The Contemporary Period

17.1 Appiah

A major focus of Kwame Anthony Appiah’s work is the social and ethical questions that arise from the collision of cultures in a shrinking world. Appiah proposes cosmopolitanism as a solution. Cosmopolitanism is the idea that we have moral duties to all persons, even those outside our family and community. These duties Appiah believes are rooted in objective, universal values.

17.2 Nussbaum

Nussbaum is a philosopher who believes philosophy should be applicable to daily life. Toward this end, she has taken on some of the most serious societal concerns of our times—among them, sex and social justice, feminism, religious intolerance, gay rights, race and international development, moral relativism, democracy, and education. Her overriding view is the importance of equal moral respect for all individuals.

17.3 Blum

Lawrence Blum is one of several contemporary philosophers working on one of the weightiest issues of our time: racism. Blum identifies the beliefs that lie at the heart of racism and warns against the conceptual inflation of the words racist and racism through overuse and misapplication. Blum is also concerned about the danger of conflating different categories of racism, and therefore carefully distinguishes personal racism from both social and institutional racism.

17.4 Martin Luther King Jr.

Best known for his central, galvanizing role in the American civil rights movement and for his compelling calls for justice and equality, Martin Luther King Jr. advocated a Gandhian type of nonviolent protest. It is the middle road between the paths of militant violence and nonviolent inaction.

17.5 Chalmers

David Chalmers is a leading figure in contemporary philosophy of mind best known for his work on the “hard problem” of consciousness, that is, the problem of explaining why we have conscious experience at all. Contrary to those who think consciousness can be explained entirely in physical terms, Chalmers argues against reductionist accounts of consciousness based on the possibility of zombies. Because a creature physically identical to him but lacking conscious experience is metaphysically possible, Chalmers concludes that physical states cannot be essential to conscious experience. Materialism, therefore, must be false.

17.6 Gardiner

Stephen Gardiner is a philosopher who approaches climate change as an ethical issue, rather than simply a scientific, political, or technical one. According to Gardiner, the failure to take effective action to address climate change is an ethical failure caused by the convergence of three problems—or “storms” as he calls them—that hinder our ability to behave ethically. Gardiner argues that these storms are made worse by what he calls the “tyranny of the contemporary”—the tendency to pass off potentially catastrophic costs to future generations in order to enjoy modest benefits in the here and now.

17.7 Derrida and Cixous

Jacques Derrida is most famous for the deconstruction method of dissecting language. Deconstruction is a way of unpacking a text to reveal hidden assumptions and contradictions that subvert the ostensible meaning. One of those assumptions Derrida terms logocentrism, the preoccupation with truth, logic, and rationality that characterizes the Western intellectual tradition. This means, among other things, that we take language to be static, fixed, when in fact it is fluid and changeable, when meanings are slippery.

Derrida’s colleague Hélène Cixous has written on a remarkably broad array of topics but has written most extensively on the philosophical and psychological implications of the act of writing.

Back to top