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The philosopher and cultural theorist Kwame Anthony Appiah says the idea of "Western civilization" or "Western culture" is a mistaken one and that we should abandon it. He uncovers the history of the idea from its roots at the time of the Crusades to its modern incarnation in the second half of the 20th century. However, we have very little culturally in common with our forebears in say the England of Chaucer's time. And indeed much of the knowledge supposedly at the heart of Western civilisation was actually transmitted via Islamic scholarship. No-one, he argues, can claim exclusive ownership of culture. "The values European humanists like to espouse belong just as easily to an African or an Asian who takes them up with enthusiasm as to a European," he says. The lecture is recorded in front of an audience at New York University in Appiah's adopted home city. The series is presented and chaired by Sue Lawley The producer is Jim Frank.
The philosopher and cultural theorist Kwame Anthony Appiah argues for a world free of racial fixations. He tells the story of Anton Wilhelm Amo Afer. He was five years old when he was brought from the Gold Coast to Germany in 1707, educated at a royal court and became an eminent philosopher. He argues that this elaborate Enlightenment experiment illuminates a series of mistaken ideas , including that there is a "racial essence" which all members of that race carry. Modern science long ago disproved this, as almost all of the world's genetic variation is found within every so-called racial group. Instead, "race is something we make; not something that makes us." The lecture is recorded in front of an audience at the British Council in Accra, Ghana. The series is presented and chaired by Sue Lawley The producer is Jim Frank.
The philosopher and cultural theorist Kwame Anthony Appiah argues against a mythical, romantic view of nationhood, saying instead it should rest on a commitment to shared values. He explores the history of the idea, born in the 19th century, that there are peoples who are bound together by an ancient common spirit and that each of these nations is entitled to its own state. He says this idea is a mistaken one, illustrating his argument through the life story of the writer who took the pen name Italo Svevo - meaning literally Italian Swabian. He was born a citizen of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and became a citizen of the new republic of Italy, all without leaving his home city of Trieste. Appiah argues that states exist as a set of shared beliefs rather than membership of some sort of mythical and ancient group. "What binds citizens together is a commitment," he says, "to sharing the life of a modern state, united by its institutions, procedures and precepts." The lecture is recorded in front of an audience at the University of Glasgow. The series is presented and chaired by Sue Lawley. Future lectures will examine the themes of colour and culture. The producer is Jim Frank.
Philosopher and cultural theorist Kwame Anthony Appiah argues that when considering religion we overestimate the importance of scripture and underestimate the importance of practice. He begins with the complexities of his own background, as the son of an English Anglican mother and a Ghanaian Methodist father. He turns to the idea that religious faith is based around unchanging and unchangeable holy scriptures. He argues that over the millennia religious practice has been quite as important as religious writings. He provides examples from Jewish, Christian, Islamic and Buddhist texts to show that they are often contradictory and have been interpreted in different ways at different times, for example on the position of women and men in Islam. He argues that fundamentalists are a particularly extreme example of this mistaken scriptural determinism. The lecture is recorded in front of audience at the London School of Economics and Political Science. The series is presented and chaired by Sue Lawley. Future lectures will examine identity in the contexts of country, colour and culture. The producer is Jim Frank.
Black holes ain't as black as they are painted
The Cambridge cosmologist Professor Stephen Hawking delivers the second of his BBC Reith Lectures on black holes. Professor Hawking examines scientific thinking about black holes and challenges the idea that all matter and information is destroyed irretrievably within them. He explains his own hypothesis that black holes may emit a form of radiation, now known as Hawking Radiation. He discusses the search for mini black holes, noting that so far "no-one has found any, which is a pity because if they had, I would have got a Nobel Prize." And he advances a theory that information may remain stored within black holes in a scrambled form. The programmes are recorded in front of an audience of Radio 4 listeners and some of the country's leading scientists at the Royal Institution of Great Britain in London. Sue Lawley introduces the evening and chairs a question-and-answer session with Professor Hawking. Radio 4 listeners submitted questions in their hundreds, of which a selection were invited to attend the event to put their questions in person to Professor Hawking. Producer: Jim Frank.