The Honor Code
How Moral Revolutions Happen
Kwame Anthony Appiah is often called a postmodern Socrates, and for good reason: he asks probing questions about identity, ethnicity, honor, and religion during a time when these difficult notions continue to shift. Exciting and erudite, Appiah challenges us to look beyond the boundaries—real and imagined—that divide us, and to celebrate our common humanity.
“Appiah lays out a concept that is not only compelling in its own right but also suggests a connection that may in time help to collate biological and cultural exploration of human morality.”— Edward O. Wilson
Named one of Foreign Policy’s Top 100 public intellectuals, Kwame Anthony Appiah teaches at New York University. He considers readers’ ethical quandries in a weekly column as “The Ethicist” for The New York Times Magazine. He has previously taught at Princeton, Harvard, Yale, Cornell, Duke, and the University of Ghana. From 2009 to 2012 he served as President of the PEN American Center, the world’s oldest human rights organization. In 2012, he was awarded the National Humanities Medal by The White House.
Anthony Appiah’s book Cosmopolitanism is a manifesto for a world where identity has become a weapon and where difference has become a cause of pain and suffering. Cosmopolitanism won the Arthur Ross Book Award, the most significant prize given to a book on international affairs. In his latest book, The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen, Appiah lays out how honor propelled moral revolutions in the past—and could do so in the future. Walter Isaacson (Steve Jobs) calls it “an indispensible book for both moral philosophers and honorable citizens.”
Kwame Anthony Appiah was born in London to a Ghanaian father and a white mother. He was raised in Ghana, and educated in England, at Cambridge University, where he received a Ph.D. in philosophy. As a scholar of African and African-American studies, he established himself as an intellectual with a broad reach. His book In My Father's House and his collaborations with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.—including The Dictionary of Global Culture and Africana—are major works of African struggles for self-determination. In 2009, he was featured in Astra Taylor’s documentary Examined Life, alongside Martha Nussbaum, Slavoj Zizek, and other leading contemporary philosophers.
“Prof. Appiah was wonderful to work with. He went with the flow, agreed to a last minute media interview, etc. He was calm and was interested in engaging with those he met. Couldn’t ask for anything more.”University of Alberta
Philosophers spend lots of time thinking about what is right and wrong, and some time thinking about how to get people to see what is right and wrong—but almost no time thinking about how to get them to do what they know is right and to stop doing what is wrong. Anthony Appiah has spent the last decade thinking about what it takes to turn moral understanding into moral behavior. In this talk, he explores one of the keys to real moral revolution: mobilizing the social power of honor and shame to change the world for the better.
How is it possible to consider the world a moral community when there is so much disagreement about the nature of morality? In this talk, based on his award-winning book Cosmopolitanism, Anthony Appiah presents answers that are grounded in a new ethics which celebrates our common humanity, while at the same time offering a practical way to manage our differences. He offers a new approach to living a moral life in the modern age, where the competing claims of “a Clash of Civilizations” on one hand, and a groundless moral relativism on the other, can make such a project seem impossible. With wit, reason, and humanity, Appiah explores some of the central ethical questions of our time.