President Alfred H. Bloom's Charge to Kwame Anthony Appiah
Kwame Anthony Appiah, you are a scholar of Africana Studies and one of the world's leading theorists of identity, race, and culture. Your philosophical questioning and your commitment to moral reasoning led one critic to call you our postmodern Socrates.
You were born in London to a British mother and a Ghanaian father, grew up in Ghana and later studied philosophy at Clare College, Cambridge, earning there your B.A., M.A. and PhD. You went on to teach at Yale, Cornell, Duke, and Harvard, to lecture around the world, and to serve as the W.E.B. Du Bois Distinguished Lecturer in Philosophy at CUNY, and you currently hold the Laurence S. Rockefeller Chair in Philosophy at Princeton.
Your doctoral dissertation in semantics developed into two major books. Thirteen others and more than 130 articles have followed, on subjects ranging from the philosophical foundations of liberalism and issues of law and human rights, to the limits of pluralism and the changing nature and politics of race.
With Henry Louis Gates, Jr. you edited a series on African-American literature and an encyclopedia of African and African American experience; with your mother you co-authored a collection of Akan proverbs. Your collection of cultural essays and personal reminiscences entitled In My Father's House, winner of the 1993 Herskovits Award, brings together clear-sighted criticism of the fallacies of identity politics with richly informed appreciation for the cultural complexity and achievement of African peoples. And your latest book, Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers, compels respect not only for our ties to extended families, ethnic cultures, and religious groups — but also to those others beyond these groups whose beliefs and customs constitute an integral part of our vibrant, multidimensional world.
You have received the Ralph Bunche Award in Political Science, and the Annual Book Award from the North American Society for Social Philosophy.
Reading your work leads our students to develop their own examined perspectives on the critical balances between preservation of particularism and cosmopolitanism, and between culturally determined ethical systems and universal ethical claims. And our faculty draw richly on that work as an extraordinary intellectual resource.
Kwame Anthony Appiah, we celebrate your steady insistence on speaking reason to often inflammatory sectarian arguments, even as you understand the frustrations that motivate those arguments. We celebrate your wise guidance as we seek to legitimate our own visions of universal justice in the face of others whose principles we do not share. We thank you for providing a philosophical and ethical framework for a multicultural yet mutually respectful 21st century. And we take great pride in admitting you to this community.
Upon the recommendation of the faculty, and by the power vested in me by the Board of Managers of Swarthmore College and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, I have the honor to bestow upon you the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.