Kant and Richard Rorty – cosmopolitians in terms of Anthony Appiah?

Appiah, born as what we may denote multi-racial and multi-cultural may have recognized early on how many different people the post-modern human encounters. Appiah considers us responsible for everybody we know and affect. Both let him define a framework for the realization of human responsibility in a highly diversified world: Cosmopolitanism. With its ahistorical responsibility overarching diverse communities, he  reminds of the distinction between ahistorical Kantians and history-and-community Hegelians, to the latter of which Richard Rorty refers. To what extent could Appiah’s Cosmopolitanism call upon both – Rorty and Kant?

To find a negative litmus test we take Appiah’s definition of counter-cosmopolitanism: „Join us, the counter-cosmopolitans say, and we will be all sisters and brothers. But each of them trample on our differences“ [1]. Hence, counter-cosmopolitanism claims that mutual responsibility can only grow on homogeneous soil: you have to be like me if I am supposed to feel responsible for you. But, according to Appiah, without global responsibility there is no cosmopolitanism. Hence, we have two premises rendering a thinker non-cosmopolitan from the outset: responsibility neccessitates a however constituted common identity among humans (premise A), but there is no such thing as common identity on a global scale (premise B).

Appiah offers also a positive definition of cosmopolitanism. Naturally we only feel responsible for a few dozens of familiar and fairly similiar people, whereas in a global world we are responsibly for a vast number of diverse people. Appiah sees cosmopolitanism as the answer [2]: endorsing diversity of local groups as necessary condition, but meeting your global responsibility and “exchanging ideas about what is right and wrong” [2]. For the latter, he does not presuppose any ahistorical meta-narratives like human dignity; knowing and affecting other people is foundation enough.

Richard Rorty doesn’t see any irresponsibility towards a community of which one does not think of oneself as a member. Otherwise runaway slaves and tunnelers under the Berlin wall would be irresponsible.” [3]. Consequently, if there is no irresponsibility to the outside, there cannot be responsibility towards it either. Hence, premise A is met, and whether Rorty isn’t cosmopolitan hinges on the second question. Soe – does he see any universal identify among humans?

Not really. A universal human identity presupposes a relativistic standpoint outside any framework. For Rorty, such relativistic position is a myth; wherever ones stands, he is still within a framework. A universal human identity would hence be a framework itself, For Rorty, human frameworks rely on shared values, beliefs, emotions, contrasting to other groups. So, unless the global community provides such shared enities  – which would constitute a meta-narrative –  human dignity is not global. For Rorty, there are no meta-narrative at all. Case closed?

No yet. We have to consider what Rorty offers as foundation for global responsibility before dismissing him. In his objections to his own sayings [1], he describes the situation of a child in the woods without any cultural affiliations. Rorty concedes that, albeit this child possesses no human dignity, it’s nevertheless to be treated as human, due to our tradition “that the human stranger from whom all dignity has been stripped is to be taken in, to be re-clothed with dignity” [1]. But, he sees this foundation neither as Kantian nor religious meta-narrative: the “existence of human rights … as the existence of God .. has little reference to our treatment of such a child” [3]. Obviously, he counts both facts – a stranger being as well as the local Samarian tradition – as foundation for universal responsibility; sounds close to Appiah.

Still, in his essay, Rorty leaves the question open what would happen if our tradition didn’t have that commandment of “reclothe the stranger with dignity”. Then, there would be no foundation for universal responsibility. Hence, philosophically and with a caveat we classify Rorty as Conditional Appiahian Cosmopolitan.

Kant, in “What is Enlightenment?” recognizes diversity in form of institutions and nations. He does not want those local communities to fall apart, mostly because they embody the “interests of the commonwealth”. For Kant, the individual is responsible for the local commuity of which he is part, and in those confines, he is only permitted to a “private use of reason” , but is also globally responsible for a public reasoning – for the sake of the progress of universal values, eventually benefical for the local community:

“… it would be very harmful if an officer receiving an order from his superiors were to quibble openly, while on duty … He must simply obey. But he cannot reasonably be banned from making observations … on the errors in the military service, and from submitting these to his public for judgment …“ [4]

Kant, however, puts global responsibility on an ahistorical, meta-narrative basis by proposing human dignity, for the sake of which local communities eventually have to adapt: “…it [intellectual freedom] ] even influences the principles of governments, which find that they can themselves profit by treating man in a manner appropriate to his dignity” [4]. Locally, he grounds human responsibility on a Hegelian history-community basis, comparable to Appiah’s understanding that responsibility comes from us knowing and affecting each other. Considering both aspects of Kant’s, we may consider him an Ahistorical Appiahian Cosmopolitan.

[1] Appiah, Cosmopolitanism, The Counter-Cosmopolitans
[2] Appiah, ‘Examined Life’: http://youtu.be/VjMnyP142b8
[3] Rorty, Postmodernist Bourgeois Liberalism
[4] Kant, What is Enlightenment?


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