Standard Article


  1. Pauline Kleingeld

Published Online: 1 FEB 2013

DOI: 10.1002/9781444367072.wbiee629

The International Encyclopedia of Ethics

How to Cite

Kleingeld, P. 2013. Cosmopolitanism. The International Encyclopedia of Ethics. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 1 FEB 2013

This is not the most recent version of the article. View current version (30 JUN 2016)


The term “cosmopolitan” derives from the Greek word for “citizen of the world.” The word has a wide range of uses, both outside of philosophy and within it. Within philosophical contexts, it has a less technical and a more specific sense. In the less technical sense, a cosmopolitan is someone who is impartial or open-minded, a person who is well traveled, or a person who feels at home in a multicultural environment or simply anywhere. In the more specific sense, a cosmopolitan is a defender of cosmopolitanism, which is a family of theories that affirm some conception of world citizenship. This description of cosmopolitanism is not very informative because it does not specify any particular theoretical commitments that all forms of cosmopolitanism share. A more contentful definition is impossible, however, because beyond the formal description there is not a single essential element of the position that all recognizably cosmopolitan positions have in common. Depending on the area of human activity (morality, politics, culture, etc.) and the conception of citizenship involved (egalitarian or not) (see Citizenship), and depending on whether “world citizenship” is taken literally or metaphorically, cosmopolitanism takes on very different forms. In current moral and political theory, “cosmopolitanism” often refers to the thesis that human beings are equal (see Egalitarianism), combined with the idea that a theory of global justice should address the needs and interests of human individuals directly – as citizens of the world – instead of indirectly, via their membership in states. But some Stoic and neo-Stoic cosmopolitans were not egalitarians in this sense. Moreover, the term is also regularly used for very different views, such as a particular conception of a modern form of cultural identity, or a theory about the proper relations among the states in the world (see below). Cosmopolitanism is therefore best considered as a family of positions, centered on the notion of world citizenship, either in a literal sense (political cosmopolitanism) or in a metaphorical sense (moral or cultural cosmopolitanism).


  • ethics;
  • history of philosophy;
  • legal and political;
  • philosophy