc.

But Appiah has a different approach to ethics. His approach is in some way postmodern while he does not talk about good and bad, black and white in the sense of superiority. He does not prioritize culture or value systems. He believes that if there are different understandings in the world that is just because of our cultural background, materials and institutions which shaped our opinion.

"When an American gets a fever and assumes he has an infection, he's applying the concepts that his culture has given him for thinking about disease. If, as I believe, this is a better story than a story about witchcraft, it's not because he's a better person. It's because he has the good fortune to live in a society that has spent enormous amounts of human resources to get that better story." (Appiah, 2007: 43)

For example, by the story of virus, he says that if we ask someone in Newyork about the existence of virus, he or she will answer "Yes, there exist", and if we ask how do you know? He or she continues that scientists say. Appiah shifts the story to Ghana and says that if we ask a Ghanaian about witchcraft, he or she also says "Yes, there exist", and if we continue to know the origin of his/her belief, you are answered that "our ancestors say". In this story, Appiah always agues on different understandings without prioritizing.

One of the principles of postmodernism concept is Uncertainty. There is not an absolute understanding of phenomena. Consequently, value systems cannot be evaluated as well as we get able to classify or prioritize them.

5. Conclusion

In the end, I think that Cosmopolitanism, Ethics in the World of Strangers could be written more comprehensive and philosophical. Now, I just think that Appiah as a philosopher in the early of 21stcentury just made efforts to open a new discussion in ethics, but was not successful to formulize his idea philosophically.

6. References

-         Appiah, Anthony Kwame (2007), Cosmopolitanism, ethics in a world of strangers.

-         Bauman, Zigmunt, 1995, The Stranger Revisited- and Revisiting in Life in Fragments: essays in postmodern morality, p 126.

-         Elizabeth, Wren-Ovens (2007), Postmodern Ethics,

Willy Brandt School of Public Policy at Erfurt University - February 2010

Note: All rights reserved for the writer

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