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Cultural Identity and Political Ethics

Paul Gilbert

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Today people's cultural identities are increasingly invoked in support of political claims, and these claims commonly lead to acrimony and violence. But what is 'cultural identity', and what is its political significance? This book offers a provocatively sceptical answer to these questions. Tracing the idea back to the now largely discredited notion of national character, it argues that cultural identity is no deep going feature of individual psychology. Nor is it any uniform phenomenon. Rather, various types of so-called cultural identity emerge in response to the different circumstances people face. Such identities are marked by merely surface features of behaviour and these have a principally aesthetic appeal. In consequence, it is argued, cultural identities lack the ethical significance claimed for them and their invocation is in many ways politically pernicious. The book engages not only with thinkers in the analytic tradition like Isaiah Berlin, Charles Taylor and Will Kymlicka, but with Continental writers like Sartre and Kristeva.


1. The Politics of Identity
2. National Character
3. The Idea of Deep Identity
4. Types of Identity
5. The Embodiment of Cultural Identity
6. Identity and Subjectivity
7. The Art of Identity
8. The Ethics of Identity

About the Author

Paul Gilbert is Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Hull. His previous books include The World, the Flesh and the Subject (with Kathleen Lennon, 2005), New Terror, New Wars (2003), Peoples, Cultures and Nations in Political Philosophy (2000), The Philosophy of Nationalism (1998), Terrorism, Security and Nationality (1994), and Human Relationships (1991).


Cultural Identity and Political Ethics is written simply but not without elegance... The arguments it makes are strong and relevant to an increasingly globalised and multicultural world; policy makers should take good stock of this book.

- British Politics and Policy at LSE Blog