Anthony Appiah Delivers 2021 Hempel Lectures

March 25, 2021

The Department of Philosophy’s 31st annual Carl G. Hempel lectures were presented by Laurance S. Rockefeller University Professor of Philosophy and the University Center for Human Values, Emeritus and New York University Professor of Philosophy and Law Kwame Anthony Appiah March 17-19, 2021. The theme of this year’s three-lecture series was “The Invention of Religion.”

Appiah, who taught at Princeton for 12 years in the Department of Philosophy and the Center for Human Values before moving to NYU, is the author of 19 books in philosophy, three novels, over 200 articles and, since 2015, the weekly Ethicist column in the New York Times.  “All of which,” Department of Philosophy Chair Gideon Rosen told the more than 160 lecture attendees, “make him the most widely read philosopher in the world, or thereabouts.”

“Anthony’s first books were the sort of philosophy that Hempel would have recognized as his sort of thing: detailed, sometimes technical, discussions of the semantics of conditionals and the role of truth and the philosophy of language," Rosen continued. "But, within short order, it was clear that Anthony was going to be not just a leading figure in the analytic heartland, but a capacious unclassifiable intellectual whose work on the ethics of identity, cosmopolitanism, African philosophy, the history of ethics, the metaphysics and politics of race, and literally dozens of other topics, would establish him as a philosopher in the mold of – if I had to pick one figure – John Stuart Milne, the sort of philosopher who makes a distinctively philosophical contribution to culture, to politics, to literature, over the course of a maximally distinguished career.”

“It’s a very great honor to be invited to follow in extremely distinguished footsteps in giving these lectures, which celebrate a philosopher by whom I was much influenced when young and who was a source of inspiration to me in my earliest years of the subject,” Appiah said. “Sociology and anthropology proposed, from their very beginnings, a scientific study of religion and I plan to focus on attempts to understand religion in this scientific way, which is something relatively new and, to that extent, is a contribution to Hempel’s field, a contribution to the philosophy of the social sciences.“

As Appiah explained, the lectures were an exploration of questions at the interface of the philosophy of the social sciences, on the one hand, and the philosophy of religion on the other. “My questions are external rather than eternal," he added, "questions that should interest everyone, whether or not they themselves claim to be religious." 

The Hempel Lectures are a series of three lectures presented annually by the Department of Philosophy in honor of the late Carl Gustav Hempel, Stuart Professor of Philosophy (1955-1973).

Full recordings of the three 2021 Carl G. Hempel Lectures are available through the links below:

Lecture 1: "Gods and Other Minds"

Lecture 2: "Churches, Morals, Symbols"

Lecture 3: "Identities Evolving"