On Wednesday, Sept. 5, students, faculty and visitors attended "The Life of Honor," a lecture presented by Dr. Kwame Anthony Akroma-Ampim Kusi Appiah, at the Frank H. McClung Museum. His lecture was the kick-off event to celebrate UT's new Humanities Center's first full term of operations.
Appiah's lecture focused on two main ideas: honor and cosmopolitanism.
On the subject of honor, Appiah said, "An honorable person cares about being worthy of respect."
Appiah said that honor is dependent on social identity, and codes of honor determine how one should behave. There was much talk about the notion of "collective honor," or the idea that one person's actions can positively or negatively affect the honor of many (for example, how the world view of Americans can be affected based on the actions of its political leaders).
On the subject of cosmopolitanism, or global citizenship, Appiah said, "We should care about the fate of all citizens, not just those in our society."
He cautioned listeners to be careful in their approach, however, citing two separate incidents regarding the stopping of female genital-cutting in different cultures. One incident actually led to an increase in female circumcision; another was more successful in stopping the practice.
The lecture was well received, with many giving Appiah a standing ovation. Students attended the lecture for many different reasons. Matthew Smith, a Ph.D. student in English, has read many of Appiah's books and appreciated his humanistic approach.
"His personality was what I expected from reading his books," said Smith. "He had a refreshing ethical standpoint. He is concerned about what it means to be a good human being in the world."
Not everyone was impressed, however. Students such as Amanda Capannola, senior in American Studies, attended the lecture at the advice of her professors due to her interest in interdisciplinary studies.
"Honestly, I was kind of disappointed," said Capannola. "I expected him to be more progressive, not so inclusive, to address the structures that shape our notion of honor instead of just talking about them as if they're normal."
Following the lecture, audience members had the chance to engage Appiah in a question and answer session. There was also a reception in the rotunda of the museum, where guests could converse with Appiah and enjoy the food that was provided.
The event was free and open to the public. It was sponsored by the University of Tennessee Humanities Center, the College of Arts and Sciences, the Haines-Morris Endowment Fund, and Ready for the World Intercultural and International Initiative.
Appiah joined Princeton University's faculty in 2002 as Laurance S. Rockefeller University Professor of Philosophy and the University Center for Human Values. He was born in London and raised in Ghana, and received his Ph.D. in Philosophy from Cambridge University in England. Appiah is a recipient of the National Humanities Medal, an honor given to him by President Obama.