In these Conversations, President Andy Hamilton interviews NYU faculty, students, and alumni who are using their intellectual gifts, determination, and creativity to make a profound difference in our world. With each guest, he pulls back the curtain to learn the origins of their inspiration, the current focus of their work, and their vision for the future.
Kwame Anthony Appiah, NYU professor of philosophy and law, was named in Forbes magazine in 2009 as one of the “world’s seven most powerful thinkers” by then-Princeton University President Shirley Tilghman.
Appiah’s pioneering philosophy on identity and our individual role in the global community has gained acclaim through his numerous books—including 2007’s Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers, which former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called an “appeal for mutual respect and understanding” that he hoped would be heard “far and wide.” Many will surely know him, quite simply, as “The Ethicist”—which is the title of the weekly New York Times Magazine column in which he answers questions posed by readers facing moral dilemmas.
Appiah was born in London, where his parents—Peggy Cripps (a novelist, art collector, scholar, and children’s writer), and Joseph (who would become a member of Ghana’s parliament, an ambassador, and president of the Ghana Bar Association)—met at a gathering for the West African Students Union, of which Joseph was president. On his father's side, his ancestry is traced to the king of Ashanti, a constitutionally protected state in union with Ghana; his mother's lineage extends back to William the Conqueror. Appiah moved as an infant with his parents to Kumasi, Ghana, where he was raised, and eventually earned his PhD in philosophy at the University of Cambridge in 1982. Since then he has also taught at Harvard, Yale, and the University of Ghana, among other institutions.