Free to universalize or bound by culture? Multicultural and public philosophy

Kymlicka-lunchby Rasmus Grønfeldt Winther

The accelerating flow of people (e.g., migration, whether voluntary and benign, or caused by violence and desperation) and information (e.g., the Internet) makes multiculturalism increasingly relevant. We find ourselves exposed to an ever-broader variety of smells, languages, behaviors, and attire in our daily schedules. Some of us seem impervious to this diversity. Others find core identities challenged, or interpret core identities in general as being questioned, and may react with anger, fear or brutality. Yet others experience multiculturalism as a source of exhilaration, as a testament to life’s endless and beautiful variety. To complicate things, these feelings and behaviors may also be inextricably mixed within the same person or group. Here I set aside the direct phenomenology of sentiments in favor of metacognitive reflection on individual and social reactions to multiculturalism.

Multiculturalism requires sustained philosophical reflection, which in turn requires public outreach and communication, as promoted by Scientia Salon. This piece briefly outlines concerns raised by the philosophy of multiculturalism and, conversely, multiculturalism in philosophy. In thinking about philosophy in a multicultural context, we are forced, I believe, to reconsider the role and responsibility of the philosopher. I conclude with a provocative suggestion of philosophy as public diplomacy. (As this is intended to be a piece for a general audience, secondary literature is only referred to in the conclusion. References gladly provided upon request.)

First, let us consider the philosophy of multiculturalism. Second, let us turn to the feedback effects of multiculturalism on philosophy.

Philosophy permits critical thinking about thinking. Philosophical tools can be brought to bear on a number of questions raised by multiculturalism. Why are certain culturally conditioned opinions justified, while others are (considered) merely biased and “subjective”? Which sorts of assumptions must be made for a social, judicial or political structure to be considered appropriate? How could or should cultural disagreements about the nature and role of knowledge and science be adjudicated? How do, could, and should, for instance, Western societies and institutions arbitrate competing claims to religious truth, or conflicting moral injunctions? Philosophy provides ways of interpreting and addressing these cognitive, linguistic, social, political, and normative complexities. Consider the following questions regarding the impact of philosophy on multiculturalism:

  1. How can Kantian, Feminist, Marxist, Philosophical Anthropological, Psychoanalytic, Analytical Metaethical, and Existentialist philosophical frameworks provide explanations and interpretations of, and recommendations for, multicultural realities such as blasphemy laws, calls to prayers, “group rights,” treatment of women in different cultural groups, and territorial rights of first nations indigenous people? Can a single philosophical framework assist in making explicit the assumptions, concepts, and power involved in social and political matters?
  2. How can philosophical investigation provide a glimpse into the way language is used in the constitute social (and natural?) worlds? How do humans, in general and in specific cultures, use metaphor, concepts, and classifications to build and justify social reality? What effects might mistranslation and poor translation have in inter-cultural communication? How does language affect thought and society?
  3. How can philosophical reflection shed light on how the mind itself (e.g., rationality, actual reasoning, and deep narrative mythological/religious structures) is conditioned by culture? Which sorts of data and theories would be required to show, or at least suggest, that feelings, inferences, memories, and perceptions are altered by cultural context, and how can philosophy’s meta-scientific reflection help us evaluate the relevance and weight of such data and theories?
  4. How can philosophical analysis provide insight into the very existence of groups? That is, although it may seem absurd to some, one can ask whether cultural groups even exist. Might there be sufficient intragroup variation, and intergroup similarity, to deflate claims about group identity, or at least to see that such claims might be made primarily for political or economic benefit? Put succinctly, are cultural groups themselves products of exoticization and reification (e.g., orientalism) both from “within” and “without”?

By providing overarching meta-scientific and philosophical frameworks, different philosophical schools can assist scholarly, activist, and diplomatic (see below) work on (1) social and political questions, (2) language, (3) mind, and (4) cultures. Analytical, clarificatory, and critical philosophical work could be done in light of social relevance, and thereby complement ongoing technical work in analytical philosophy. Viewed in this way, philosophy is relevant across the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences; indeed, philosophy becomes a family of dynamic tools, not a static systemic end in itself.

Let us now consider the converse effect of multiculturalism on philosophy. Is philosophy impervious to social, political, and economic — i.e., cultural — context? Should it be? Academic philosophy is often criticized for inhabiting an Ivory Tower. As philosophers, we sometimes seem to forget that it is, after all, people who are philosophizing. We are embedded in a body and culture, and live in a tangle of feelings, desires, and dreams. Multiculturalism reminds us that all of this needs to be taken into account in philosophizing about the human condition. We might consider leaving the Ivory Tower, at least sometimes, and also letting others up into it, whether we invite them or they (justifiably, and perhaps forcefully) demand entry. Consider the following questions about the ways multiculturalism feeds back on philosophy:

  1. How does multiculturalism force the philosopher to consider cultural context in her potentially universalizing pronouncements and principles about “the human condition”? How can we develop a philosophy sensitive both to cultural context and to what might be universal about our condition?
  2. How might changes in power and context of the philosophical inquirer her- or himself change the questions and answers on the table? How could shifts in the cultural context (e.g., language, norms, political system) of the inquirer change what is at stake, and which tools are used, in on-the-ground philosophical inquiry? How might a multicultural autobiography affect the work of the single philosopher?
  3. How does multiculturalism invite philosophy to be a broader cultural enterprise, by engaging in comparative philosophy? Philosophy is perhaps no longer a strictly universalist enterprise, exploring the nature, conditions, and dynamics of knowledge, values, and reality sub specie aeternitatis (“under the aspect of eternity”). Rather, Philosophy is, and perhaps should be, carried on in different contexts, and with “cultural qualifiers”: Latin American, Indian, Chinese, Amerindian, Islamic, etc. Multiculturalism suggests that studying the history of Western philosophy is no longer sufficient for contextualizing philosophy. Synchronic (i.e., geographic, cultural) comparison, in addition to diachronic (i.e., historical) comparison are both necessary for a richer understanding of human philosophy and thought.
  4. How does multiculturalism invite us to reflect on the direct responsibility philosophy has to the public, and on the importance of playing the role of public intellectual? Philosophy can — and perhaps should — contribute to reflective, nuanced, and informed public discussion of the realities and consequences of multiculturalism. Multicultural realities urge the philosopher to engage in public debate. Or at least, so it seems, and so I hope. Some, if not all, philosophers are affected by “globalization” and multiculture. Some are even themselves the direct, autobiographical product of multiculturalism. Again, as multicultural citizens, professional philosophers are reminded of the importance of public outreach.

Thus, philosophy influences thinking and doing about multiculturalism, and vice-versa. We might want to consider cultural context in our philosophical analyses, and be metacognitive about our own biases and presuppositions. Furthermore, the increasing movement of people and information invites professional philosophers (even at elite American institutions) to engage in comparative philosophy and in public outreach. Again, philosophy can do much work in the world.

This essay serves to briefly motivate what is at stake in the philosophy of multiculturalism and the multiculturalism of philosophy.

I conclude with an admittedly contentious suggestion for the role of the (multicultural) philosopher as public diplomat. In his essay, “Imaginary Homelands,” Salman Rushdie observes:

It may be argued that the past is a country from which we have all emigrated, that its loss is part of our common humanity. Which seems to me self-evidently true; but I suggest that the writer who is out-of-country and even out-of-language may experience this loss in an intensified form. It is made more concrete for him by the physical fact of discontinuity, of his present being in a different place from his past, of his being “elsewhere.” This may enable him to speak properly and concretely on a subject of universal significance and appeal. (1992, 12)

I would like to suggest that here we can replace, mutatis mutandi, “writer” with “philosopher.” Indeed, alienation from time and country, history and culture, via comparison and reflection, allows us to see “potentially every culture as all cultures” (Paul Feyerabend, 1994). The 12th century mystical monk, Hugo of St. Victor suggested that rather than find our homeland sweet (“patria dulcis est”), perfect is he to whom the entire world is an exile (“mundus totus exilium est”). Rushdie, Feyerabend, and Hugo of St. Victor teach that systemic comparison through exile — metaphorical and literal — allows the philosopher to make presuppositions and purposes explicit. By learning which philosophical tools (e.g., logic, feminist critique) are pertinent to which aims, we avoid reifying our philosophical culture, and are then precisely able to “speak properly and concretely on a subject of universal significance and appeal.” Multiculturalism thus shatters monoculture’s arrogance, via estrangement and self-examination. It makes us stronger.

Once we become stronger, what shall we do in a multicultural world? Circumstances (and desire?) urge us, as philosophers, to become public diplomats. Diplomacy is a worthy task for reason (Western or otherwise), as Bruno Latour (2002) argues. Reason may yet lose in the ongoing “wars of the world” conflict once the dust settles (and when will that be?), but it is only by directly facing the momentous task and violence ahead of us, that multinaturalism (many alternative ontologies, multiple philosophies of nature; Viveiros de Castro 2004) as well as multiculturalism can be negotiated, and a true peace achieved. The view here advocated on philosophy’s function as public diplomacy is perhaps less cynical, and more optimistic, than seeing philosophy as a foundational general or judge, imposing its will to power and adjudicating knowledge and morals, either through (implicit) combat or through detached and abstract rulings (e.g., interpreting philosophical political liberalism as the handmaiden of neo-liberal Western imperialism). The stakes are certainly high. Philosophy could be a commendable diplomat in the public endeavor of learning to live courageously and ethically, perhaps even peacefully, in a multicultural world.

_____

Rasmus Grønfeldt Winther is a professor of philosophy at the University of California-Santa Cruz. He investigates the structure, dynamics, and functions of scientific theories and models and is currently working on a book (to be published by the University of Chicago Press) entitled When Maps Become the World: Abstraction and Analogy in Philosophy of Science. You can find out more about the Philosophy in a Multicultural Context research cluster here.

Acknowledgments. Thanks to Lisa Clark, Joseph Hendry, Jonathan Kaplan, Helen Longino, Lucas McGranahan, Fabrizzio Guerrero McManus, Ann Lipson, Jan Mihal, Amir Najmi, Richard Otte, Irena Polic, and Mette Smølz Skau.

Suggested Readings:

General suggested readings on multicultural philosophy.

Feyerabend, P. (1994). Potentially Every Culture is All Cultures. Common Knowledge 3: 16-22.

Fraenkel, C. In Praise of the Clash of Cultures. The New York Times on the Web 2 September 2012.

Latour, B. (2002). War of the Worlds: What about Peace? (Translated from the French by C. Bigg). Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press.

Lloyd, G E R. (2010) “History and Human Nature: Cross-cultural Universals and Cultural Relativities.” Interdisciplinary Science Reviews 35 (3-4): 201-214.

Nicholson, CJ. (August, 1998). Three Views of Philosophy and Multiculturalism: Searle, Rorty, and Taylor. Unpublished paper presented at 20th World Congress of Philosophy, Boston, Massachusetts.

Rushdie, S. (1992). Imaginary Homelands, in Imaginary Homelands. Essays and Criticism. 1981-1991. New York, Granta Books and Penguin, pp. 9-21.

Smith, J. Philosophy’s Western Bias. The New York Times on the Web 3 June 2012.

Viveiros de Castro, E. (2004). Perspectival Anthropology and the Method of Controlled Equivocation. Tipití. Journal of the Society for the Anthropology of Lowland South America 2(1): 3-22.

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72 thoughts on “Free to universalize or bound by culture? Multicultural and public philosophy

  1. A few brief thoughts.

    First, I like a speculative essay like this, in which Winther isn’t claiming to have any final answers, and not even a lot of provisional ones, but it leading us to think.

    Second, having asked for more essays linking philosophy to sociology and similar fields, I like it for that reason too!

    I think philosophy has the possibility of helping reduce intercultural stereotypes as part of being that passport between cultures. Getting us to think outside the boxes of our own cultures, whether nationalistic cultures, religious cultures, gender cultures, combinations thereof, etc., is all important.

    It can do other things, too. To riff on Massimo and virtue ethics, it can show that there are a variety of ways to “flourish.” Some have transcended their cultures of origin without the express help of Western philosophy, as I think of Zen Buddhism. But consciously applied philosophy can move that along.

    Rushdie’s “loss” is an issue to wrestle with. Philosophy may have a role in translating the “loss” of the world-citizen with a creative mindset into a “win” of cultural diffusion and more.

    The “multinaturalism” needs more pondering from me.

    To wrap up? None of this will be easy. To the degree we’ve already started that, whether unconsciously or consciously, that’s clear. But, further progress is possible.

    “Come, let us reason together,” Isaiah said. Even if we make allowances for Homo sapiens being less rational than we’d like to believe, there’s still some possibility of reasoning together.

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  2. Interesting post, but I would like to challenge you. Can multiculturalism govern? What I am referring to is the utter failure of multiculturalist liberals and leftists in western European countries to deal with the rising tide of Islamic fundamentalism in their borders. Why are multiculturalists willing to sacrifice liberties such as freedom of speech and conscience in order to placate the intolerance of others? There is a profound contradiction and unworkable weakness at the heart of multiculturalism. It is nice in the kindergarten class. It is dangerously naive in governance.

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  3. An excellent essay, asking all the right and important questions! 🙂

    The only drawback I see is that it offers no answers to any of these. I also fear that any discussion about multiculturalism will promptly degenerate into the noise of political and religious bashing (I’d love to be proved wrong about this, though 🙂 ).

    As for multiculturalism — the increased flow of people and information across the globe forces everyone to either embrace it, or become militant towards other cultures. However, embracing multiculturalism can only be done by respecting other cultures. And this, in turn, can only be done when one becomes aware of the shortcomings of one’s own culture. As long as we think that Western/Eastern/Northern/Southern/Whatever Way of Life is superior to every other one, we are being militant and inflexible to multiculturalism. For example — and in light of Ren’s comment — has any Western-oriented intellectual recently tried to embrace and understand the ideas of Islamic fundamentalism (as opposed to criticizing them)? Provide the Main Street with the points where Islamic fundamentalism is superior/better than, say, Western atheist culture? I could argue that some such points must exist, given that a whole lot of people accept Islam, and its fundamentalist version also seems to be on the rise.

    In other words, multiculturalism can be dealt with only once we learn to appreciate and uphold that famous statement (from that one famous individual who may or may not have existed 😉 ) — “First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you will see clearly enough to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

    As for philosophy — as much as I respect philosophy, I don’t see it being able to provide answers to any of the questions raised in the essay. The divide between analytic and continental philosophy seems to be a nice illustration of philosophy’s inability to settle opposing “philosophical cultures” in its own back yard, let alone give substantial insight about the clash of cultures in the society at large. Besides, taking Massimo’s description that philosophy is all about exploring conceptual spaces (as opposed to answering questions), I have a feeling that all questions raised in the essay are more a topic for sociology than philosophy. Which makes them no less important, of course. 🙂

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  4. A very nice and intriguing exposition. However, I am a bit confused about the role of philosophers as diplomats. A diplomat – in my naive understanding – is a representative of a certain interest group (usually a government), whose job it is to keep close contact with another group and aid in negotiations or further mutual understanding. I certainly see a role for philosophy there. But unlike a diplomat who is typically “subordinate” to the wants of the interest group he represents, a philosopher needs to maintain his independency (in so far as this is possible). He needs to be a judge, at least in some sense, since the whole enterprise of multiculturalism and the role of philosophy within it requires justification in the first place. I do not see anything pessimistic or cynical in that. As soon as one admits that there are truths to be discovered on these topics, it has to follow – or so it seems to me. I would be very interested in hearing more on the reasoning behind that.

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  5. Interesting article, raising many points and questions, and with a much needed call for philosophers to engage the public sphere in a meaningful way.

    A couple of tangential notes:

    First, it should be noted that American philosophers have only recently re-entered public discussion of social issues. This is one reason why philosophers in the Continental tradition have long taken Analytic criticism in their stride – Continentalists have been discussing cultural, social, and political issues all along; indeed, these have been their meat and potatoes. Analytics, on the other hand, have long sustained themselves with the thing gruel of the question of what the definition of ‘is’ is.

    I was just last night discussing with someone, that I thought Heidegger, after the war, had ceased to think of himself as a professional philosopher, and instead wrote and spoke as a ‘public intellectual.’ This led to a larger discussion of what it means to be a ‘public intellectual,’ since the meaning of it changes from culture to culture and from generation to generation. In the 1960s, in America, due to a wide dissemination of educated literacy and the demand for challenging reading this created, ‘public intellectual’ included just about anybody with a graduate degree and a published book. The only under-represented graduate degree was that in philosophy. Once under the dominance of logical positivism, American philosophers by and large simply stopped discussing culture, politics, and society, and so receded under the public radar. This only began to change in the late ’80s with the publication of a handful of texts by conservative philosophers, like Bloom and Fukiyama, and the growing attention paid to Richard Rorty, who was the first (post-)Analytic to demonstrate a wide and insightful knowledge of cultural issues (whether one agrees or disagrees with the cases he makes with that knowledge).

    Now at least some American philosophers seem to want to address public concerns again as philosophically informed public intellectuals. We should note, though, that the effort may be coming too late. What now constitutes a ‘public intellectual’ is determined by the media. Fox News has its pool of ‘public intellectuals’ to parade on its commentary shows, the NY Times has a regular stable full; if one is uncertain of who our ‘public intellectuals’ are, consult Google. Basically, ‘public intellectuals’ today are celebrities with expertise asserted for them by the media. As we all know, ‘public intellectuals’ Ben Affleck and Bill Maher recently debated the problem of Islamism vs. Islamophobia.

    When Jean-François Lyotard published the book that announced the continuing discussion about Post-Modernism, most critics failed then (as now) to recognize the implications of the book’s title: “The Post-Modern Condition.” – *Condition* – that is, a situation in which we find ourselves, not a project for (re-)construction. We can debate how to address the multiculturalism (with its inevitable relativist implications) with which we now find ourselves confronted; but we can no longer simply pretend it is not the case, or that its problems will magically disappear.

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  6. Multiculturalism is IMO a new twist on an old idea. E.g. from the Wikipedia article on Herder:

    Providence he praised for having “wonderfully separated nationalities not only by woods and mountains, seas and deserts, rivers and climates, but more particularly by languages, inclinations and characters”. Herder praised the tribal outlook writing that “the savage who loves himself, his wife and child with quiet joy and glows with limited activity of his tribe as for his own life is in my opinion a more real being than that cultivated shadow who is enraptured with the shadow of the whole species”, isolated since “each nationality contains its centre of happiness within itself, as a bullet the centre of gravity”. With no need for comparison since “every nation bears in itself the standard of its perfection, totally independent of all comparison with that of others” for “do not nationalities differ in everything, in poetry, in appearance, in tastes, in usages, customs and languages? Must not religion which partakes of these also differ among the nationalities?”

    Partly what we have here is appreciation of a “thick” understanding of culture.

    Volk-celebration has had, since then two faces, “live and let live one”, seeing each folk as equally entitled to celebrate itself, which Herder represented (“Herder was too penetrating a thinker not to understand and fear the extremes to which his folk-theory could tend, and so issued specific warnings. He argued that Jews in Germany should enjoy the full rights and obligations of Germans, and that the non-Jews of the world owed a debt to Jews for centuries of abuse, and that this debt could be discharged only by actively assisting those Jews who wished to do so to regain political sovereignty in their ancient homeland of Israel” – again Wikipedia), so it feed the stream of thought encompassing research in folk songs and folk tales, and “folk dancing” (to this day in the US meaning primarily east European + Israeli, its aficionados having having been in the past largely either leftish or Zionist). But this thinking also fed stream of thought that ultimately fed Naziism. This was an extreme and insular loyalty to *only* ones own Volk.

    Of course we are no longer so “wonderfully separated … by woods and mountains” etc. And one folk culture may have inherent incompatibilities with others, notably when one “Volk” has a god who hates all the others for not worshiping him properly.

    We need to try to keep our heads in the face of this, and do our best to appreciate how the same human nature has found many different expressions.

    This is where I see some value to Jonathan Haidt’s research and analysis. As long as he preserved scientific modesty, he provided a thick understanding of other cultures, essential if we want to avoid a spiral of mutual demonization. A thought experiment like: “if the family dog dies by happenstance, why not have him for supper?” can help us to understanding e.g. Hindu obsession with purity.

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  7. A first concern I have is that the author is simply using the rhetoric of multiculturalism to make age-old philosophical concerns seem novel. Once we move from generalities to particular areas of philosophy, it is pretty clear that Anglo-American philosophy has hardly neglected the problems represented by a culturally plural world. For instance, political philosophy has been very concerned with justice in a culturally plural world; metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics, have all been concerned with respective cultural relativisms and their implications; philosophy of language and metaphilosophy, in such hands as Wittgenstein’s, have been concerned with cultural contingencies of language and philosophy; and so on. The post seems premised on the idea that Anglo-American philosophers dwell in an (imperial) cultural vacuum and need a more mind-opening “studies”-department approach

    “Philosophy is perhaps no longer a strictly universalist enterprise, exploring the nature, conditions, and dynamics of knowledge, values, and reality sub specie aeternitatis (“under the aspect of eternity”). Rather, Philosophy is, and perhaps should be, carried on in different contexts, and with “cultural qualifiers”: Latin American, Indian, Chinese, Amerindian, Islamic, etc.”

    I assume “under the aspect of eternity” is a grand expression for the notion that there’s a truth of the matter in things. That aside, what seems at stake here is what the general model of philosophy should be: should we see philosophy as a general human truth-seeking project, wherein various subgroups may have their own special philosophical concerns, or should we see it as a patchwork of relativistic culture-bound projects coordinated by a departmental multiculturalism manager?

    ejwinner,

    “Analytics, on the other hand, have long sustained themselves with the thing gruel of the question of what the definition of ‘is’ is.”

    That’s a groundless stereotype. If you look at the literature of Anglo-American philosophy you’ll find extensive discussion of social issues, from affirmative action to abortion to environmental ethics to animal welfare.

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  8. I am sympathetic to Rasmus‘s idea that (many) philosophers would be better off getting out of the “universalist enterprise”. There is some solid work in figuring out the dynamics of different belief systems and how they might interact with each other. Of course that might come as no surprise since I am a moral relativist and think those are the only plausible issues we can tackle.

    However, I am not sure if “diplomat” would be the best description of such a role, though it would be useful for diplomats to have a strong understanding of their own culture and that of others (you could say a philosophical understanding).

    Perhaps “interpreter”, “translator”, or (for interactions) “mediator” would be more appropriate?

    Unfortunately “multiculturalism” is a loaded term these days, as one can already see with the post by Ren. Personally I don’t think that all cultures can fit under the same system of government. That would seem to be the point of limited democracies in the first place, which allow groups to split off. That said, I have no idea where people get the notion that “multiculturalism” means giving away one’s rights to appease specific groups within the same nation. That seems like a strawman created by far right conservatives and new atheist enthusiasts to scare people into believing liberals (who don’t agree with their solutions) are ready to hand our freedoms away to the foreigners ‘invading’ our countries (you know… immigrants).

    If members of culture X are adamantly against living with other cultures, and expect them to bend wholly to the ideals of X, then they themselves are not “multiculturalist” and no amount of appeasing their demands will result in a “multicultural” nation. So giving one’s own rights away (as the right wing and new atheists claim multiculturalism demands) would in fact be anti-multiculturalism.

    Rasmus raises some important questions/possibilities and I hope some philosophers show up to wrestle over them.

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  9. New Philosophy Mostly Blossoms Multi, and Meta, Culturally

    Any culture is wise, and loved. Thus, it is a philosophy. To use philosophy for diplomacy among cultures uses a greater wisdom to adjudicate among smaller wisdoms.

    To any logic is associated not just one, but many, metalogics. Any of the latter is bigger than the former.
    Thus wisdoms, or cultures, are the germs for bigger, greater wisdoms, or meta-cultures (thus, germs for their own enlargements).

    The easiest way to enlarge a culture is to entangle it with another. The resulting union is automatically meta. Thus the greater wisdom of travelers.

    However, what comes out first is not harmony, but battle.

    This is what those who confuse multiculturalism with tolerance, overlook. In their naivety.

    Any wisdom is a system of logos, entangled with systems of moods associated to it. Local wisdom is often weird: associate a picture of Buddha to a party in Burma, and you will be condemned to years in prison.

    The entanglement of cultures results into, not just synergies, but, before that, competition, conflict, even extermination, between different ideas and emotions.

    The situation is similar to, but even more frazzled than in the biological survival of the fittest.

    Any new wisdom comes from forcefully introducing at least one new idea, fact, or emotion to an old wisdom. The resulting entanglement brings a dynamic conflict between the old wisdom, and the union of it with the new element.

    So one can say that any new, better, and improved wisdom is intrinsically multicultural.

    This happens in the clearest way when new science arises: Relativity as defined by Poincaré (1904) arose from the earlier realization (Lorentz, Poincaré) that time and space (contribution of Fiztgerald) were local.

    Einstein’s name got associated to Relativity (although he had invented none of it), just because had written down a neat abstract of the new wisdom in just one paper (“hiding sources”, as he admitted, helped!)

    How is a philosophical wisdom found to be superior to another? Because it is closer to the truth in matters pertaining to survival.

    Picture this; in Western Antarctica, the Pine Glacier rests on the bottom of the ocean, two thousands meters down. It is bathed in increasingly warmer waters. Its catchment basin, under sea level, is larger than Texas. If Pine, and some of its colleagues, melted, and they could, very fast, billions of refugees would be on the march.

    Clearly, something impacting survival, but not envisioned by philosophical systems in the past. This is the sort of possible truth that philosophy has to envision. Add increasing ocean acidity (from conversion of CO2 into carbonic acid), and one has new facts that require clearly drastically new philosophies.

    So the most drastic transculturalism comes from mixing philosophical obsolescence, let alone bigotry, with exotic cultures, brand new science.

    If we want to survive, we need to be right, and that involves firing lethal torpedoes to sink the biggest lies, and turn attention towards the real problems, whatever is left, an approximation to truth.

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  10. The questions are really too big to answer. “Philosophy” itself is huge, let alone all the different cultures and views of how differences should/could be arbitrated.

    I think we need to choose carefully what we decide to teach. I will just say that I have always wondered why critical reasoning is not taught until college – often as an elective.

    I think kids could start learning some critical reasoning at least by fifth grade. Now it is true that some informal fallacies are subject to debate and perhaps even bias. But even there they are no more biased than other subjects. But even if they left out informal fallacies kids could still learn to spot formal fallacies and hidden assumptions. They could also learn to break down arguments into premises and conclusions.

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  11. It is very interesting to contrast Hugo of St. Victor’s quote with one from Democritus: “To the wise person the whole earth is a homeland.” For them, cosmos is polis.

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  12. Paul Paolini,

    “If you look at the literature of Anglo-American philosophy you’ll find extensive discussion of social issues, from affirmative action to abortion to environmental ethics to animal welfare.”

    Yes, *now* – and more and more the past three decades (all your examples are issues developing after 1970).

    But I remember the 1960s, and when the voices of public intellectuals were raised on social issues, hardly any could be heard from Analytic philosophers.

    Hadn’t Ayres taught them that ethics was beyond the scope of philosophy? Hadn’t Carnap insisted that the function of philosophy was to verify the truth of scientific theories?

    “Of Hamlet, (Hans) Reichenbach writes ‘To be or not to be—that is not a question but a tautology.’ (“The Rise of Scientific Philosophy,” p. 250) http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/reichenbach/

    Anyone who could write that has not the slightest understanding of the human condition.

    (And I did read “Rise of Scientific Philosophy;” while I did learn from it, I was appalled by its arrogance and small-mindedness. At one point he tells us he can produce a theory of ethics through semantic analysis; then, when it is clear he cannot, he simply announces that there is no need for a theory of ethics in a “democratic” society – which he claims he has just demonstrated.)

    That the Analytic tradition has contributed greatly to our understanding of logical functions, and has helped computer programmers get funding for various projects, including production of consumer commodities, cannot be denied; and in a capitalist culture, who would dare nay-say this? But it has no great track record on social discourse or any cultural issues.

    (All right, I am engaging in social reductionism for the sake of a cheap chuckle. On the other hand, the opprobium poured over the heads of Continentalists, the condescension with which foreign philosophy generally is treated, are equally distasteful for those trained in the reading of them.)

    Recently Massimo remarked that he had grown somewhat weary of Pragmatism; but John Dewey remains the last truly interesting and influential ‘public intellectual’ to speak out on many social issues *as* a philosopher, and not simply as someone lucky enough to publish widely read books.

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  13. I am quietly wondering whether there has ever been a monocultural state in the past couple of thousand years. Those in Australia who oppose multiculturalism often say that we should stick to the one culture that was imported into Australia in the late 18th century.

    They usually don’t give any reason why the indigenous culture should not be the “one-culture” that they say they want.

    And by my reckoning the culture that invaded Australia was Anglo-Saxon-Pict-Jute-Celt-Scot-Gael-Norman-etc, etc, so we should have multiculturalism in our veins.

    So, as far as I can see, multiculturalism is just the milieu in which we find ourselves.

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  14. Paul Paolini,

    “should we see philosophy as a general human truth-seeking project, wherein various subgroups may have their own special philosophical concerns, or should we see it as a patchwork of relativistic culture-bound projects coordinated by a departmental multiculturalism manager?”

    False dilemma! In reading some of the supplementary material to this article, it is clear that the ground of it is to be found in reaction to the disrespect the Western tradition as a whole, and the Analytic tradition specifically, has shown to philosophies from other cultures, even those that achieved considerable intellectual development long before our own. We don’t know yet what we can learn from other philosophies *if*/*when* we finally engage them with an open-minded attitude.

    I learned here some months ago, in a discussion on the possible uses of logic developed by Indian philosophers committed to Buddhism, to stop thinking of these thinkers as ‘Buddhist philosophers,’ but to approach their writing as by philosophers who happened to be Buddhists. This I see as the key. Much is to be learned from other, and earlier, traditions, *as* ‘general human truth-seeking projects,’ if we set aside our biases for our own traditions. (For instance: So many philosophers and scientists defer to the principle of Ockham’s Razor; it might clarify such discussions to actually read what William of Ockham had to write on the matter. One doesn’t have to buy his religious commitments to consider his logical claims in greater detail.)

    Heidegger (whose initial training was in Catholic theology, before graduate training in phenomenology) once expressed disgust with critics who chided him for referencing John Duns Scotus – ‘as if thinkers of the past could tell us nothing of issues with which men have grappled for centuries.’ (Paraphrased, from memory.) Recently re-reading a text by Chandrakirti on inference, I thought: how relevant! how still difficult the issues are! Our culture blinkers us with its insistent urgency, its claim to be somehow the pinnacle of evolution. But perhaps it is just another step along a path the destination of which remains uncertain.

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  15. In reading the comments I am more convinced that it is difficult to say what philosophers would be a diplomat for. Even if we look at one of a huge number of branches – meta-ethics -philosophers disagree on the basis of morals/justice from relativists, realists, non-cognitivists and error theorists – just to name a few positions. Philosophers disagree long before we even get into substantive political/moral questions. If we act as though philosophy is diplomat for some substantive view it will mean we are a diplomat for nothing.

    That is why I think the only common denominator in philosophy is the importance of critical reasoning. I suggest if philosophy is to be a diplomat for anything then it would be for that. Yes there are some disagreements on how this should be taught. But generally I have never found a philosopher who thinks educating people about critical reasoning is a bad idea. I think that is the closest thing to common ground in philosophy.

    I think the true philosopher rejoices when people use critical reasoning regardless of what position they ultimately reach as a result of that reasoning. It’s when people don’t think, and refuse to consider reason, and appeals to irrational emotional biases that the philosopher – as a philosopher – thinks there is a problem.

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  16. SocraticGadfly: “… Winther isn’t claiming to have any final answers, … but it leading us to think.”

    The right answer for the wrong question is absolutely no use. I will use one recently discussed issue to show this point.

    Wrong question: {Are GR’s (general relativity) predictions correct?}
    As a pure theoretical framework, its validity does not depend on any empirical verification. Any empirical confirmation does not improve its theoretical validity a single bit. It is a wrong question for a TRUE theoretical FRAMEWORK.

    Right question: {Is GR a correct framework for the final physics theory?}
    Answer: the gravitation wave (however real it is) is too weak to be detected even with LIGO thus far, then it cannot play a role (even minimal one) for the structure of this universe. The fact that GR is totally useless (no part in: expansion of universe, the dark matter, the dark energy, the quark/lepton structure, the quantum principle, …) is enough to show that GR is totally wrong to play a PART in the final physics (http://www.quantumdiaries.org/2015/03/13/einsteins-most-famous-equation/#comment-1909398622 Note: Quantum Diaries is the official blog for CERN).

    When the question is right, the right answer will definitely come sooner or later. Winther has asked many good right questions. Thanks.

    Of course, there are always many WRONG answers for any kind of question. The major causes for the wrong are ignorance and arrogance. By resolving one issue, it will reduce many wrong answers, and it is the clear and precise definition for the question.

    What is Multiculturalism? It can encompass many huge fields.

    F1, describing a local group (a nation) which consists of multi-culture subgroups. Then, in addition to a multicultural assimilation, the governance of those groups could be an issue.

    F2, can one single political system (such as democracy) be useful for all different cultures?

    F3, is there a shared base for all different cultures? If Yes, can a super culture arise from that base to encompass all different cultures? If No, …

    F4, … many more

    I will place my comment mainly on F3.

    Robin Herbert: “… culture that invaded Australia was Anglo-Saxon-Pict-Jute-Celt-Scot-Gael-Norman-etc, …”

    Excellent point. There are indeed too many nitty-gritty. That is, there is no way to get a framework out by discussing all those tiny branches. Thus, I will only discuss the major RIVERS. For the past 5,000 years, there are only three major river system: Greek/ Judeo-Christian; Hindu and Chinese. These three are RELIGIOUS rivers. Yet, most of people (including Chinese themselves) do not view Confucianism as a religion. This kind of WRONG makes any attempt of constructing a unified framework impossible.

    Thus, I will begin with my comment by showing some true understanding of Confucianism first (see http://www.chinese-word-roots.org/Confuciu.htm ). It becomes possible to discover the common BASE for all these three river systems; a meaningful knowledge base for Multiculturalism can be constructed. Then, many additional Multiculturalism issues can be addressed.

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  17. ejwinner,

    “False dilemma!”

    Regarding the general project of philosophy, either a culture-transcendent truth is a shared value among cultures or it isn’t. If it isn’t, what would be the basis of philosophical discussion among them? All other topics presuppose a truth of the matter, after all.

    Truth isn’t a mere Western construct. It’s a feature of human languages. It’s relevant to any language capable of making an assertion. While I am a conceptual relativist, meaning that I believe there can be a plurality of equally valid ways of conceptually parsing the world, I’m not a relativist about truth; conceptual relativism doesn’t imply relativism about truth.

    Regarding philosophical discussion among cultures, I’m not at all against it. I agree that everyone could benefit from it. What I am against is postmodern confusions about truth that would undermine such discussion. In my view, the multicultural managers that I (facetiously) alluded to actually undermine intercultural discussion by premising it on flawed philosophical assumptions.

    I’m also against moral relativism. Like relativism about truth, it is ultimately incoherent, and quickly makes relevant conversations pointless, unless one has a high tolerance for absurdity.

    Each culture may have its own terms for parsing reality, but it doesn’t have its own truth, ethical or otherwise. It’s not only false, but potentially harmful to deny this. But I would be fine with someone denying this if they were willing to live in an evil culture while those on the outside who could help simply regarded the culture as having its own truth and morality. Perhaps the pain of being stoned to death is just a Western projection.

    “In reading some of the supplementary material to this article, it is clear that the ground of it is to be found in reaction to the disrespect the Western tradition as a whole, and the Analytic tradition specifically, has shown to philosophies from other cultures, even those that achieved considerable intellectual development long before our own. We don’t know yet what we can learn from other philosophies *if*/*when* we finally engage them with an open-minded attitude.”

    Yes, villainizing the West is job one for many academics. The recent failure to ban the American flag from the UC Irvine library must have real disappointment for these folks ; )

    Early in my college career I became enamored with certain Eastern philosophies and, beyond lifelong influence, this affected my approach in later Analytic studies of logic and ethics. It affected what I wanted from these studies and to some extent conditioned how I understood them.

    When you say that Western philosophy has been disrespectful to non-Western philosophies, I have to wonder who or what in particular has been disrespectful. Philosophers are individuals who must follow what they find compelling. If they don’t find non-Western philosophy compelling, that’s not disrespect but disinterest. Beyond this, Western philosophy is a tradition of concern for truth in its own right, and it’s no disrespect if one such tradition does not consider other such traditions relevant to its concerns. Are Tibetan monks disrespectful in neglecting Rawls and modal logic?

    Another thing is that studying non-Western philosophy is necessarily very historical and hence requires professors who are as much, if not more, historians than philosophers. This is why opportunities to study non-Western philosophy are often outside the philosophy department. Note that Ancient Greek and Roman thought also is studied most thoroughly under classics.

    So given that there is an opportunity to study non-Western philosophy in Western universities, I don’t see how such a case for disrespect can be made.

    “Recently Massimo remarked that he had grown somewhat weary of Pragmatism”

    I though Pragmatism was for the weary ; )

    Liked by 1 person

  18. What a great essay! So much to think about here.

    Some of the commentators have suggested that there is nothing new here, and this is probably true. But isn’t it nice to be reminded, in such detail and and economy of style, of the important and broad ‘main street’ responsibilities that philosophers have?

    I also agree that the diplomat role for philosophers is probably the most apt and effective role for philosophy. However isn’t it the case that to the degree one is a diplomat, a philosopher can’t be seen as much of an activist?

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  19. While on the surface it does seem more a topic for sociologists and political theorists, one metaphysical point to consider is whether we assume some top down Platonic ideal culture, of which the manifest ones are imperfect copies. A view which various monoculturalists might seem to hold, with their own as the closest to perfection.
    Or is it bottom up and culture adapts to the circumstances presented to it. In which case, it is a bit of the law of the jungle and the various cultures will be constantly bumping into each other, or worse.
    What philosophy seeks to do, is to be a bit of the diplomat and recognizing there is no ideal, seek to moderate some of that clash of civilizations. Now a diplomat of philosophy would not presume to just represent their own cultural traditions, but also be a bit of a judge as to where lines can be clarified, if not drawn and what connections are substantive enough to be worth the loss of particulars on both sides.
    Human nature does build up these cultural edifices and their strongest proponents are going to be biased toward their own, but these entities do build up significant baggage over the centuries and while it gives its adherents a framework to define their lives, this world is reaching a point of cultural saturation and when the various defining lines do start to break down in a significant way, there will be winners and losers.
    The issue which should concern a conversation such as this, is to actually analyze and judge the significant factors and debate their strengths and weaknesses, rather than just leaving it to the generals, politicians and priests to fight it out.
    For instance, conservatism, no matter what variety, represents a hardened and reduced version of a culture and while this serves to clarify its structure, also tends to dismiss the dynamic energies which are needed for it to grow. Meanwhile the more liberal aspects don’t consider the extent to which diversity breaks down distinctions and structure, leaving a muddied and chaotic state.
    So there would have to be some recognition of the polarities inherent in any such situation and the ways they cycle individuals from one side of the fence to the other.
    Then there could be a much broader range of discussion, such as the extent to which the monetary medium has superseded much social connectivity in many cultures and how that particular beast could be corralled back to its more socially, economically and environmentally useful dimensions. A good crisis should never be wasted, as disaster capitalism so cogently observes.
    Sometimes, it is best not to confront cultural beliefs head on, but to examine the many premises on which they are based and in doing so, potentially raise cross cultural issues that might gain respect from many individuals in different populations and build a movement that would be a force in its own right.

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  20. Joe,

    I think the true philosopher rejoices when people use critical reasoning regardless of what position they ultimately reach as a result of that reasoning. It’s when people don’t think, and refuse to consider reason, and appeals to irrational emotional biases that the philosopher – as a philosopher – thinks there is a problem.

    I beg to differ. The example of a psychopath engaging in rational reasoning about morality (discussed in the previous thread) is a very nice one — we cannot be more reasonable than psychopaths in any respect, and the only difference are those “irrational emotional biases” that we have and they don’t. Emotions (and other irrational stuff in a human) should not be eliminated from philosophy and thinking processes. Otherwise the critical reasoning would become unbelievably cruel.

    If we start looking at the real world purely rationally, as a video game (where characters do not have any emotions and do not deserve any empathy), the world would quickly become a very hellish place (as actually depicted in a lot of video games 🙂 ).

    Paul,

    But I would be fine with someone denying this if they were willing to live in an evil culture while those on the outside who could help simply regarded the culture as having its own truth and morality. Perhaps the pain of being stoned to death is just a Western projection.

    Well of course it is painful and gruesome, as opposed to being electrocuted or poisoned to death, which is completely painless and clean. Hip-hip-hooray for the Western culture! It thought us all about killing a human in a moral, ethical, and hygienic way.

    Wow. Talk about projections…

    Brodix,

    Now a diplomat of philosophy would not presume to just represent their own cultural traditions, but also be a bit of a judge as to where lines can be clarified, if not drawn and what connections are substantive enough to be worth the loss of particulars on both sides.

    As I said, I am yet to see a philosopher who is neutral about the differences between Western secularism and Islamic fundamentalism (for example), and not biasing his judgments towards either of the two.

    In my opinion, philosophers need to learn much more about open-mindedness before getting anywhere near the ability to play the role of such “multicultural diplomats”. I don’t see it happening in our lifetime.

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  21. Rasmus Grønfeldt Winther: “Multiculturalism thus shatters monoculture’s arrogance, … It makes us stronger.”

    Amen!
    But the issue is much bigger than this. While we are still disdaining the multiculturalism with our grandiose self-arrogance, a Super-culture is now forming. I will very briefly discuss this issue with three points.

    P1, the difference among cultures are great SUPERFICIALLY, but they do share the same base, this Nature which has single TRUTH. Most people mistakes the perceptions (subjective) of that TRUTH (objective) as that truth itself. Today, we are talking about this TRUTH as physics. In the ancient time, this TRUTH was (still is) totally comprehendible as MORAL truth. The moral domain has identical size as the physics-domain; that is, the physics-truth is not bigger than the moral truth. Furthermore, the moral sphere is governed by the DYNAMICS of morality which has equations isomorphic to the physics-equations but with different variables. No culture can go beyond this set of moral dynamic equations, as the best that they can do is to weigh one variable more than the others.

    P2, the science (especially physics) arose only about 400 years and knows very little about the physics-truth via the Popperianism physics. The Popperian science thus far has done some nitty-gritty wonders (such as the computers, air planes, nuclear bombs, etc.) but is not one bit smarter than the ancients on the ultimate issues (the beginning of: this universe, lives, intelligence, consciousness, etc.). But, the grandiose arrogance has made scientism (no better than a pussy cat) acting as the ‘King of the Jungle’. Today, the Popperian physicists will no longer accept RATIONALE as a judging RULER for truth. When stuck in a dead-end, they simply resolve it with ‘dishonesty’. The Popperian philosophers are also facing off many rational arguments with cowardice.

    P3, with P1, any culture can totally assimilate a different culture; that is, a Super culture can be constructed. Without giving up their own culture, Chinese are now digesting the entire Western culture, while the talking about the respecting of multi-cultures is something of novelty for us.

    With these three points, no, the multiculturalism is needed no more. Very soon, a super culture will dominant. This is mostly reflected on the National Security (NS) issues. Most of American NS analysts on China are neither profession on Chinese language nor knowing much about Chinese history and culture. They are analyzing the Chinese issue by knowing only a few names of Chinese leaders and by accusing that any new progresses of China are simply stealing from America. Worst yet, they almost all have a PIPE DREAM: almost 100% certain that the current Chinese government will fall soon. Chinese is the only continuing culture for 5,000 years but will fall in no time. Really?

    This article (http://www.chinese-word-roots.org/cwr017.htm ) is my contribution for America’s National Security and can also be a GREAT paper for those who want to learn more about a different culture.

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  22. Paul Paolini,

    Yes, Pragmatism is for those weary … of hair-splitting in technical languages, such as we find in Logical Positivism or Deconstruction; for which it is a certain cure.

    Truth may be a feature of language (reducible to propositions one can analyze for truth-value). And that may be culture-transcendent. But *understanding* is feature of an embodied mind, and must engage various social and emotional responses as well. And I think understanding is a more valuable attainment for philosophic thought and reflection than mere truth-table verifiable exactitude. (As a Pragmatist, and a secular Buddhist, I don’t even buy all the Platonic ‘justified true belief’ definition of truth that the Analytic tradition has been saddled with, anyway; but that’s a larger discussion.)

    Understanding includes elements of sub-conscious responses, social awareness, historical preparedness, that mere truth cannot get us. Hans Reichenbach is right that, technically; “to be or not to be” is a tautology. But so what? Shakespeare evidences much deeper understanding of the human response to mortality in the face of moral dilemma, than Reichenbach appears capable of comprehending. To my mind, Shakespeare is the greater philosophic thinker, despite lack of professional credentials.

    In a letter sent by Hamlet to Ophelia (presumably before the play opens), Shakespeare has Hamlet write:

    “Doubt truth to be a liar
    but never doubt I love”

    In it’s social-historical context, this is more than a bit of seductive rhetoric, because Shakespeare writes at a moment when the very notion of truth was undergoing upheaval, from the Medieval dependence on authority to the modern insistence on experience. Thus his understanding of the philosophic problematics – as they apply to the life of individuals in community, is more revealing than the philosophic or theological debates of the time. (For more, see: https://nosignofit.wordpress.com/2015/01/10/doubt-truth-to-be-a-liar/)

    “To be or not to be” is tautological – but I doubt that would dissuade a young man contemplating suicide.

    Considering response here, I thought to research the philosophy of another culture for reference. In the process, I discovered the Kyoto School, originating in the thought of Kitaro Nishida. This still has a lineage in the philosophy of Japan. It originated largely as an attempt to synthesize elements of Pragmatism, Phenomenology, and Zen Buddhism, and (apparently) to recoup the principle, from the philosophy of Buddhists, of Emptiness (sometimes mistakenly translated as ‘nothingness’), as the dialectical cancelling of hypostasized conceptualizations to reveal a communitarian experience. It appears to be exactly the kind of multicultural convergence that the OP is really talking about, in furthering a deeper understanding of human experience. I seem to have some reading to do; for that I thank you.

    You appear to confuse multiculturalism with the feared ‘post-modern’ ultra-relativism. As another commenter noticed, what the OP offers is better labelled ‘cosmopolitanism’ – the welcoming of other points of view for the increase of understanding.
    —–
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kyoto_School
    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/nishida-kitaro/

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  23. Marko:
    You say:
    ” I am yet to see a philosopher who is neutral about the differences between Western secularism and Islamic fundamentalism (for example), and not biasing his judgments towards either of the two.

    In my opinion, philosophers need to learn much more about open-mindedness before getting anywhere near the ability to play the role of such “multicultural diplomats”. I don’t see it happening in our lifetime.”

    “Biasing judgments”? “Neutral about Islamic Fundamentalism”? You have “yet to see a philosopher who is neutral”?
    You should get to know more European philosophers! Just among French speaking philosophers, there are many, who know Islam very well, and have pondered the problem of fanatical Islamists.

    Tariq Ramadan (he also speaks English as he is professor at Oxford) comes to mind, and plenty of others. Tariq has changed his music in recent months. Much less Islamist, much more secularist. If you know anything about Islam, you know about Tariq. The USA forbade him to visit the USA for many years (say to take his job at Notre Dame U.)… because of his grandfather. I used to detest some of his positions, but now, as I said, he has changed.

    I would like you to explain what you mean by “neutral” between bloody killers reading hate literature with murderous orders therein and so-called “Western” secularism.

    Secularism does not have to be western or eastern. Secularism is secularism. It means to belong to the age. The age in which one is living. One does not have to be neutral between the age one is living and 13 centuries old savagery. Actually, one cannot be neutral between savagery and secularism.

    Do you think one should be “neutral” with the Aztecs, or Nazis, whatever that means?

    Moreover, what is presently meant about “Islamic Fundamentalism” is little more than arguably the most criminal system of thought since Nazism. By putting it on the same level as “secularism”, and trying to find a middle way, you are trying to find a middle way between criminal activity and criminal, guilty minds justifying and organizing it accordingly. Oh, Islamic Fundamentalists killed another twenty innocent people today in an attack against the most important museum in Tunisia.

    Tunisia is a democracy, with an elected national assembly, a president elected by the people, and a coalition government (with the Islamist Party!). One of the people assassinated was a woman janitor.

    I hope on god’s green Earth, indeed, that you will not see any philosopher trying to justify this, in your lifetime.

    As I argued (in a longer essay on my site), transculturalism does not mean to be wishy-washy, to be “neutral” about everything. It is the exact opposite.

    It means, instead, to pick up the best, transculturally. I love, and have adopted, many characteristics of various types of Islam. But that does not mean I aspire to be neutral, or neutered, about the criminal and lethal insanities of Wahhabist Fundamentalism.

    Wisdom does not talk with both sides its mouth.

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  24. Marko,

    > Well of course it is painful and gruesome, as opposed to being electrocuted or poisoned to death, which is completely painless and clean. Hip-hip-hooray for the Western culture!

    The death penalty (electrocution, poison etc.) is barbarous. It’s heavily criticized “from within”, i.e. within our “Western culture”. Many Western countries don’t have the death penalty anymore (I don’t think it exists in the EU). Does this mean we can criticize stoning too, or should we judge stoning from a more multicultural point of view?

    I’m not looking for a debate about the death penalty, it’s just an example of a problem our philosophical diplomats would immediately run into.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Marko,
    I can understand why, as I see the premise of an objective perspective as a contradiction. On the other side of the situation, many of these cultural clashes and mismatches, such as between conservative Islamic fundamentalism and Western secularism, are only going to grow more intense and destructive of current realities.
    In that situation, new conceptual approaches will arise, in order to create some sense of understanding about what is going on. In which case, they won’t be looking at just the surface manifestations that these cultural entities project of themselves, but at the elemental dynamics propelling them onward.
    Much as philosophers have always arisen according to the conditions which they try to explain, there will have to be new ways of thinking to approach these times. It won’t be a small group of academics who will decide which ideas the public accepts, but the ideas will have to resonate with the public. Which makes Scientia Salon a useful exchange between the profession of philosophy and members of said public, even if just a small sample.

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  26. As author of this article, I am delighted to witness it stirring deep thoughts, and I’d like to thank everyone for their ideas and reactions. A few comments follow.

    This piece is a downstream version of a “White Paper” I read at a conference I organized at UC Santa Cruz in 2012. You can see participant non-concluding postscripts here:
    http://philosophy.ucsc.edu/news-events/colloquia-conferences/postscripts.html
    Videos can be found here:
    https://vimeo.com/channels/multiculturalphilosophy
    Helen Longino gave the keynote.

    As a number of you have pointed out, this piece does not bring out new points, per se. Rather, it synthesizes and tries to sharpen a host of important considerations regarding philosophy of multiculturalism and multicultural philosophy.

    Cosmopolitanism is an important topic, thank you. Multiculturalism need not presume or imply of world government of any kind. The two topics are related in complex ways, but are not the same. A longer essay would of course delve into the rich literature of Cosmopolitanism.

    I am an analytic philosopher by training and by publications, and an eclectic and open philosopher by nature. As much respect as I have for the general style of philosophy practiced in the Anglo-American tradition, it seems that it is not (by design? by self-image?) terribly good at dealing with the full complex of philo-socio-historico-psycho-etc. social and political problems. And, yes, I say this knowing full well that there is beautiful analytical value theory, which has taught us much (work by, e.g., Christine Korsgaard, Debra Satz, Stuart Hampshire, Onora O’Neill, Peter Singer, Bernard Williams). While certainly worthwhile for some philosophical endeavours, especially analysis of mathematics, science, computer science, (general, scientific) ontology, etc., clarity and conceptual analysis as such may not be the gold standard virtues for all broadly philosophical efforts.

    As to philosophy as diplomacy, this was meant to provoke. Latour’s 2002 essay on “War of the Worlds: What about Peace?” brings many important questions to the fore in a readily understandable and, yes, clear, way. Philosophy can have many other functions, as pointed out above: translator, integrator, judge, etc. Which role do we want to emphasize and adopt?

    Finally, what is the alternative to asking hard questions, that may admittedly be “too big,” about multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism? Literal war or skirmishes? Mass hypnosis via vapid movie and social media entertainment? Anarcho-primitivism?

    As a global society, we are moving in an unfortunate direction, with increasing inequality of health, wealth, and knowledge, and generalized environmental exhaustion. It might be too late to be a public philosopher, as some noted above, but I prefer to remain optimistic. Hopefully norms of multiculturalism, social equity and environmental sustainability, as well as critical pedagogy and public outreach, will further critical dialogue and, yes, Peace.

    Thank you, Rasmus

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  27. I said:

    “I think the true philosopher rejoices when people use critical reasoning regardless of what position they ultimately reach as a result of that reasoning.”
    Mark responded:
    “I beg to differ. The example of a psychopath engaging in rational reasoning about morality (discussed in the previous thread) is a very nice one — we cannot be more reasonable than psychopaths in any respect, and the only difference are those “irrational emotional biases” that we have and they don’t. Emotions (and other irrational stuff in a human) should not be eliminated from philosophy and thinking processes. Otherwise the critical reasoning would become unbelievably cruel.

    If we start looking at the real world purely rationally, as a video game (where characters do not have any emotions and do not deserve any empathy), the world would quickly become a very hellish place….”

    Mark
    I am actually quite happy to read your response. You are using critical reasoning to sort out if the position I am staking out is logical. I think as philosophers – if we really want to call ourselves that then we are committed to principles of critical reasoning when we draw our conclusions. As philosophers we are not necessarily supporting any substantive position.

    Metaethics is a great case in point. Lots of very reasonable people hold very different positions. There is no position in metaethics which seems immune from problems. Most people will then just say “yeah whatever.” But the philosopher continues to push on and decide which position makes the most sense through critical reasoning.

    If people think philosophy is the spreading of any particular view – be it realism, relativism, or any other ism, through propaganda techniques as opposed to reasoned dialogue then IMO they are mistaken. That is why philosophers are respected even if they held some very unique positions, e.g., Berkeley, Spinoza, etc. Philosophy is not about the conclusion it’s about the process of reaching the conclusion.

    To address your comments more directly, I do not think it is necessarily wrong to act according to our emotions – if we think they reliably track the truth. There is reasoning involved it is not just ”well I have this urge so I will act on it” – like other animals. I do think we should consider whether we should or should not act on our urges. Now depending on our other background beliefs that may, or may not be reasonable.

    Perhaps a psychopath can learn to act morally. (I mean truly morally intentions and all not just to avoid punishment) But if morality is not real it would seem pointless. Some estimate that psychopaths make up as much as 1% of the population. (Sure definitions vary so it’s not exactly that clear, but even allowing some room for error that is a huge number of people that can’t be casually dismissed.)

    Finally if you accept that morality is really just whatever suits people then you can’t really say the hellish video game example is “worse.”

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  28. Marko said :
    “As I said, I am yet to see a philosopher who is neutral about the differences between Western secularism and Islamic fundamentalism (for example), and not biasing his judgments towards either of the two”

    Patrice Ayme said :
    ” would like you to explain what you mean by “neutral” between bloody killers reading hate literature with murderous orders therein and so-called “Western” secularism

    By example. I think you are not being “neutral” in your choice of terms or focus. The first proposition in the comparison is dripping with emotion and the second not. The first proposition is about specific actions, people and context. The second is fairly emotionally neutral, doesn’t refer to any actions specific or not, and is at a high a level of description.

    So again, speaking for myself, neutral more generally means avoiding the juxtaposition of apples and oranges, and more specifically, when comparing actions or contexts compare comparable actions and contexts, and when biasing bias each proposition to a similar emotional valence and degree.

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  29. Patrice,

    I would like you to explain what you mean by “neutral” between bloody killers reading hate literature with murderous orders therein and so-called “Western” secularism.

    For one thing, we can be “neutral” by calling things their names. For example, comparing bloody killers reading hate literature with murderous orders therein on one side, and bloody killers bombing these people’s homes and countries and toppling their governments in order to control cheap oil sources, all this in the name of “democracy” (Iraq, Libya, etc… come to mind), on the other side.

    That would be much more neutral, as a start. Just call things their names, and don’t pretend that there are “good guys” and “bad guys” out there.

    So if in one case you talk about “innocent victims brutalized by extremist militants” and in another case about “collateral damage in a successful military operation”, you are *not* being neutral.

    Btw, thanks for the reference about Tariq Ramadan, I’ll look him up. You are right that I am not very well informed about modern philosophers in general, and I’d be happily surprised to see if there really are people out there who try to take an objective point of view on different cultures.

    Patrick,

    The death penalty (electrocution, poison etc.) is barbarous. It’s heavily criticized “from within”, i.e. within our “Western culture”. Many Western countries don’t have the death penalty anymore (I don’t think it exists in the EU). Does this mean we can criticize stoning too, or should we judge stoning from a more multicultural point of view?

    Well, I would guess that there are also many Muslims out there who heavily criticize death by stoning “from within” their Islamic culture, just as the Western people do for the death penalty in, say, USA. One should take this into account as well if one wants a balanced and objective multicultural point of view.

    If we want to take an objective perspective on multiculturalism, we must first distance ourselves from embracing any prior culture as a “good” one. And this is a very hard thing to do, because we have all grown up accepting one culture or another subconsciously, and we are thus a priori always biased. Perhaps our best bet, in the example comparing Western secularism and Islamic fundamentalism, would be (say) Chinese philosophers, because they have arguably grown up in a third, independent type of culture, and can approach the comparison of the first two cultures without having a vested interest in either. And similarly any two cultures should be compared only by philosophers coming from some third culture, independent and sufficiently different from the first two.

    Brodix,

    I agree with your previous comment, and I also hope that philosophers can rise to the challenge. But I am much more skeptical about when. Actually, I fear that this can be objectively done only from a historical distance — say, 1000 years from now philosophers will be able to objectively discuss multiculturalism of our times, and only because their own cultures will be sufficiently different from those that exist today. Just as we can today compare ancient Greek, Roman and Egyptian cultures, in a reasonably unbiased way.

    But doing the same for one’s contemporary cultures is almost intractable, IMO. For all the reasons I stated above and in previous comments.

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  30. Thanks, Rasmus, for your comment. Here, in your statements, “It might be too late to be a public philosopher, as some noted above, but I prefer to remain optimistic. Hopefully norms of multiculturalism, social equity and environmental sustainability, as well as critical pedagogy and public outreach, will further critical dialogue and, yes, Peace,” I sense some of the same frustration that Justin E.H. Smith describes in this article:

    http://www.berfrois.com/2015/03/philosophy-is-housed-with-the-humanities-but-only-because-they-had-to-put-it-somewhere

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  31. Hi Joe,

    Perhaps a psychopath can learn to act morally. … But if morality is not real it would seem pointless. …

    The term “moral realism” is misleading in that those denying moral realism still think that morals are “real”, they are people’s feelings and emotions, and people’s feelings and emotions are certainly real, being really existing states of a brain. Thus the terms subjective morality versus objective morality are perhaps better,

    Further, if morality is subjective (which it is), it does not in any way follow that morality is “pointless”. Our subjective feelings are the most important thing to us humans. (Many seem to overlook that blatantly obvious fact when they regard subjective morality as somehow a second-rate morality that doesn’t actually matter!)

    Why would matters-to-humans morality not actually matter to humans unless it also matters beyond humans? That seems a non sequitur.

    Finally if you accept that morality is really just whatever suits people then you can’t really say the hellish video game example is “worse.”

    It’s amazing how people sometimes interpret subjective morality! If morality is human feeling and opinion (which it is), then the one thing that humans can indeed do is opine on the matter and thus they can indeed “say it is worse”.

    What they cannot do is say that their opinion relates to some objective supra-human standard, but so what?, we don’t need our morality to relate to an objective supra-human morality for it to be *our* morality.

    And, I think you’ll find that most people are indeed quite capable of saying that they find the morality of the psychopath “worse”. (Morality is just what people say, therefore they can’t say anything” is another non sequitur.)

    Hi Paul Paolini,

    But I would be fine with someone denying this if they were willing to live in an evil culture …

    Which translates as: if morality is people’s ideas about how they want to live, then they’re not allowed to have feelings about how they want to live. Which, again, is a non sequitur.

    These feelings about what people like and dislike do not have to relate to an objective supra-human standard in order to be of vast importance to people!

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  32. Coel,

    You quoted me as saying: “But I would be fine with someone denying this if they were willing to live in an evil culture …”

    You responded: “Which translates as: if morality is people’s ideas about how they want to live, then they’re not allowed to have feelings about how they want to live. Which, again, is a non sequitur.”

    I was being ironic in the part you quoted. What I was saying was: Consider the possible consequences for people suffering in cultures harmful to them of denying that there’s a culture-transcendent moral truth. This is in fact a real-world problem of moral relativism. Such relativism leads to an attitude of turning a blind eye to injustices in other cultures; intervening or even judging would be an imposition of one culture’s morality on another, after all. It’s better to focus on things in our own culture like sexist video games and how men should sit on public transit.

    As to your response, could you clarify? I’m not able to make sense of it.

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  33. Multiculturalism is IMO a word with many too meanings (some of them quite poisonous) to too many people to make a good starting point for a peace promoting dialogue. E.g., on the right in the US, the idea that it equals “cultural Marxism” is widely disseminated on the right. Actually, to better promote the idea of “Cultural Marxists” under every bed, the usual formulation is “Political Correctness is Cultural Marxism”, but when they give examples, it is clear they are talking about extreme forms of Multiculturalism.
    To really engage with the diversity of ideas in the world, calls, IMO for more of a “History of Ideas” mindset. That means a great deal of effort being put into *bad* ideas, or ideas whether they seem bad to us or not, if they are driving important actions in the world. To make sense of certain aspects of history we need to understand “southern honor”, not to mention various other honor systems, and Calvinist predestination; IMO we need not just to understand them intellectually, but to empathize — something one might get more from literature that gets inside of the subjects heads, than most history — although a partial return to highly narrative history, and micro-history based on the lives of an 18c midwife who happened to keep a detailed diary that came down to us, or the 14c Italian “Merchant of Prato” who left behind thousands of letters.
    In philosophy, I suspect the time for foundationalism is past, and to best serve human needs, we need to consider the merits of different models, in the manner of physicists seeing something as wave and/or particle according to context. In The Idea of Justice, Amartya Sen begins by illustrating and advocating the idea that we need to respect different fundamental values, like some degree of fairness as equality, some degree of fairness as “entitlement to what one creates”, and some degree of sometimes giving the most to those who can do the most with it, without hope of “conversion tables” that will make it all boil down to one thing. It would help if we focused on mitigating the many many extreme cases of absence of these norms, rather than obsess over exotic cases that we can cook up in which they bump up against each other. Sen’s reasons for not being a social contractarian inform my frequent refrain (you may or may not have noticed) that the kernel of truth in postmodernism is that applying the objective or “god’s eye” view, or view from nowhere to social problems tends to produces “solutions” only suitable for gods and dictators (this can be true even if your “perfect world” idea is anarchy or libertarianism), and may result in ones only accomplishment being some horrible approximation of total dominance (so you can make the system “do the right thing”).

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  34. Hi Paul, I pretty much agree with Coel‘s position on the subject of morality, although I was also confused by his last statement to you. I think it was just poor word choice, and I’d like to see his clarification.

    “Consider the possible consequences for people suffering in cultures harmful to them of denying that there’s a culture-transcendent moral truth.”

    I would like to see an example of that. My guess is you are going to find a factual error (mistaking what will obtain their desired goal) and not a moral error (desiring the objectively incorrect thing).

    “This is in fact a real-world problem of moral relativism. Such relativism leads to an attitude of turning a blind eye to injustices in other cultures; intervening or even judging would be an imposition of one culture’s morality on another, after all. It’s better to focus on things in our own culture like sexist video games and how men should sit on public transit.”

    First, you are conflating normative relativism (which I think rarely exists outside of hypotheticals used to scare people into realism/absolutism) with meta-ethical relativism.

    Under meta-ethical relativism, which is what Coel is describing, you can still champion your own moral desires. Of course it is true that by understanding the subjective nature of morality one might find that certain “injustices” are a product of one’s own moral desires, and would not count as such if you held a different moral outlook. This would help one understand why members of the other culture might view the same activity as “just”, rather than viewing themselves as promoting evil. That understanding might help one find other, more useful arguments to get them to stop a practice than using the rarely effective ‘you are evil’.

    Second, you seem to conflate restricting criticism to cultures within one’s own nation with moral relativism. While relativism does maintain that moral beliefs only have meaning (and so claims have effect) for members of the same culture, most nations (and certainly most western nations) are extremely diverse regarding cultures. Anti-sexual and anti-male forms of feminism are a culture (or subculture) and what you describe appear to be critiques from that culture on others within the same nation.

    One can have moral and/or practical reasons for restricting criticism to members of one’s own nation, but neither reflect or find justification from moral relativism.

    Third, how does moral realism/absolutism solve the problem you just described? The only way would seem to be if they all happen to agree with your version of moral realism/absolutism.

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  35. Marko,

    > “Well, I would guess that there are also many Muslims out there who heavily criticize death by stoning “from within” their Islamic culture, just as the Western people do for the death penalty in, say, USA. One should take this into account as well if one wants a balanced and objective multicultural point of view.

    If we want to take an objective perspective on multiculturalism, we must first distance ourselves from embracing any prior culture as a “good” one.”

    Well, it’s my guess too that there are muslims who criticize death by stoning and capital punishment. Officially Morocco has not abolished capital punishment, but I think they had only one execution since the 1980s.

    That was not my point. I wanted to point out that there’s an easy assumption that we aka “the West” are embracing our culture as “the good one”. I dont get that feeling. An occasional visit to the website of the Guardian or an occasional reading of Charlie Hebdo or Le canard enchaîné will prove that the Brits and the French can be fiercely critical of their “own” culture (very fiercely in the case of Charlie Hebdo). There’s barely a day when there’s no article in a newspaper showing in detail how problematic “our” culture is. Women are still discriminated against, we’re still exploiting Africa, we’re wearing clothes made by children in Bangladesh and we’re warmongering fools. Some of the critique is actually argued with comparisons with “other cultures”. This line of thinking has a long (although perhaps not very strong) tradition in “our” culture. In my own reading I encountered it the first time (a long time ago) in the “Essais” of Montaigne and in “Lettres persanes” by Montesquieu.

    “Our culture” is critical of itself. And rightly so, and not enough. And that brings me to the point I wanted to make.

    If I’m critical of my “own” culture, am I then allowed to hold “other” cultures to the same standard? If I criticize the death penalty in the US (“our culture”), can I criticize the death penalty in China (“their culture”) too? Or am I, in the case of China, trying to impose “my values” on “other cultures”? If I criticize Great Britain and France because they were so late legalizing same-sex marriages – years later than civilized countries like Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium and South Africa – am I then allowed to criticize Iran and Kansas too? Or am I trying to impose my values on the good folk of Abarkooh and Hoisington?

    I’d really like to hear what a philosophical approach of multiculturalism has to say about question like these. Multiculturalism is fine as long as we find common ground. If fundamental contradictions are revealed – then, I’m afraid, philosophy can do little more than observe the contradictions.

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  36. Marko,

    Distance, of both time and space, provides some degree of objectivity, in that the larger picture can be apparent to the individual point of view. What is lost is detail and often process.

    What I think is possible is to consider the premise of culture, civilization and society as subject to physical laws and processes. Massimo didn’t think my use of thermodynamics as explanatory was very effective, but if you consider there are both liberal and conservative aspects of every culture and that liberalism is generally some form of social expansion or growth, while conservatism is basically about structural norms and civil order, then these are two sides of a whole culture that is both growing and solidifying, with individual cycling through the different aspects in different stages of their lives, then it can be a useful model for examining the forces at work within societies and why it is like a non-halting algorithm, as, like a convection cycle, what is compressed heats up and expands until it cools and settles back down. This can be everything from the cycles of the expansion of youth and consolidation of age, to the cycles of wealth accumulation and dissipation. There is no happy medium, as that would be a flatline, but ultimately there is equilibrium of all these forces.

    So now we are getting to a stage of world tension where the pressure and heat is building and, for me at least, the consequences look to be very physical. For instance, the western financial system is starting to look quite overextended and out of control, as it adherents are largely motivated by self gain and not necessarily the benefit of this system. While the Eurasian continent looks to be economically coalescing in reaction.

    As to the particular conflict being brought up in this discussion, between western secularism and Islamic fundamentalism, it does seem logical that if we are going to be supporting autocrats, bombing uncooperative populations, taking resources and generally forcing people underground, even if there is much indigenous corruption, what pops back out of the holes in the ground are not necessarily going to be daisies, but more likely scorpions. And while our media likes to make much of their telegenic atrocities, it really is small potatoes in the bigger picture. Safe to say, in that history class a thousand years from now, they might get a sentence.

    Yet in that society a thousand years from now, there will still be youth and age. Conservatives and liberals. Cultural lynchpins and cultural exchanges and all the other driving forces, with their structural expressions in time and place.

    So in this discussion, do we focus on the particulars and brands in the media of the day, or do we examine the elemental forces driving all of it? In nature, there is always another side coming around and given the enormity of this stage of human evolution, the future will be quite different. The question is how can we glean some vision of it. The only way philosophy can have any effect on its course would be to lay bare the facts of nature driving it, so those who do presume to steer humanity can no longer obscure, distort and divert these forces for their own uses.

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  37. Hi dbholmes,

    (I’m out of comments after this.)

    My main concern is that (meta-ethical) moral relativism (the view that there is no fact of the matter with moral claims) undermines the possibility of a coherent intercultural moral order. Really, this is just a special case of my general problem moral relativism. (I don’t believe it’s coherent.)

    Regarding this intercultural moral, my notion of it is quite minimal regarding the importation of my own views. All I would insist on is the notion of moral truth. I would not presuppose how moral truth is possible, or what the moral truths are, or anything else. All that is left open. So my view is not in fact substantive enough to fall into some of the concerns you mentioned.

    Beyond the fact that I believe in moral truth, I think the notion, like truth generally, is important as a reference point, or shared goal, in discussions among possibly very different cultures.

    Moral relativism, on the other hand, offers no such simple reference point, and I think that fact could hamper moral progress.

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  38. My initial reaction to the article is to say, no. To say that philosophers cannot contribute the the multiculturalism debate qua philosophers, but only as the rest of us do, as individual members of society.

    I recall Daniel Dennett tweeting “Those Muslim women who can speak out are rare.”. Now I have known and worked alongside many Muslim women and, forgive the generalisation, but “reticent” is not a word which immediately springs to mind with respect to them.

    So Daniel Dennett is part of the ivory tower and cut of from every day realities, if he had worked in a factory or an office alongside Muslim women he would not have said that.

    In general that is not a problem for a philosopher, but for issues like multiculturalism then it is down to that flawed and endangered process we call democracy.

    As for morality, well it is also a non-sequitur to say that morality is subjective because it is about feelings, because there can be objective statements about feelings.

    If all I care about is my own feelings then that is not what I call morality, however anyone else may care to use the word.

    Once I consider that the feelings of others are as important as my own then that is what I call morality.

    Maybe that is impossible. Maybe even the most selfless individual is only being selfless because that is what he or she likes to do, in which case is simply being selfish.

    If so then I could only differentiate myself from the psychopath in that I have a different set of priorities.

    Could we say of the man who rushes in to a burning child care centre and leads the children out to safety at the risk of his own life and sustaining injury in the process, that he was simply doing what he wanted to do? Perhaps there was someone who set the fire and who was also doing what he wanted to do.

    I think that in this case I sympathise with the view of Sam Harris who would say that the act of the person who saved the children really was objectively better than the act of the person who set the fire. I don’t agree with his argument on this – he starts quite well but takes a short cut to a hasty solution.

    I think that the view can be rescued and that we can have an objective morality that is not based on any metaphysical assumptions, but learning from the mistakes of others I am not about to take short cuts on that.

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  39. Regarding the debate with dbholmes and Paul I would side dbholmes (& coel). I think a type of relativism is unavoidable, but I also think that we can employ a philosophy that allows us to make judgements with humility in the face of multiple perspectives.

    Can the idea of perspectival pluralism be applied to moral questions across cultures? I think it can for those cultures (or those culturally influenced philosophers) that are willing to engage in the process by being open examine their own assumptions and biases. I don’t think we are currently close to being able to that on a wide impactfull scope, but we should work towards it.

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  40. In general it is OK to use the expression “X is moral” as a synonym for “I like X” but if you decide unilaterally that everybody uses the expression in the same way then expect to be misunderstood.

    The only time I have ever been blocked on Twitter is when I tweeted to Richard Dawkins that one would have to be dumb not to realise how his tweets would be interpreted and that he was not dumb.

    But here is a good chance to try out the theory that anyone who says “X is moral” just means “I like X”. Dawkins said “Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.”

    So we test by substitution and suppose that he might have meant “Abort it and try again. I wouldn’t like it if you brought it into the world if you have the choice“.

    Um, no. I think that even Richard Dawkins might have thought twice about tweeting that.

    Perhaps he meant not to prescribe but merely to suggest what he would do in the circumstances (although as a biologist he might see a teeny flaw in that). He might have meant “I would abort it and try again, I wouldn’t like to bring it into the world if I had the choice“.

    Again, this might not have been more helpful. Mr Dawkins might have said something along the lines of “Bringing a Downs Syndrome child into the world when you have a choice brings unnecessary suffering into the world”. If I have understood him properly then that is more or less what he meant, but then that is a different sentence. (and lets leave aside the issue of whether or not it is true). Generally speaking I would always support a woman who made a free choice about whether or not to continue a pregnancy, but that is neither here nor there.

    That is the point. If you want to say that the sentence “X has the property of Y” really means “The uttererer of this sentence has the attitude Z to X” then clearly you will have a whole set of translational ambiguities as well as a sentence that cannot be parsed unless you happen to know who the author is.

    You have a statement which is ostensibly about the properties of X but is really about the properties of an entity not referred to in the sentence at all. Of course that is going to be misunderstood, especially when a large part of your audience thinks that it is a sentence about the properties of X.

    So why use the language which you know beforehand is going to be misunderstood? If you have a statement about personal preference then why not go for clarity and use language that is unambiguously about personal preference? Just saying.

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  41. Marclesvesque criticizing Patrice Ayme:”“neutral” between bloody killers reading hate literature with murderous orders therein and so-called “Western” secularism… I think you are not being “neutral” in your choice of terms or focus. The first proposition in the comparison is dripping with emotion and the second not. The first proposition is about specific actions, people and context. The second is fairly emotionally neutral, doesn’t refer to any actions specific or not, and is at a high a level of description.”

    So “emotionally neutral” is a “high level of description”, whereas describing bloody killers is not?
    I guess you never ran for your life. I have. More than once. Then you would realize that emotion primes reason. Just a fact. Pretending to be wise while contradicting that emotion overwhelms reason brings us down to Marcus Aurelius level, or when emotion parodies stoicism.

    Emotion is no contradiction to reason. Quite the opposite: it gets reason to move.

    Once, thanks to Nazis, one hundred children and babies, aged at most six, had been left without care for days in a barn in winter. What followed was even more horrendous (the whole thing upset even highest level Nazis). This sort of examples helps me to think.

    In mathematics, one learns from drastic examples. So it is for all thinking.

    Marko: The Devil is in the details. There are lots of details, thus lots of devils.

    I recommended to the powers that be (I happen to know some) an attack in Libya, for reason detailed over hundreds of pages on my site (then). Billionaire philosopher BHL followed much later, and incited Sarkozy to unleash the French Air Force. That was done in the last few minutes before Kaddafi’s tank army overran Benghazi. Thanks Allah.

    The French Republic, on and off, was at war with Kaddafi, for decades. Kaddafi nearly got killed in Chad when the French conducted a raid on an airport during the tyrant’s attempted invasion of Chad. Libya’s situation is that of a war involving a 3,000 year old civilization, oppressed for 2,000 years.

    Oil extraction by Western companies was going on at maximal rate under Kaddafi, so the war with him had nothing to do with oil. Just the opposite. It was more, as I said, a war of action philosophers against a bloody tyrant and his sons.

    By contrast I was always against the war in Iraq: Saddam Hussein was bad, but he was just a puppet, manipulated by the West (he even complained of this after he lost power, in roughly these terms, wondering why he had been struck so hard). I was also against the war against Afghanistan. As explained on my site, complete with quotes which have been censored in the USA, president Carter (!) started it in a secret directive.

    In Iraq, the aims that Bush and company set for themselves have been achieved: they kept oil around $100 a barrel for years.

    Thinking correctly requires a minute attention to all available details, and all imaginable perspectives.

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  42. Hi Coel and dbhomles,

    Just for clarification, dbholmes, I didn’t see Coel as advocating meta-ethical relativism (which I think you thought he was), I saw him as advocating either subjectivism or expressivism. However, you both appear to be defending some sort of claim that if you are a meta-ethical relativist or an expressivist, all ordinary things we do in first order ethics (determining what you ought to do, getting into moral disagreements, etc.) can proceed just as well as if we were realists (or objectivists, as coel wanted to call it). I wanted to respond to this.
    I think there are some ways someone might think that expressivism and relativism don’t actually allow for all things we do in first order ethics to take place – things that we care about a lot.

    Let’s get clear on a couple of our terms here first. Expressivism is a meta-ethical account holding that moral judgments such as, “murder is wrong,” are not propositions (stating some fact about the world), but are merely expressions of our approval or disapproval. So when I say, “murder is wrong,” I am really just saying “murder” with a very negative inflection – I am not saying something with propositional content – im doing something somewhat similar to saying, “hello.”

    One problem that has been raised for this view is that it cannot explain how we seem to have moral disagreements, which is something we do in first order ethics. For example, If I say “abortion” with a negative inflection, and you say “abortion” with a positive inflection, we aren’t disagreeing since there is no propositional content to our expressions.

    Sure, we can give our differing reasons for approving or disapproving, but again this isn’t any genuine disagreement. This is only my explanation for why I approve or disapprove. It is basically like you telling me why you like chocolate and me telling you why I don’t like it.

    Additionally, another problem that has been much discussed is that if expressivism is true, no inferential moves can be made with moral claims. For example, we tend to think we can say, “If lying is wrong, then cheating is wrong. Lying is wrong, therefore cheating is wrong.” But if all of these propositions (lying is wrong, cheating is wrong, etc.) are just expressions of approval or disapproval, then this kind of inference makes no sense. It literally looks like this: “If lying (negative inflection), then cheating (negative inflection). Lying (negative inflection), therefore cheating (negative inflection).” This makes no sense, as inferential moves can only be made on propositions.

    So now it really looks like moral disagreements can’t take place on the expressivist account in a very robust way we tend tho think they can, and want them to. Hardly very meaningful debates can take place under (ordinary) expressivism.

    I think this is a problem for someone like Paul, as he wants it to be the case that we can have genuine moral disagreements about moral dilemmas. If I know that when somebody telling me that murder is not wrong and I hold the opposite view is basically like me telling you why I don’t like chocolate and you do, it hardly seems like a meaningful debate to have – especially since rational standards that constrain propositional arguments are no longer present.

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  43. (continued)
    Meta-ethical relativism is the account holding that moral judgments such as “murder is wrong.” mean “relative to some framework X, murder is wrong,” and are given their truth value relatively- whether murder is in fact wrong relative to some framework.

    Unfortunately meta-ethical relativism runs into a similar problem. Meta-ethical relativism essentially holds that first order moral judgments are *descriptive,* and not normative. They are judgments about states of affairs in the world. It is a descriptive view in the sense that it holds that we are stating a fact about what is wrong relative to some framework. When I say, “murder is wrong” I am making the descriptive point that murder is wrong relative to my culture. I am not saying that one ought not murder. All normative force is lost.

    If we are meta-ethical relativists, genuine disagreement once again cannot take place. When I say, “murder is wrong beacuse X,y,z” and you say, “murder is not wrong because a,b,c” we are not disagreeing. You are simply making the factual claim that relative to your culture, murder is not wrong because a,b,c, and I am simply making the factual claim that relative to my culture, murder is wrong becayse x,y,z. Its like I am saying that relative to my culture movies are fun and you are saying that relative to your culture movies aren’t fun. Nobody is disagreeing.

    I think another concern for Paul was that if we *believe* meta-ethical relativism (personally), then it really doesn’t make much sense to try to judge another culture’s actions. If I know that my first order moral judgments are merely judgments about what is right or wrong relative to some framework, then I also know that when I say, “what that culture is doing is wrong!” all I am saying is that relative to my culture, what that culture is doing is wrong. I don’t get to convey any kind of normative force, like saying that they ought to stop, which is probably the very reason I would want to make such a statement at all. I am basically informing them of the fact that relative to my culture, what they are doing is wrong. They can then say, “ok great, thanks for the factoid, mr. relativist, but I still wasn’t told that I ought to stop…”

    A similar kind of worry arises for expressivism. If you know you are an expressivist, then it seems like it is never irrational for you to give up your moral judgments at any point. Just as coming to like the color yellow and dislike to color red is a-rational and perfectly permissible at any time no matter what the reasons, so too giving up the disapproval of murder and adopting its approval is a-rational and perfectly permissible at any time no matter what the reasons.

    So, as Paul seems to be concerned, if we believe meta-ethical relativism or expressivism, it really doesn’t seem that we can engage in as much first order ethical things that we do, and want to, engage in.

    To be clear, all of the problems I brought up are in the meta ethics literature, but it is good to point out that they are there, and that things aren’t as straight forward as I felt Coel and dbholmes made them out to be.

    It is possible that this didn’t connect with either Coel or Dbholmes main points. I think it will, as I had the general idea of what was being argued between them. Let me know what you think.

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  44. The programming world is also divided by languages and paradigms. How can functional programmers get along with imperative programmers; with object-oriented programmers? Should inheritance be permitted? Static typing or dynamic typing? Can Haskell programmers get along with Python programmers? …

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  45. There is a much deeper issue here than whether morality is cultural, or personal. The fact is that all that is good isn’t necessarily necessary and all that is necessary isn’t necessarily good.
    An old Federal Reserve chairman, names escapes me, once said his job was to take away the punch bowl when the party got going. Well, for many participants, that’s not good and from Alan Greenspan on, it has been a matter of filling it back up when it got low. Safe to say, the party has gotten completely out of control.
    For individuals, such as bacteria in a petri dish, growing is good, but for the collective group, there are consequences when the limits are reached.
    A certain General Petraius recently got a handclap for giving classified information to his girlfriend, when less important people have been given serious jail time. That is because for those running the system, he was a friend and it would be bad, yet those lower on the food chain were nameless and it was a good thing to keep them in line.
    Individually death is bad and for those around them, but for society to keep progressing, the old have to go eventually. You have to let go of yesterday to reach for tomorrow.
    As I’ve had to tell my daughter, in various different ways since her mother died, if it wasn’t real, it wouldn’t hurt. The price we pay to feel in the first place, is that a lot of it is pain.
    Unfortunately everything comes out in the wash and if we are going to have, we have to eventually let it go.
    Without change, nothing exists. With change, nothing exists forever.
    This doesn’t make morality relative, so much as conditional and contextual. Good is good. Bad is bad. It’s a function of context which gives them meaning as such.

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  46. Hi dantip,

    Yes, the terms emotivism or expressivism are the nearest to what I’m arguing.

    Expressivism [holds that] moral judgments such as, “murder is wrong,” … are merely expressions of our approval or disapproval.

    Yes, so “murder is wrong” means “I have an emotional revulsion to murder and want to live in a society in which murder is deplored”.

    For example, If I say “abortion” with a negative inflection, and you say “abortion” with a positive inflection, we aren’t disagreeing since there is no propositional content to our expressions.

    If Jack wants to live in a society in which abortion is available, and John wants to live in a society in which it is criminal, then they are disagreeing on what they want society’s rules to be.

    If Jack likes chocolate and John doesn’t, they can both report that fact, and then leave chocolate consumption to individual choice, and hence not disagree.

    But, moral feelings are that subset of our feelings that are about how we treat each other, and how society as a whole is run, and on matters of murder and abortion we need collective decisions about collective rules.

    The whole point of moral emotions is that they were programmed into us by evolution as a social glue, to enable us to work out ways of cooperating. We do have to agree these collective rules, and that produces the disagreement.

    Nothing about that requires that there be some objective supra-human standard, that we are trying to adjust our rules to attain. It works just fine, in meta-ethical terms, if all we’re doing is collectively agreeing rules.

    That is, of course, exactly how human society de facto proceeds, and thus, yes, we can proceed with the whole ethical discussion, exactly as now. All we do is ditch the superfluous and groundless appeals to gods and other supposed objective standards.

    … so too giving up the disapproval of murder and adopting its approval is a-rational and perfectly permissible at any time no matter what the reasons.

    In terms of *reason* that is entirely true. But in terms of emotion, feeling and values, it is not true. Our feelings and emotions are not arbitrary, they are part of our core nature. Thus we cannot just decide to like arbitrarily different things.

    Hi Paul Paolini,

    Sorry if my previous remark was too cryptic. First, as Dan explains, I’m not arguing for relativism (“X-moral-claim is true in one culture, Y is true in another culture”), I’m arguing that attaching a truth-value to a moral claim is misconceived. The only grounding here is what people like or dislike.

    From that stance there is nothing to stop you disapproving of other cultures: “I would not like to live in that culture”, or “I think people in that culture would be happier if their culture changed”. Again, the whole point is that human morals are human feelings and opinions, and nothing stops us having or expressing those feelings.

    One doesn’t need to believe that one’s feelings relate to an absolute supra-human standard in order to both have and express those feelings. It is entirely coherent, in this scheme, to discuss and opine about what sort of society and world you want, and what sorts of things do or do not lead to contentment and well-being (where both of those are, of course, also subjective).

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