Kwame Anthony Appiah, personal formation, social circumstance

13Feb07

How do we individually construct ourselves in relation to our circumstance?

So much of my daily reading comes through inadvertent google searching. Today is no different.

I happened to be reading a blog about the Arsenal Gunners when I stumbled across a reference to the impressive Ghanian Captian and Midfielder, Stephen Appiah. I wanted to know if Appiah was still playing for a Turkish side or if he had been transferred to an EPL side. Without an extra thought, I opened a new tab in my Firefox browser and started a Google search for Appiah.

Two links caught my attention: the wikipedia page of Stephen Appiah, and the Stanford Presidential Lecture’s page for an African/English philosopher called Kwame Anthony Appiah.

The lines–Appiah conducts his Socratic interrogations in the language and style of Kwame Anthony Appiah is, perhaps, uniquely qualified to articulate this –piqued my interest.

I looked briefly to see that the footballer Appiah had not in fact been transferred according to Wikipedia.

Then, I turned my attention to the philosopher Appiah.

To my surprise and elation, this Appiah specializes in a kind of postmodern analytic philosophy with a concern for constructing a individual identity in dialogue with social circumstance.

This resonates with my readings in Nelson-Pallmeyer’s book Jesus Against Christianity and in Harry Frankfurt’s notions of love in Reasons of Love.

Here are some quotations:

  • He probes the complexity of this process of personal formation, emphasizing the opportunities as well as the dangers for self-creation in today’s ethnically fluid and culturally hybrid world. No less importantly, he provides standards to measure the moral valences of the lives we make and then charges us with the responsibility to examine and revise them constantly.
  • “I am sympathetic. I see how the story goes. It may even be historically, strategically necessary for the story to go this way.” But he also fundamentally objects to the politics of “racial identification” because it constricts personal freedom by designating “proper ways of being black.” Between “Uncle Tom and Black Power” he would, of course, choose the latter, but “I would like not to have to choose.” We must, Appiah emphasizes, avoid replacing “one tyranny with another.” He encourages us, instead, to shun prescriptive codes of “identification” and “live with fractured identities; engage in identity play; find solidarity, yes, but recognize contingency, and, above all, practice irony.”[7]
  • A free self is a human self, and we are, as Aristotle long ago insisted, creatures of the polis, social beings. We are social in many ways and for many reasons: because we desire company, because we depend on one another for survival, because so much that we care about is collectively created.[9

How do I infuse my life with meaning? Where are the appropriate ways in which I can ground my commitments and aims in my life? Where is the locus of a meaningful life, or of a just society in a world in which so many souls are cultural hybrid tapestries?

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