What is Cosmopolitanism?

SmartPlanet reexamines The Examined Life, a mind-blowing film featuring prominent philosophers in unexpected urban landscapes.
Written by Sonya James, Contributor

Our city centers are exploding outward and upward. Our consumption practices are now waste emergencies. And as our definition of the word "citizen" shifts, so do the borders that categorize groups nationally, socially, and politically.

How does empathy work in a globalized world?

Are we responsible for all citizens? Can we deny suffering if it is not in our direct vicinity?

These are a few of the many questions tackled in the 2008 film The Examined Life, a film SmartPlanet will be reexamining this week.

The filmmaker, Astra Taylor, approached eight prominent philosophers and asked them to speak in a setting of their choice.

In the video below, Ghanaian-British-American philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah explores cosmopolitanism at the Toronto Pearson Airport.

"If you live a modern life - if you're traveling through an airport - you're going to be passing lots and lots of people," Appiah says. "Within a few minutes you'll have passed more people than most of our remote ancestors would have passed in their entire lives."

It is not surprising that we are good "at the face-to-face stuff", that we feel responsible for our children and parents and cousins (for the most part). "But we now have to be responsible for fellow citizens both of our country and of the world," Appiah urges. "The question is, can we figure that out?"

That is where cosmopolitanism steps in - camaraderie in the context of difference.

This celebration of diversity is not like old-school anthropological relativism. When a woman is a victim of violence, "culture" is not an acceptable justification.

We need to "recognize the huge diversity of values by which people are divided," Appiah says.

We're different. Cosmopolitanism thinks we're entitled to be different.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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