Sunday, January 01, 2006

A New Year's Cosmopolitan Philosophy

Happy New Year!

New Year's Eve and Day bring on the opportunity to think about the future of this world. I was very happy to read a proposal for "Cosmopolitanism" by the philosopher, Kwame Anthony Appiah, in today's New York Times Magazine.

His essay reflects values that I have held for almost as long as I've been thinking about what it means to be an ethical human being in an increasingly interdependent world. I hope you share these values too; and I hope you have a chance to read his article.

Some of what he discusses points to the importance of forging connections - something I've written about elsewhere. A few quotes appear below.

"We should learn about people in other places, take an interest in their civilizations, their arguments, their errors, their achievements, not because that will bring us to agreement but because it will help us get used to one another - something we have a powerful need to do in this globalized era."

Again, the importance of connections, of associating with one another, seeing the differences and similarities among us a human beings - differences and similarities that may not be immediately identifiable due to the barriers and lenses of language, for example, but which we will recognize over time if we "get used to" one another.

"One distinctively cosmopolitan commitment is to pluralism. Cosmopolitans think that there are many values worth living by and that you cannot live by all of them. So we hope and expect that different people and different societies will embody different values. Another aspect of cosmopolitanism is what philosophers call fallibilism - the sense that our knowledge is imperfect, provisional, subject to revision in the face of new evidence."

Scientists know very well that all knowledge is tentative - ready to be revised by the next set of scientific findings. All of us need to develop this understanding.

"A tenable global ethics has to temper a respect for difference with a respect for the freedom of actual human beings to make their own choices. That's why cosmopolitans don't insist that everyone become cosmopolitan. They know they don't have all the answers. They're humble enough to think that they might learn from strangers; not too humble to think that strangers can't learn from them."

This can be a tough one. We absolutely must remain open to the possibility that the other person's way may be the right way (at least at this point in time). In many cases, we will modify our thinking and behavior. Yet, we must also be ready to open others' eyes, gently teach, and lead them to new ways, when we've sincerely considered all the available cultural perspectives and yet remain convinced that our insight offers the best option.

Peace and best wishes for 2006!

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