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The Implications of

Moral Cosmopolitanism
for the Educator.
Carmen Castanet

Teachers at all grade levels are, in some capacity, moral educators.

Cosmopolitanism therefore has implications for educators of all levels.
The interpretation of cosmopolitanism referenced throughout this book is
structured around the recognition of our obligation to other human beings.
Cosmopolitanism requires that one engage in the culture of others as a
citizen of the world without prejudice.
My research seeks to answer the question, what are the educational implications of moral

At the elementary level this moral education manifests itself in exposure to diversity,

cultural awareness, history and other content often taught in social studies.

Thus this question is (and

should be) of great interest to most educators as it directly affects how we are to approach moral
content in our classrooms.

In order to answer this question, however, we must first

establish whether one can maintain strong moral convictions while
still achieving true cosmopolitanism.

This is a question many have

chosen to address and with multiple interpretations.


Appiah, a defender of cosmopolitanism, contends that cosmopolitanism

absolutely has the ability to coexist with or perhaps even to be
founded on strong moral convictions.

Indeed he claims that you can be genuinely engaged with the ways of
other societies without approving, let alone adopting, them, (2006, p.33-34).
After all, certain absolutes will necessitate that some beliefs are right and
some are wrong.

Appiah illustrates this by noting that Muslims go to

Mecca and Catholics go to mass, however a Muslim would not believe that
anyone, Catholic or not, has the duty to attend mass. If you do not

hold the beliefs that give those acts (going to Mecca or mass) their meanings, you presumably

think that the people who do think so are mistaken.

wasnt, (2006, p.35).

Either Muhammad was the Prophet or he

Indeed, since we think that integrity matters - that living by your

beliefs is important - and since, in this case, there is no harm done in doing what conscience
dictates, (2006, p.36) we can appreciate the action and moral conviction of another person without
choosing to adopt it or even accept it as truth.

Alyssa Bernstein of the Department of Psychology at Ohio University outlines various interpretations of
moral cosmopolitanism in her article Moral Cosmopolitanism and touches on its implications for those purporting
to be cosmopolitan.

She holds that all cosmopolitan conceptions of morality include taking into account how an

action might affect any single human being's many interests equally, as all human beings hold the same moral
weight or importance. She references several philosophers and theorists, for instance, Pogge who claims that
"moral the notion that every human being has a global stature as the ultimate unit of
moral concern" (2012, p. 712) and Moellendorf who points out that "the view that the claims of individual
persons constitute the basis of international legal obligations tied to a commitment to international human
rights is sometimes called 'cosmopolitanism'" (2012, p. 713).

An important discussion between theorists is shown

to be the distinction between moral cosmopolitanism and social justice, which for many falls under the umbrella
of political cosmopolitanism. The author clarifies her own position as interpreting political cosmopolitanism "to refer
to a family of conceptions of justice, each based on some form of moral cosmopolitanism" (2012, p.716).
Ypi also makes this distinction in her article Justice and morality beyond nave cosmopolitanism.


Her article

sets forth to distinguish between the claims and obligations generated by morality and justice respectively,
claiming that cosmopolitans often seem to neglect the difference between the two, creating a less effective
"cosmopolitan justice". While both morality and justice claim a set of norms, Ypi notes that moral virtues do
not necessarily require or determine any particular obligation to action from an individual (or political state),
while virtues of justice absolutely do. This justice-based view can be achieved by considering cosmopolitan
obligations as a political task, in her opinion.

Ultimately, though there may be many interpretations of what one means by moral cosmopolitanism,
it seems widely understood that by nature cosmopolitanism and moral conviction are not mutually exclusive.
In fact, there is much argument and evidence to support the opposite,. the moral aspect of

cosmopolitanism (which may or may not interact with the political aspect) actually requires of the
cosmopolitan certain attitudes and obligations to his or her brother or sister as citizens of the world.
This is precisely the conclusion that moral educators must consider when presenting content aimed at
global awareness in the classroom.

Merry & de Ruyter put it plainly, ...moral cosmopolitanism is a

repudiation of moral relativism, which entails that no one is mistaken and nothing is condemnable. ... it
[ moral relativism] trivializes substantive and profound disagreement: it ignores conventions necessary for
intelligible discussion, it undermines the possibility of being wrong and finally it precludes the possibility of
addressing suffering and injustice," (2011, p.10).

My research methodology required gathering relevant information by

searching for scholarly articles as well as researching educational programs that
might lend themselves to a cosmopolitan focus of moral education.

An extensive

search for articles or other text analyzing cosmopolitanism and morality was the
first step in my process as I sought to answer the question, can one maintain
strong spiritual or moral convictions while still achieving true cosmopolitanism?
after reading David Hansens article, Cosmopolitanism and Education: A View from
the Ground.

After compiling the arguments relevant to my question from a

few articles and Appiahs Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers, a

clear consensus began to emerge among the authors that moral convictions and
cosmopolitanism go hand in hand.

What was unclear was which specific moral

questions are universal and what the cosmopolitans responsibility to humanity is

based on these moral absolutes.

At this point my research shifted to include education, as my question morphed from can moral convictions and
cosmopolitanism coexist, to they do, so what should moral educators be teaching students based on this
conclusion? For example, can young students - even elementary age - begin to comprehend a cosmopolitan view of
the world and see other human beings, although they may live on the other side of the globe and never become
tangible, as their comrades?

Beyond that, can there be instilled in students even now a sense of outrage at

injustice toward humanity and a desire to act against it?

The implications of this, if successful, are incredibly

meaningful for the next generation.

These questions turned my attention and my research to the International Baccalaureate Organization as a

program, currently practiced in many schools across the globe, that espouses ideas similar to these, if not this
very idea itself.

Founded in Geneva as an international education program with three facets: primary, middle

years and diploma (secondary), its aim is to arm students with the skills to be successful in a "rapidly globalizing

This kind of program lends itself very clearly to a moral cosmopolitan education.

Through this research we can reach several conclusions about the educational
implications of moral cosmopolitanism.

From my research, five major claims emerged.

Claim 1: Moral educators should teach students that all human beings are ends in
themselves and deserve the same basic human rights.

The first step in embracing a cosmopolitan outlook is acknowledging this claim.

Many students

already accept this or think they do, but all have conscious or unconscious prejudices or assumptions
about others (even the educator!).

Moral educators should explicitly begin teaching that one is

responsible for responding to injustice locally and globally whether they feel sympathy or emotional
ties to the ones in need because the response should be based on the recognition of human

Both Merry & de Ruyter and Appiah stress the importance of this response.


& de Ruyter set out to better explain and thus defend the idea that cosmopolitanism is a moral
state of mind and not "cultural arrogance".

They strongly propose that moral cosmopolitanism

should inform the curriculum educators present to students and they ascribe to the Kantian
view that all people possess intrinsic value and are thus "ends in themselves", as opposed to means
to be used for one's own ends.

Direct instruction and modeling of what it looks like for someone

to view or treat another as a means as opposed to an end is a valuable lesson in any grade, and
is the foundation for the last 4 claims.

Claim 2: Moral educators should create curriculum with overarching themes that
promote global learning and cosmopolitan attitudes.

In order to promote the first claim it is imperative that educators consider moral cosmopolitan themes
when planning units and curriculum.

One such example is found in curriculum designed by The International

Baccalaureate Organization, whose aim is to arm students with the skills to be successful in a "rapidly
globalizing world".

IBO focuses its Primary Programme on six themes that have cosmopolitan

1. Who we are
2. Where we are in place and time
3. How we express ourselves
4. How the world works
5. How we organize ourselves
6. Sharing the planet
While all the themes lend themselves to a cosmopolitan outlook, the final "sharing the planet" theme
particularly engages students in the discussion of rights and responsibilities as a global citizen and promotes
a search for equality and conflict resolution.

If educators look at curriculum planning through this lense,

it is not difficult to frame much of the content around one of these themes.

Another way to consider

the themes is to attempt to use one as an undercurrent or driving question within a unit, not every
lesson has to center around that theme, but the overall content should be easily tied to it.


this outlook when developing curriculum in all areas will drastically improve our students understanding of and
exposure to moral cosmopolitan ideals.

Claim 3: Moral educators should teach students a shared vocabulary to discuss what
they should view as inevitable moral disagreement.

In his book, Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers,

Appiah contends that we are to expect moral disagreements if

we are being realistic about the world we live in. After all, he
argues, if we have disagreements within societies how could we

not have disagreements between them? He points out however that

the most fundamental level of disagreement actually occurs when we

agree that something has value, but not why. He argues for the

importance of streamlining conversation about morality and values to

create a shared vocabulary with which to discuss and evaluate
situations or values themselves. This would mean finding more concrete
and "thick" terminology than stating that something is good or bad,
for what is good or bad to us is often built by the culture in which
we are raised and may be a matter of not being used to something

rather than it being inherently "bad". Appiah claims that what we should

hope for and strive for is simply understanding. "Cosmopolitans suppose that all cultures have enough overlap in
their vocabulary of values to begin a conversation" (2006, p.93). That being the case, although we may disagree
with each other on the vocabulary, its interpretation or its weight, Appiah writes that we should still engage in
cross-cultural conversation knowing full well that disagreement is likely. The aim is not to agree, but rather to
understand. He points out that we can often agree on what to do, even if we do not agree on why to do it.

Appiah's interpretation of moral cosmopolitanism can be applied in its fundamental tenets to a

primary classroom and strongly suggests that one can indeed hold specific morals for oneself
without losing the cosmopolitan value of cross-cultural discussion and appreciation.

If moral

educators began exposing students to, or explicitly teaching students, the view that disagreement
is not something to be avoided and instead arm students with strategies to hold difficult
conversations within and across cultures, they might begin to develop a cosmopolitan outlook at a
younger age.

One way North Carolina schools are already implementing this is through collaboration

with the Institute for Learning in Pittsburgh which has developed the concept of Accountable

With a series of sentence stems, Accountable Talk promotes healthy discussion that is not

centered around agreement.

It holds students accountable for thinking critically in all subject

areas with stems such as I disagree because..., Id like to add on to...., In my opinion..., and
I was confused when....

This is one way to establish a shared, non-accusatory vocabulary when

faced with a complex discussion topic that often leads to controversy or disagreement.

Claim 4: Moral educators should teach students that they have an obligation to
humanity when injustice is present - whether locally or abroad (also, not just to
Not everyone agrees on the specific

popular issues in the mainstream media).

responsibilities and obligations human beings

have to one another in a cosmopolitan view
of the world.

One point of view presented by Ypi is a

distinction between morality and justice.

While both morality and justice claim a set
of norms, Ypi notes that moral virtues do
not necessarily require or determine any
particular obligation to action from an
individual (or political state), while virtues of
justice absolutely do. This justice-based view

can be achieved by considering cosmopolitan obligations as a political task. She argues that government is a platform
by which to engage in cross-cultural interaction and aid, particularly in the area of social justice for nations
that are not our own. It is important, then, to consider how the political realm will choose to take action for
global justice.

In terms of moral education, Merry & de Ruyter outline in detail what teachers can practically
present to a student as his or her moral obligation to others around the globe.

While cosmopolitanism

does not have to suggest moral implications these authors argue that it should.

They argue that

moral cosmopolitanism requires of us (humanity) both conviction and action against social injustice, and
realistic expectations for what we can accomplish against social justice.

Implicit in this realism is

"pluralism" (recognizing that around the world there are different but good ways of living and that we
can learn from the good, but should also fight against those whose lives are "not good") and
"fallibilism" (acknowledging one's capability for wrong, harm, or injustice even if unintentional, and a
willingness to ask for forgiveness when this is applicable).

Educators can teach moral cosmopolitanism as

an orientation toward others, informed by a sense of moral responsibility and an aspiration to move
beyond what is required...a universal scope to act for the good of others," (Merry & de Ruyter, 2011, p.

Activism against social injustice requires any possible action (within one's means) that protects at

least others' basic human rights.

Students across the grade levels should begin to understand this

worldview at developmentally appropriate levels, in other words, a student in first grade will understand
this in a much more basic capacity than one in high school, yet both students can reflect on how this
concept applies to his or her own life.

These researchers also mark the importance of presenting moral

cosmopolitan issues that are not confined to situations covered by mainstream media.

Moral educators

should foster thoughtful discussion about how others are responding to need and how they themselves
should respond - not just focusing on what should be done, but also how and when it should be carried

Claim 5: Moral educators should teach students

how to be realistic about the impact they can
have so as to avoid becoming discouraged.

The task of achieving social justice is daunting and overwhelming, even for an adult.
easy to imagine the affect this imperative might have on a student.

It is

Peter Singer is referenced

by both Bernstein and Appiah for his views on moral implications for cosmopolitans.

Singer argues for

what many would consider a drastic call to give up all material possessions save the bare minimum in
the name of global equality, a message that Appiah responds to directly in the final chapter of his
book,. though this interpretation is based on the same cosmopolitan notion that we should "try to

increase the extent to which peoples preferences are satisfied and reduce the extent to which
they are thwarted," (Bernstein, 2012, p. 714).
It is unwise and counterproductive to attempt to guilt students into acting on behalf of
others, and ultimately that is not the spirit of cosmopolitanism.

Merry & de Ruyter propose a

much more effective strategy for guiding students in the journey of global awareness and social

They propose that moral educators should ensure that their students are realistic about

what they are capable of accomplishing for social justice in order to minimize frustration or feelings
of defeat.

As teachers we have the responsibility to help our students understand the notion

that real change may, and often does, take generations to accomplish.

Success or failure are not

measure with instant results in any situation of social justice, and we can show historical examples
of this fact alongside the lessons to our students about their responsibilities.


Moral education is the responsibility of every educator.

Though that obligation is daunting, these

five claims are a starting point for educators who desire to instill cosmopolitan values in their students.
By teaching students that all human beings are ends in themselves and deserve the same basic
human rights, educators can lay the foundation for cosmopolitan values.

It is then important for

educators to create curriculum with overarching themes that promote global learning and cosmopolitan
attitudes, to build on that foundation.

Since discord is inevitable, educators should take care to teach

students a shared vocabulary to discuss what they should view as inevitable moral disagreement, instead
of believing that all disagreement is inherently bad and should be avoided.
discussion will create much better balanced and culturally aware students.

This value of constructive

Moral educators should teach

students that they have an obligation to humanity when injustice is present - whether locally or
abroad, and also purpose to find issues that are not present in the mainstream media.

Last but

certainly not least, moral educators should teach students how to be realistic about the impact they
can expect to witness, so as to avoid becoming discouraged.

All of these aims work toward forming the

well-balanced, globally minded, mature individuals all educators desire for their students to become.


Appiah, K. A. (2006). Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers. New York: W.W. Norton &
Bernstein, A. R. (2012). "Moral Cosmopolitanism." In Encyclopedia of Global Justice. (pp. 711-717). Athens,
Ohio: Springer.
International Baccalaureate Organization. (2005). Primary Years Programme Curriculum Framework.
Retrieved from
Merry, M. S., & de Ruyter, D. J. (2011). "The relevance of cosmopolitanism for moral education". Journal
Of Moral Education, 40(1), 1-18.
University of Pittsburgh. (2009). Institute for Learning. Retrieved from
Ypi, L. (09/01/2010). "Justice and morality beyond nave cosmopolitanism". Ethics & global politics, 3(3),