Conversation Across Boundaries

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


“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.


Permeability Manifold Europe Assimilation Recent Century 


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© Fred R. Dallmayr 2002

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  • Fred Dallmayr

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