Cosmopolitanism

A provocative piece in Sunday’s NYT Magazine about time, and change, and culture, and reason, from Kwame Anthony Appiah.

A taste:

One of the great savants of the postwar era, John von Neumann, liked to say, mischievously, that “in mathematics you don’t understand things, you just get used to them.” As in mathematical arguments, so in moral ones. Now, I don’t deny that all the time, at every stage, people were talking, giving one another reasons to do things: accept their children, stop treating homosexuality as a medical disorder, disagree with their churches, come out. Still, the short version of the story is basically this: People got used to lesbians and gay men. I am urging that 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. If that is the aim, then the fact that we have all these opportunities for disagreement about values need not put us off. Understanding one another may be hard; it can certainly be interesting. But it doesn’t require that we come to agreement.

One thought on “Cosmopolitanism

  1. Mike,

    That is an interesting idea, and a powerful one, but more and more it seems that we are incapable of having civil discourse right here at home, with people that are supposedly similar to us. Given that, I believe that things will get worse before they get better, but ultimately the American spirit will triumph (we have seen darker days) and we will claim, with legitmacy, that we are the leaders of the free world. The world needs the melting pot to awaken from its slumber.

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