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DOI: 10.4324/0123456789-S114-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 2017
Retrieved July 15, 2024, from

Article Summary

Cosmopolitanism, in the broadest sense, is a way of thinking about the human condition. It portrays humanity as a universal fellowship. The unity to which cosmopolitans refer can be intellectual (we all share a capacity for reason), moral (we are all part of a single moral community), or institutional (we are all vulnerable to the same political evils and thus require shared collective solutions). The cosmopolitan intuition with its drive to highlight commonality is undoubtedly important. It understands that human beings are capable of an enormous range of good and bad, and attempts to embed human activity in a framework of common rules and norms; hence, it seeks to tame the potential for violent conflict. It tries to give us reasons to care for each other and to broaden our moral and intellectual universe beyond the remit of our personal ties and immediate environment. It offers a model of political action that confronts some of the most pressing challenges we face in the twenty-first century and does so by suggesting inclusive institutional solutions.

Yet, cosmopolitanism would not be an attractive philosophical position if it did not consistently strive to address some of its underlying tensions. One of the most intensely shared elements of the human experience is particularity, not unity. We come to the world from families and social and cultural groups, and often develop our moral sensibilities within the framework of public discourses based on specific political traditions. Critics often contend that cosmopolitanism downplays such particularity and is thus unable to reflect one of the most important aspects of persons’ lives. A second encompassing objection leveled at cosmopolitanism is its high degree of utopianism. Cosmopolitanism, its critics contend, is a flight from political reality. Its plans for institutional reform are too abstract to be credible and neglect the importance of power in human political relationships. Cosmopolitans should accept these challenges. Their aim should be to make cosmopolitanism more attractive by explaining the place of special ties in their moral outlook, and to make it more credible by detailing the urgency of cosmopolitan political reform. The enduring success of a cosmopolitan ethos is thus partly reliant on cosmopolitans’ ability to provide convincing answers to these alleged weaknesses.

Citing this article:
Held, David and Pietro Maffettone. Cosmopolitanism, 2017, doi:10.4324/0123456789-S114-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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