Conversation Across Boundaries

E Pluribus Unum?
  • Fred Dallmayr
Part of the Culture and Religion in International Relations book series (CRIR)

Abstract

“The view dies hard,” Michael Oakeshott writes, “that Babel was the occasion of a curse being laid upon mankind from which it is the business of the philosophers to deliver us, and a disposition remains to impose a single character upon significant human speech.” In recent centuries (at least in the West), the “single character” imposed on speech has tended to be that of rational-argumentative discourse, a discourse closely patterned on the model of scientific inquiry. This model has been seconded and closely accompanied by the voice of practical utility, that is, by a mode of instrumental reasoning geared toward practical efficiency and success. In lieu of these preponderant types of speech—science and technical utility—Oakeshott proposes a different, more flexible and encompassing paradigm of discursive human interaction, which he labels “conversation.” In his presentation, conversation is not an argumentative discourse in which speakers raise rational claims against each other; nor is it a manipulative encounter in which participants constantly seek to trump each other. Although there may be “passages of argument” in conversation, such reasoning there is “neither sovereign nor alone” nor able to structure the entire interaction. Above all, conversational encounter is not “an enterprise designed to yield an extrinsic profit, a contest where a winner gets a prize”; rather, it is “an unrehearsed intellectual adventure.

Keywords

Permeability Manifold Europe Assimilation Recent Century 

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Michael Oakeshott, “The Voice of Poetry in the Conversation of Mankind,” in Rationalism in Politics, and Other Essays (New York: Basic Books, 1962), pp. 197–199.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    “The Voice of Poetry,” p. 198. See also Immanuel Kant, “Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose [Intent],” in Hans Reiss, ed., Kant’s Political Writings (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1970), pp. 41–53.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    In the words of Charles Taylor: “Explanations of modernity in terms of reason seem to be the most popular. Even social explanations tend to invoke reason: Social transformations, like mobility and industrialization, are thought to bring about intellectual and spiritual changes because they shake people loose from old habits and beliefs—religion or traditional morality—which then become unsustainable because they lack the kind of independent rational grounding that the beliefs of modernity—such as individualism or instrumental reason—are assumed to have.” See Taylor, “Two Theories of Modernity,” Public Culture 11 (1999): 155.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    See Edward W. Said, Orientalism (New York: Random House, 1978); also my Beyond Orientalism: Essays on Cross-Cultural Encounter (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1996).Google Scholar
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    See in this respect Karl August Wittfogel, Oriental Despotism: A Comparative Study of Total Power (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1957)Google Scholar
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    Compare, e.g., Gabriel A. Almond and G. Bingham Powell, Jr., Comparative Politics: A Developmental Approach (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1956)Google Scholar
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    See Ian Shapiro, “Enough of Deliberation: Politics Is About Interests and Power,” in Stephen Macedo, ed., Deliberative Politics: Essays on Democracy and Disagreement (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), pp. 28–38. The above discussion of “power” is predicated on the customary Weberian view, widely accepted by professional political scientists, and not on Hannah Arendt’s notion of shared “empowerment.”Google Scholar
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    See Carl Schmitt, The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, trans. Ellen Kennedy (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1985); The Concept of the Political, trans. George Schwab (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1976); The Leviathan in the State Theory of Thomas Hobbes, trans. George Schwab and Erna Hilfstein (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996)Google Scholar
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    See Jürgen Habermas, The Theory of Communicative Action, trans. Thomas McCarthy, 2 vols. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1984); The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity: Twelve Lectures, trans. Frederick Lawrence (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1987); also Communication and the Evolution of Society, trans. Thomas McCarthy (Boston: Beacon Press, 1979); Legitimation Crisis, trans. Thomas McCarthy (Boston: Beacon Press, 1975); and Toward a Rational Society, trans. Jeremy J. Shapiro (Boston: Beacon Press, 1970).Google Scholar
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    Habermas, “The Unity of Reason in the Diversity of Its Voices,” in Postmetaphysical Thinking: Philosophical Essays, trans. William M. Hogengarten (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1992), pp. 115–148. For the German original see Nachmetaphysisches Denken: Philosophische Aufsätze (Frankfurt-Main: Suhrkamp, 1988), pp. 153–186. Compare alsoGoogle Scholar
  16. Habermas, “Kant’s Idea of Perpetual Peace: At Two Hundred Years’ Historical Remove,” in The Inclusion of the Other: Studies in Political Theory, ed. Ciaran Cronin and Pablo De Greiff (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1998), pp. 165–201. For a similar argument, largely along Habermasian lGoogle Scholar
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    “The Unity of Reason,” pp. 134, 136–137 (translation slightly altered). Compare in this context Richard Rorty Consequences of Pragmatism (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1982), and “Solidarity or Objectivity?” in John Rajchman and Cornel West, eds., Post-Analytic Philosophy (NewYork: Columbia University Press, 1985), pp. 3–19; Hilary Putnam, “Why Reason Can’t Be Naturalized,” in Kenneth Baines, James Bohman, and Thomas McCarthy, ed., After Philosophy—End or Transformation? (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1987), pp. 222–244.Google Scholar
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    See Claude Lefort, Democracy and Political Theory, trans., David Macey (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1988), p. 19.Google Scholar
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    See Iris Marion Young, “The Ideal of Community and the Politics of Difference,” in Linda J. Nicholson, ed., Feminism/Postmodernism (New York: Routledge, 1990), pp. 300–323; “Impartiality and the Civic Public,” in Seyla Benhabib and Drucilla Cornell, eds., Feminism as Critique (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), pp. 56–76; and Inclusion and Democracy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), especially pp. 52–80.Google Scholar
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    Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self: The Making of Modern Identity (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989), p. 510; A Catholic Modernity?, ed. James L. Heft (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), pp. 111–113. For an effort to steer a course, or “split the difference,” between Taylor and HabermasGoogle Scholar
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  23. 26.
    Due to this emphasis not on one’s own, but on the “other’s” (the interlocutor’s) deepest strivings, the critique and correction of prevailing social practices or conditions needs to rely preferably on “internal” critique, that is, on liberating resources made available in a given cultural and/or religious tradition—although these resources need occasionally be supplemented by “external” arguments offered in a communicative spirit. Regarding this combination of resources see especially Abdul-lahi Ahmed An-Naim, “Introduction,” in An-Naim, ed., Human Rights in Cross-Cultural Perspective: A Quest for Consensus (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992), pp. 2–4; also his “The Cultural Mediation of Rights,” in Joanne R. Bauer and Daniel A. Bell, eds., The East Asian Challenge for Human Rights (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999), pp. 147–168.Google Scholar

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© Fred R. Dallmayr 2002

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  • Fred Dallmayr

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