Kwame Anthony Appiah and John Gray on Tribes, Identities and the Need to Belong

Thursday 18 October 2018, 7pm | Emmanuel Centre

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In a world where there is increasing sensitivity, confusion and unease over how we should talk about race, religion and culture, Intelligence Squared brings together two of the most respected thinkers to shed new light on this most thorny of topics.

Kwame Anthony Appiah is one of America’s leading philosophers and gave the prestigious BBC Reith Lectures in 2016. Born in London to a Ghanaian father and British mother and brought up in Ghana, he has a cosmopolitan outlook which infuses his thinking. Appiah will challenge our assumptions about different kinds of identity and argue that most of our notions about them were formed in the nineteenth century and need to be updated for the twenty-first. Take race, for example. Much of our understanding of it, he will argue, is still based on outdated, Victorian-era pseudoscience. Or take the nation state. We may all agree that we have the right to rule ourselves, but how do we define who ‘we’ are? And the very idea that there is such a thing as Western culture, he will say, is mistaken.

In conversation with Appiah will be John Gray, one of Britain’s most provocative and original thinkers, who has never been afraid to challenge the conventional wisdom of the day. Gray takes issue with the idea popular amongst liberals that there is a hierarchy of identities, which gives greater value to those of historically oppressed ethnic and sexual minorities, while downplaying identities that are based on nation or religion.

Identities divide us, but they also unite us and fulfil our need for a sense of collective belonging. Join us on October 18th as these two great thinkers explore one of the most complex and controversial issues of our times.

John Gray image ©


Kwame Anthony Appiah

Professor of Philosophy and Law at New York University and President of the PEN American Center. Grandson of a British chancellor of the exchequer and nephew of a Ghanaian king, he spent his childhood in both countries, before studying philosophy at Cambridge University. He is author of seminal works on philosophy and culture, including In My Father’s House, The Honor Code and the prize-winning Cosmopolitanism. His forthcoming book is called The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity. He is chair of the judges for the 2018 Man Booker Prize. He lives with his husband in New York and New Jersey.

John Gray

One of the UK’s best known and most popular philosophers. Between 1998 and 2007 he was Professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics, and since 2008 he has been Emeritus Professor at the LSE. He has published over twenty books, which have been translated into over thirty languages. His recent publications include Gray’s Anatomy: Selected Writings, The Silence of Animals: Thoughts on Progress and Other Modern Myths, and Seven Types of Atheism. He writes and reviews for The New Statesman, The New York Review of Books, TLS and other journals.


Speakers are subject to change.