Form and Content
In his wide-ranging book The Ethics of Identity, Princeton philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah explores the enormous scope of human “identities,” including beliefs, self-concepts, patterns of behavior, and labels. For Appiah, identities are multiple, overlapping, and context-sensitive; some are fundamentally important and enduring, while others are trivial and transient. Each normal individual possesses a unique sense of personal identity, and almost everyone also shares a variety of collective identities with other persons. The range of identities is almost infinite, as they can be based on nationality, race, religion, gender, profession, political ideology, or family, as well as many other associations and activities.
Observing that one’s choices among alternative identities largely determine one’s individuality, Appiah refers approvingly to John Stuart Mill’s ideas about individuality, which Mill sees as an “enterprise for self-discovery,” and becoming the “captain of one’s own soul.” He argues that the development of individuality is a significant element of well-being and is an “intrinsic good” so long as it is part of a good life that gives others their dues. There is, however, an inevitable tension between treasuring this individuality and taking collective identities seriously, for individuality necessarily involves characteristics that make one distinct and unlike others.
For the most part, Appiah argues,...
(The entire section is 564 words.)