Sir Douglas Robb Lectures 2013

Identity, Honour, Politics - A series of three lectures by Professor Kwame Anthony Appiah

Professor Kwame Anthony Appiah

Contemporary politics and political theory acknowledge the importance of our social identities for public life. Gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, nationality: all of these are rightly seen as central modes of identification for political mobilisation and for making claims to rights and to goods. But at the same time many democrats have an ideal of civic equality that suggests that we should speak to each other as equal citizens and that "identity politics" can be pushed too far.

These ideas provide a framework for a series of three lectures by Professor Kwame Appiah.


Professor Kwame Anthony Appiah – A brief biography

Kwame Anthony Appiah grew up in Ghana and in England. Since receiving a BA and a PhD in philosophy at Cambridge University, he has taught in the United States, most recently at Princeton University, where he is Laurance S. Rockefeller University Professor of philosophy and the University Centre for Human Values.

Among his works are three mystery novels and a variety of works in philosophy and cultural studies, some relatively technical and some addressed to a wider reading public; among the latter are Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers, Experiments in Ethics and The Honour Code. He reviews regularly for the New York Review of Books, and has spoken often in public lectures in Europe, Africa and the Americas about topics in literature, philosophy and African and African American studies.

For a number of years he was Chairman of the Freedom to Write Committee of the PEN American Centre and, in 2009, he was elected President of the Centre, where he served for three years. Professor Appiah co-edited the Dictionary of Global Culture and Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African-American Experience with Henry Louis Gates Jr. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and has chaired the Boards of the American Council of Learned Societies and the American Philosophical Association. He is currently working on a book about the idea of the West.

Further biographical details available at



Lecture 1 - Monday 19 August – “I am what we are: Identity in ethics”

A philosophical account of the nature of social identities, focussing on the ways in which they are constituted through social interactions that involve both collaboration and conflict. Professor Appiah explores how identities work in the ethical project that each human being has: the making of a life. He talks about the ways in which our social identities shape both our private, intimate lives, and our public lives, in state and society.

Lecture 2 - Wednesday 21 August – “How do I save my honour?”

This lecture looks at the ways in which honour, both individual and national, connect with democratic life. Professor Appiah shows that honour is profoundly connected with our social identities, and focusses  on how it connects with our identities as citizens. He argues that there is reason to rely on a number of relatively well understood social psychological processes to create a culture of citizen honour that can help sustain the political life of a democratic society.

Lecture 3 - Friday 23 August – “A decent respect to the opinion of mankind”

A discussion on ways in which national honour, the honour in which we participate as citizens of our country, can be mobilised in cross-national dialogues about central questions of morality and human rights. Professor Appiah believes that the engagement of national honour across societies, in the project of helping one another achieve the global realisation of the basic human rights of every man and woman, is one of the most powerful mechanisms for giving meaning to a cosmopolitan ideal.