Curatorial Initiatives
Kant's Essay

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In Conversation with Kwame Anthony Appiah

In May 2010, the Perpetual Peace Project filmed Kwame Anthony Appiah, University Professor of Philosophy at Princeton University, at the Cooper Union's newly opened academic center in New York. He argued that we often understand a given concept by considering its opposite, and in like manner, we can understand Kant's idea of peace by considering the negative consequences of war. He explained that at the heart of his ideas about cosmopolitanism is the struggle to articulate the relationship between the local and the global. A vast relationship exists today between Johannesburg and Shanghai that no longer passes through London or New York, one that can pair a place like Boise, Idaho with a small town in Kenya. He spoke about the importance of these cultural exchanges, and noted that our differences enable us to be part of a larger community, one which he referred to as a great human encyclopedia. Appiah specifically cautioned that we should not abandon Kant's ideas concerning cosmopolianism on account of limitations such as his supposed eurocentrism. Such moments of intolerance in the text as we read it today are outside the main thrust of the work, and Kant's indebtedness to structures such as the nation-state reflects the enlightenment thinking of his time.

Appiah remarked that Kant was absolutely right in thinking that permanent armies should be abolished, and that while this conclusion may appear impractical, one of the greatest predictors of future war can be found in the vast expenditures necessary to permanently maintain an army's preparedness for war. With regard to the United Nations, with which Appiah is himself involved, he noted that believing in the institution doesn't necessarily mean that you think it is doing all it can. While its founding principles have not been achieved, and far from ending war it has also caused war, it is nevertheless better than the alternative of not having one. We will perhaps never have a perfect institution of global governance, but Appiah argued the United Nations has succeeded in enacting Kant's vision of a cosmopolitan 'State of Nations,' one wherein our connections to one another can be strengthened.

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