Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Respect and Honor and Respect and Honor and Respect and...

Kwame Anthony Appiah, Professor of Philosophy and Law at NYU
I was curious what Kwame Anthony Appiah’s lecture was really going to be about. I was expecting and hoping that it would be about the importance of showing respect to others and acknowledging the ways in which they are honorable, or something along those lines. I was definitely not prepared for the philosophical lecture that was to come. I must admit, I completely lost where Appiah was going for most of the lecture. I heard the words “honor” and “respect” innumerable times and it honestly sounded like he was repeating the same thing over and over with slightly different phrasing for the first 20 minutes. (This is not to belittle his intelligence or his field/research, this is only to say that I sadly could not comprehend it as well as I would have liked.)
Later in the lecture, he got to some ideas that I could actually think about, such as the idea of showing respect to soldiers because we perceive them as extremely honorable people. I definitely got more interested when he started talking about the influence of different cultures on each other. I found it very interesting how it was Western missionaries who got the Chinese government to rethink foot-binding. And then on the other hand, when missionaries tried to end female genital mutilation in certain Eastern countries, they were met with resistance and the horrific practice only grew.
I had trouble seeing how this lecture applied at all to our class until I read the last bit of The Medium is the Massage just now. The ideas presented in the book are rather outdated and tend to glorify the “West,” while Appiah’s lecture was very impartial and spoke of facts rather than ideals or biased ideas.


  1. I totally agree with you that I was a bit lost myself as to what he talking about at first, but I did find his later observations more compelling. Some people think he's promoting western ideologies, but I think he's just making analyses of how they can potentially help affected cultures and relates that to how we as liberal arts college students can also help.

  2. You voiced the major problem I had with his lecture: in trying to back his argument by defining respect and honor innumerable times, he neglected to say much of anything. I also agree with your last point. Having taken a lot of Asian Studies classes, I often hear of the "East's" "Westernization", a term that obviously has a lot of flaws. I agree that Appiah didn't seem to be talking about this and was careful to sidestep the controversy of imposing values.

  3. I actually think McLuhan's ideas about east and west are more complicated than that, although maybe it's just because I refuse to believe he is really pro-westernization. I think his use of the James Joyce quote, "The west will shake the east awake" is tongue in cheek, far too sincere to be featured as a serious point by McLuhan, and it in fact serves more as a counterpoint. I do think Appiah took a fairly neutral path with his lecture, but if anything, he tended to favor western values and political strategies, at least more than McLuhan.

  4. I really like the last point you make about comparing Appiah to McLuhan, and considering their differing levels of emphasis on fact and partial opinion. But I don't necessary agree with the fact that McLuhan is presenting an outdated and glorifying example of the west. And I'll just say that Willa said it better than I could!

  5. Edit: Everything I say and everything I do is wrong

  6. Nice, dude, we used the same picture. I thought that was a pretty college picture of him. Anywho, I, too, was struggling to keep up during the lecture, I think just becuase of the nature of packing a whole political and social philosophy theory into 40 minutes in a lecture hall. It was tough to follow at times, but I was definitely made to think about honor and respect in a new way. Sounds like you did too. Nice.