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Mistaken Identities: The Conflict Over Culture, Class, Gender and Nation

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

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Race, religion and identity are being talked about as never before. While minority groups raise their voices for recognition and inclusion, others feel that their
culture is being eroded. In these increasingly febrile times, Intelligence Squared brought together two of the world’s most prominent thinkers to debate the issues that are polarising our society.

Kwame Anthony Appiah, Professor of Philosophy at New York University, unpicked the very notion of identity. He argues that our outdated prejudices taint the way we understand concepts of race, class, nationality and sexuality. Race, he claims, is a fiction based on Victorian-era pseudoscience. Appiah urges us to question and rethink our assumptions in order to build a more tolerant and accepting society. But how helpful is this viewpoint to those who face the reality of racism and feel the brunt of discrimination on a daily basis?

In conversation with Appiah was John Gray, one of Britain’s most provocative and original commentators. In contrast to Appiah, Gray argues that categories like race are not just ‘mistakes’; they come about as the result of concrete political situations which cannot just be wished away by a philosopher in his ivory tower. Gray also contends that liberals who seek to undo traditional notions of identity have become even more dogmatic, intolerant and illiberal than the conservatives whom they criticise. In their hypocrisy, they have created a new hierarchy of identity which privileges ethnicity, gender and sexuality over nation and religion.



Ritula Shah

BBC journalist and broadcaster

Award-winning BBC journalist and broadcaster. She is the main presenter of the World Tonight, Radio 4’s main evening news programme, which focuses on domestic politics and international affairs. She has presented the programme from all over the world and is passionate about bringing global stories to the widest possible audience. She has also made a number or documentaries and series for Radio 4.

Kwame Anthony Appiah

Professor of Philosophy at NYU

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 new 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

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 there. He has published over twenty books, including 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. His latest book is the bestselling Feline Philosophy: Cats and the Meaning of Life, described by The Observer as ‘The intellectual cat's pyjamas ... Gray's is the perfect book for the estranging oddness of the pandemic.’