Kwame Anthony Appiah is the Laurance S. Rockefeller University Professor of Philosophy at Princeton University.
Kwame Anthony Appiah on
What has changed in the world has been an enormous increase in the flow of information across societies. It has always been the case, I think, that people understood that they had moral obligations to people they knew about. Well, now you know about everybody. So, in a certain sense, this kind of information flow makes it essential that we in some sense take responsibility for everybody.
We now know about everybody, in principle, and we now can affect everybody, in principle. That just means applying normal moral ideas that are present in almost every moral tradition, that we have at least negative obligations to everybody, that we have at least the negative obligation not to cause harm to strangers who pose no threat to us.
We don't live in a world of peace. Could we? I assume we could. It's an assumption. Those people who think that the way to get there is not instantaneous, total disarmament but gradual reduction in the level of armament in the world, are surely right.
One of the things about democratic societies is everybody, rightly, regards themselves as a center of moral authority. So deferring to others in moral questions is not something that people in democratic societies are inclined to do, nor I think should they.
We have to run democratic societies. The alternatives are undoubtedly worse. But democracy can definitely be improved. It needs to be improved, because all these other problems that we have to solve, especially the big ecological problems, are either going to be solved by crises that produce very, very high costs, or they are going to be solved by democracies getting better at making complicated decisions and coordinating with other democracies.