The partners in dialogue create knowledge in an intersubjective encounter. Knowledge has a meaning that transcends the individual. True knowledge appears in dialogical conversation. Again Kimmerle deviates from the stock interpretation of Socrates as the pedagogue (see Jaspers 1960:17). The way he leads the conversation has more to do with a method of cooperation in finding answers to philosophical questions.
The aporia, and resultant embarrassment and confusion, is the decisive factor in the dialogue. It is caused by the rejection of presumed knowledge. It is not about giving fixed answers, but about exposing yourself to questioning. The kind of knowledge that matters is not knowledge of something, but a form of consciousness, a becoming conscious of oneself.
Dialogue as way to knowledge has two elements, giving reasons and accepting reasons. The latter appears to be passive, but is actually the active in that it constitutes a possible consensus through approval or agreement.
Dialogue is a kind of interaction that minimises existing unequal relations of power. Socrates, by virtue of having thought through the issues comprehensively, is more competent than his partners in dialogue. But he assumes the equal status of his partners. The equality exists in spite of the difference in level of competence. The equality is created through a radical reversion in the conversation that serves the common goal, the search for knowledge. Socrates does not merely tolerate his partners in dialogue. He respects them. Without their contribution and the role they play in the dialogue the common goal would not have been reached. The mixing of the equal status and the different roles (giving and accepting reasons) creates the characteristic tension of these dialogues.
A transformation occurs in these dialogues of a love relationship between Socrates and his young companions to love for truth and a common search for it. Respect implies a cool distance between those with equal status but different roles. The relation between the partners in dialogue is according to Kimmerle (2002b; 2002c) better expressed in the Kantian notion of "Achtung" than in respect. Acknowledging the dignity of the other expresses the feeling of this relationship better. The feeling of "Achtung" is in Kant the feeling that accompanies an attitude of reason. In Kant this feeling is directed exclusively to the moral law. As a rational emotion, "Achtung" is the only emotion or feeling that can and may motivate morally good actions. Kimmerle (2002b; 2002 c) has the impression that in the course of a dialogue the relationship of love between Socrates and his partners is transformed into this kind of rational feeling towards each other.
On the basis of what is said about the theory and practice of intercultural philosophy as dialogue-philosophy and of these elements of the Socratic dialogues, Kimmerle identifies the following aspects of dialogue-philosophy:
Intercultural dialogues are guided by a methodology of listening. As method this implies more than just courtesy and respect. It means to understand provisionally, tentatively, not immediately to give what is heard a definite place within one’s own horizon of understanding, and the preparedness to revise what one thought one understood.
The main aspect is the simultaneousness of equality and difference, without which dialogues would not be possible. Tolerance is not an adequate concept to work with here. Tolerance means that one decides not to make use of your higher position, to treat an inferior as an equal, although she is not. The partners in dialogue deal with each other on the basis of complete equality, informed by the equal status and value of all philosophies.
Openness with regard to the expected results of the dialogue is linked to a preliminary interest in the topic on the part of the participants. The topic is in-between the participants in the dialogue. Around it power relations come into play, which are to be minimised. The result of the dialogue is not determined by the superior position of a particular participant. The result appears in and through the contributions of all partners in the dialogue. Furthermore, dialogues, as fundamentally open, can also fail. Even if a participant fails to understand the position of another, respect remains on the basis of trust. "Achtung" is limited only by the principle of " Achtung" itself. Only those deserve "Achtung" who show it to others. The partners in dialogue are open towards the possibility that their own position would be shown to be false or in need of modification. This openness is informed by the insight that no philosophy is absolutely true, and that all are subject to improvement or modification.
The partners in dialogue proceed from the assumption that the other(s) has/ve something to say to them that they would in no way have been able to say of their own accord. This assumption goes hand in hand with the refusal to acknowledge any authority external to the dialogue (e.g. procedural rationality) as a contributor to the result of the dialogue. The goal of intercultural philosophical dialogues is not to reach agreement in everything, but in each case to formulate the agreements and disagreements.
QUESTIONS FROM A SOUTH AFRICAN PERSPECTIVE
One of the legacies of "separate development" is that cultural difference is a contested topos in the Southern African discourse. Many colleagues I have talked to find it incomprehensible that anybody would seriously use the words "cultural difference" and "equality", as in "different, but equal" in one breath. Of course I then try to explain that a new, liberating concept of difference is involved, only to be reminded of how the so-called Group of 63 are propagating Afrikaner exclusivity on the basis of just such a new concept of difference. At the same time cultural sameness is also suspect, because it is mostly imposed, and its propagators often do not critically reflect on the ethnocentricity of presumed universals.
Intercultural philosophy is a philosophy of the in-between, also in this case. It does not want to uncritically appropriate European definitions, and simultaneously does not want to shun the questions posed by the historicity of the African situation (see Higgs & Smith 2002:106-108). In the search for an appropriate description of the nature of the in-between where intercultural philosophy is situated, I rely on Bulhan (1985), who has described the psychology of oppression, with reference to the work of Franz Fanon.
Bulhan (1985:9) addresses the problem of the "content of the assumed universals in human psychology, given a multiplicity of cultures and diversities of experiences." He says every person is in certain respects like all other persons, like some persons, and like no other person. It is just not clear "exactly what each of us shares in common with everyone, with some people, and with no one". Even more serious from his perspective is the historic imposition of Eurocentric "reality" upon those whom Europeans and their descendants dominate, giving rise to what he calls "a scandal of global dimensions in which … the discipline of psychology remains enmeshed". Everyone familiar with discourses in the African context can attest to the experience that "[d]reams of equality and dignity have not come true and old wounds continue to fester". Bulhan (1985:211) refers to Fanon’s early article "The North African syndrome" in which it is revealed how the medical profession misdiagnoses "the profound and elusive afflictions of the oppressed". The vague and confusing ailments of North Africa are neither imaginary nor insoluble. They are the afflictions of tormented, persecuted, and oppressed persons. The psycho-existential crises are a result of cultural dislocation, economic exploitation, and a web of dehumanising stereotypes.
Bulhan (1985:193) presents a theory of identity development that he claims is derived from Fanon. He calls it "cultural In-Betweenity". This theory must answer the twin questions:
How does a Black person defend herself against assaults on her identity experienced from Whites?
By what means are the "pieces" pulled together, or "another self" forged?
Bulhan identifies three stages of identity development:
Capitulation: The Black person employs a defensive mechanism of identification with the aggressor and increased assimilation into the dominant culture, which goes hand in hand with rejecting the own culture.
Revitalisation: This is often followed by a reactive repudiation of the dominant culture and by an equally defensive romanticism of the indigenous culture (e. g. the literature of negritude).
Radicalisation: A synthesis of the dominated and the dominant cultures and an unambiguous commitment toward radical change. Both dominated and dominant cultures are transformed as a new culture emerges, with unique aspects not found in either of the two other cultures.
The "cultural In-Between" is the region of cultural contact, confrontation and mutual influence. The dominated and dominant cultures coalesce with considerable regularity and intensity. In the process the one modifies the other and each in consequence loses its original character. The inhabitants of the zone of cultural In-Betweenity can at any time go in any of the three original directions, with one or another being dominant at any given time.
I have brought Bulhan into the picture on account of his use of the concept culture in connection with the historical, socio-economic and political reality of domination and with the experience of being dominated. As I have shown above, Kimmerle knows that intercultural philosophy involving Africans must always take this into account. When he speaks of the equal status of all cultures and thus of their philosophies it implies a protest and a counter to this "scandal" that is alive and well as we speak. And yet, the problem of domination and unequal economic and social conditions remains. It affects the culture of the dominated, so that one cannot really speak of "African culture " without keeping in mind that this is a culture of the dominated. I refer to Bulhan’s emphasis on transformation in the zone of cultural In-Betweenity in order to explicate Kimmerle’s insistence that intercultural dialogues are not about making the differences disappear, but about creating a new, third position that is different from both starting positions. There is nothing neutral about the culture of the oppressed, nor about the culture of the oppressor. Both must be changed into something new.
The definition of culture
On the European philosophical scene, at least the small corner of it known to me, Heinz Kimmerle represents a fresh breeze on account of his acceptance of the lack of validity of the old universals. But I want to add: the ongoing reference to universals, which we expect from the future will not entail false universality. It is practised as concrete " Durchgänge", and must listen especially to those who have been silenced even within their own " cultures" (see Hofmeyr 1996). Kimmerle conceives intercultural philosophy as critical theory. Dialogues are aimed at mutual understanding and learning from each other, but also, and through the former, at transformation. As Deleuze and Guattari (1994:108) formulate: "We do not lack communication. On the contrary, we have too much of it. We lack creation. We lack resistance to the present." The counter-cultural dimension of the intercultural must be emphasised. The reserves for resistance within a culture, or within sub-cultures of a culture, must be sought and strengthened.
I agree with Fornet-Betancourt (2000:13) that cultures are not ends in themselves. They are "reserves of humanity" and as such merit respect and recognition unconditionally. This is an ethical imperative. They only have value in so far as they allow the subjects to be subjects, or, in Kimmerle’s terminology, to survive, and I am sure he does not mean mere, crude survival. Fornet-Betancourt (2000:13) says: "the ultimate meaning of this ethical requirement is not rooted in assuring the preservation or conservation of cultures as static entities transmitting absolute ontological values; rather, it is the guarantee of the personal, free realisation of those subjects acting in them."
Culture is thus the reserves of a tradition of origin that can be appropriated as a point of support for identity-formation. Identity is "understood as a permanent process of liberation that requires a task of constant discernment in the interior of the cultural universe with which each person identifies" (Fornet-Betancourt 2000:14; see also Fornet-Betancourt 2002). Cultures are not already in themselves the solution to the problem of an alternative to neo-liberal globalisation (= homogenisation). Yet, without taking cultures seriously in their respective visions of the world, an effective alternative will evade us. Cultures are not the solution, but the path to a solution, by presenting various perspectives of the world that concern everyone. To this I want to add that the only concern is not enrichment. Equally valid is allowing people a sense of belonging.
Is there thus such a "thing" as (a) culture? Please note that I am not asking: do cultures exist? (see Van Binsbergen 1999). I agree with Shepperson and Tomaselli (2001:45) that there rather is "a set of related forms of behaviour, conduct and action which constitute the project of culture." They follow Peirce’s speech act theory in looking for the verb in the noun culture. They also make another valid and related point: the concept of culture originated in the environment of specifically European problems which were the result of the emergence of Modernity. It has been exported, as has been the concepts democracy and imperialism, among others – a mixed bag. Thus, "every claim to cultural independence, the democratisation of culture and similar issues, is derived from the export of a very specifically modern context of meaning."
Heinz Kimmerle addresses the manner of this export. Its histories were often violent and destructive. Intercultural philosophy is aimed at curtailing the suffering. Please note: it is the spread of modernity that makes possible the dialogue in the first place. But that does not necessarily imply that the dialogue is taking place. With regard to African participants, the view is still strong that they are now where Europeans were long ago, that they are looked at as others who are behind in time. Therefore Kimmerle’s insistence on the equality of cultures.
The equality of cultures
Charles Taylor (1994) has illuminated the tricky issue of the equality of cultures. He traces the origin of the ideal of being true to myself, of authenticity, back to Rousseau and Herder. According to the latter each of us has an original way of being human, each person has her own "measure". This view eventually shifted into a moral position – in order to be truly human, I have to do it my way. Herder also applied this notion to the culture-bearing entity of a "volk", or a people. Taylor (1994:79) sees this as an offshoot of the decline of hierarchical society, in which we receive our identities from our social positions. The ideal of authenticity undermines socially derived identification.
Taylor argues that this ideal of generating one’s original way of being from within is a misconception generated by the monological tendency of mainstream modern philosophy. The dialogical character of human life, discernible in the fact that language acquisition goes hand in hand with identity formation, has become invisible in the process. This process of identity formation is closely linked to the recognition given or withheld by others. On a social plane withholding recognition is widely seen as a form of oppression: "The projection of an inferior or demeaning image on another can actually distort and oppress, to the extent that the image is internalized" (Taylor 1994:81).
Against this background Taylor distinguishes between two types of politics: a politics of dignity and a politics of difference. Both are politics of recognition. The politics of dignity, replacing the politics of honour of the pre-modern era, is a politics of universalism, emphasising the equal dignity of all citizens, and thus their equal rights. The politics of difference recognises everyone for her unique identity. But recognition does not mean the same in each case:
With the politics of equal dignity, what is established is meant to be universally the same, an identical basket of rights and immunities; with the politics of difference, what we are asked to recognize is the unique identity of this individual or group, their distinctness from everyone else. The idea is that it is precisely this distinctness that has been ignored, glossed over, assimilated to a dominant or majority identity. And this assimilation is the cardinal sin against the ideal of authenticity. (Taylor 1994:82)
The politics of difference, as one variation of the politics of recognition, in conflict with the other, the politics of dignity, operates on the basis of the premise that all cultures deserve equal respect. Taylor (1994:98), in a formulation that reminds of Kimmerle’s argument for the equality of cultures (all existing cultures are equally old), finds something valid in the presumption of the equal worth of all cultures. The claim of the presumption is that all human cultures that have animated whole societies over some considerable stretch of time have something important to say to all human beings. But the presumption is merely a starting position, a kind of hypothesis, which must now be verified through the study of all cultures. This study implies that the degree of difference must move away from being absolute, so that it enters my range of appreciation. Taylor uses Gadamer’s term of the fusion of horizons to denote a process that allows for the development of new categories of comparison and for a transformed set of standards, enabling me to recognise worth where formerly I have seen none.
The demand for recognition of difference, however, is more radical than that, and this claim Taylor finds problematical. What is demanded is that cultures must be recognised as of equal worth in principle, before any investigation has been done. Taylor (1994:99) objects that if the judgement of value is to register something independent of our own wills and desires, it cannot be dictated by a principle of ethics. Taylor (1994:100) finds it patronising, and says other cultures want respect, not condescension: "A favorable judgment made prematurely would be not only condescending but ethnocentric. It would praise the other for being like us."
Is this critique applicable to Kimmerle’s insistence on the equal status of cultures and their philosophies? The first issue to settle is whether Kimmerle in fact does make the further, more radical claim, if we grant that the first claim, or presumption, has merit. Does Kimmerle claim the equal status of all cultures as a matter of principle, as a statement that does not have the status of a hypothesis and thus is not in need of verification or falsification? I propose that there is something more radical in Kimmerle’s position than a mere "presumption" of equality, as a point of departure for an investigation. The "Achtung" in intercultural philosophical dialogues has to be practised with regard to every partner with the only, but strict exception that this partner has himself "Achtung" for others.
Kimmerle’s conceptualisation of the equality or equal status of cultures is based in his definition of difference. This, he claims, allows him to move beyond the binary oppositions of universalism versus particularism. Universal determinations cannot be articulated discursively. This means that the continuous passages through the different and particular must first take place before determinations adequate for the contemporary world context can be formulated. Kimmerle’s proposal for the method of these passages is intercultural philosophical dialogues. The participants in these dialogues are recognised as representing cultures that are of equal status. This does not mean that African culture, for instance, is equal to Western-European culture in all aspects (and vice versa). Kimmerle (2002a:22) does not rule out progress and highpoints of development. But these must be determined concretely in their particular areas, and with regard to both their positive and negative aspects. Scientific-technological progress does not of necessity imply progress or superiority in the area of the specifically human questions. The equality hypothesis does say that a particular philosopher, if she is worthy of that name, offers an adequate appraisal of the thoughts and feelings of her time and place and proposes adequate alternatives. The place and time is not really compared to any other in terms of worth. Is it a better place and time, or worse than another? What indeed would be the criteria to decide that? The place and time is not judged, but taken seriously as a valid instance of the human condition, and in that sense it is of equal status with all other time-places all over the globe, and throughout history. And because all time-places are linked in some way or another, and progressively so as the result of the information technology revolution, it belongs to adequately conceptualising the thoughts and feelings of a specific time-place that the dimension of the inter, and the impossibility of articulating universals, and the need for dialogue, should be reflected. If a particular philosophy should negate these shifts in reality, it would be disqualified as inadequate. The fact that it seeks dialogue is indicative of the experience of an aporia. I would then suggest that the formulation "equal validity of cultures" could with good effect replace the contested equal status hypothesis.
Kimmerle (2002a:66) refers to Heidegger’s realisation of the veiled nature of truth, and the resulting humility of his thinking, that is related to the self-limitation of intercultural philosophy: none of the philosophies, all determined by culture, has a monopoly on absolute truth. A new concept of philosophy would entail the view that philosophy stands in a fundamental relationship with being human and with human culture as such. The extension of European philosophy over all of humanity requires regionalisation as a counter movement to globalisation. Kimmerle (2002a:67) refers to Senghaas’ observation that all cultures in the process develop internal conflicts which leads to self-reflexivity. Becoming self-reflexive in conflict and emergency situations of a culture is the birth hour of philosophy in the history of that culture. According to Hegel (quoted in Kimmerle 2002a:67) such crises are caused by contradictions between what members of a culture desire from life and what they are offered by the institutions and structures of their society. Such situations occur in the history of all communities. A cultural community that exists in conflict with itself has to think again about the foundations of its existence and future in the midst of other cultures and nature. Philosophy originates in such a culture when these questions are pondered with the tools of thinking. When this happens, this philosophy will be knowable for philosophers from other cultures. There are no differences of rank between philosophies of different cultures. The equality of philosophies is determined by the fact that a philosophy worthy of that name reflects the questionability of its situation and investigates solutions with the characteristic means of reason.
The knowability of philosophies from a culture to philosophers from other cultures must be considered along with Kimmerle’s (1994:158) earlier statement that African Philosophy cannot yet be adequately grasped in its specificities – especially not by a non-African. Michael Francis in his review of the first draft of this paper has warned that "this debate can lead down a dark road where Africans are unknowable to Europeans and its logical antecedent is that Europeans are unknowable to Africans, thus we all have our ‘position’ that cannot be known to anyone but ourselves". It is important to consider the context of Kimmerle’s remark. Posing the question what philosophy can contribute to the struggle against neo-Colonialism, Kimmerle (1994:156-157) draws attention to the fact that this field is controlled by politicians and businesspeople, and philosophy should not pretend to be better at politics and business than their practitioners (as neo-Marxist philosophers would have it). Philosophers should do their own thing, and that is to critically analyse the ways of thinking of their time, as presupposed also by politicians and businesspeople, and to suggest alternative ways of thinking. Kimmerle differs from Marx’s view that philosophy is not politically effective on account of being part of the superstructure. He cites as an example of a possible influence of philosophy on politics, business, science and technology, with their focus on optimal development, the insight that philosophy knows no development. Neither does art. It is of the same value at any time. Philosophers from Africa and the Western world could therefore cooperate on the basis of complete equality. Kimmerle’s (1994:158) own contribution to this cooperation is aimed at no more than freeing the way to and the perspective on African Philosophy for a Western-European audience.
Another example is given in the context of intercultural philosophical dialogues. They appeal to politicians and businessmen to make their interaction with partners from other cultures more dialogical, albeit in the framework of existing differences of power. Against this historical background he insists that African Philosophy cannot yet be adequately grasped in its specificities, not by Africans, and especially not by non-Africans.
In order to stress the importance for intercultural philosophy of the effects of the history of colonialism and domination, I refer to Kimmerle’s (1996:19) positive use of the work of F. M. Wimmer (1990) who wants to reflect on the forms of thinking of the Western-European tradition as they were developed before the colonial phase of their history, in order to reveal the deformation of the way of seeing that has contributed to the European superiority complex. Wimmer ascribes all differences between people living in different regions of the world to culture, and the fact that even philosophers have participated in looking for the cause of differences in race, leads to his insistence that the Eurocentric approach to philosophy be regarded within the context of racism. The assessment of the other as savage, exotic or heathen that characterises European-Western thinking from the start until the nineteenth century, is devoid of the fundamental respect for the other that must be presupposed for inter-cultural philosophy. This has gone from bad to worse in the colonial period, before the process of the global convergence of cultures in the post-colonial period has placed the concept of an inter-cultural philosophy as something new on the agenda of philosophical discussion. Intercultural philosophy as conceptualised by Kimmerle, Wimmer and others thus addresses the problem of on the one hand a tradition of domination and oppression based in "othering" and exclusivist discourses on difference, and on the other hand the domination implied in a presumed sameness when the criteria of sameness are defined from the point of view of the powerful culture, the one that drives the processes of globalisation.
Kimmerle (2002a:68) applies the early Hegel’s "historical view of philosophical systems" to the cultural differences between philosophies. He says the cultural differences do not concern the specifically philosophical. The specifically philosophical is the same in the most diverse cultural frameworks. That is why it is knowable by philosophers from other cultures. This argument, oriented to the aporia in each culture as the starting point of philosophy, reminds of a recent speech of the American sociologist Daniel Bell in which he says with regard to the great religions and their corresponding cultures:
The second [dimension of culture] is the set of meanings that arise when individuals face the existential dilemmas that ineluctably confront all human beings and groups; the fact of death, the responses of grief, the nature of tragedy, the definition of courage, the character of obliga tion. The answers vary, because that is the history of human cultures, those that arise from the different experiences that shape life – work on the soil or in the forests, in the mines or the seas, or with machines or the mind. The answers vary, but the foundational questions are invariably the same. And that is why human groups and cultures can talk to one another across space and time. (Bell 2001/2:7-8)
The sought universal is thus the human, if we accept the existentialist interpretation that nothingness belongs essentially to being human. The universal is lack, and thus openness. We must just always accompany all talk of the questionability of being with the warning as expressed by the French rock group "Troublemakers", in a song that goes more or less as follows: "Everybody say they do not know what is going on, because nobody wants to know what is going on. They all fear the revolution. As for us, we want the revolution." We must beware of the mystification of lack, especially when we undertake dialogues with and on a continent where lack is first and foremost lack of food, lack of security, lack of opportunities, not as something natural, but as historically produced.
I have above used the term time-place instead of culture. In the South African context still, and probably for the foreseeable future, the terminology of intercultural philosophy, or multicultural philosophy, generates misunderstandings that are not to the point. Intercultural philosophy as conceived by Heinz Kimmerle is something different altogether from what people hear when the term is used. I therefore propose to continue with what Kimmerle calls intercultural philosophy, but under the name of contextual philosophy.
This term resonates with contextual theology. In the Final Declaration of the First Assembly of the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians (EATWOT) that took place in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania in 1976, theologians from Asia, Africa and Latin America stated as follows:
The theologies from Europe and North America are dominant today in our churches and represent one form of cultural domination. They must be understood to have arisen out of situations related to those countries, and therefore must not be uncritically adopted without our raising the question of their relevance in the context of our countries. Indeed we must … reflect on the realities of our own situations and interpret the Word of God in relation to those realities. We reject as irrelevant an academic type of theology that is divorced from action. We are prepared for a radical break in epistemology which makes commitment the first act of theology and engages in critical reflection on the praxis of the reality of the Third World…
Theology is not neutral. In a sense all theology is committed, conditioned notably by the socio-cultural context in which it is developed. The Christian theological task in our countries is to be self-critical of the theologians’ conditioning by the value system of their environment. (quoted in Witvliet 1984:27)
Witvliet (1984) interprets the reference and objection to an "academic type of theology" in terms of Western theology’s rootedness in an idealistic and rationalistic scientific way of thinking which carries the pretension of universal validity. In reality this amounts to the absolutising of a particular context that goes hand in hand with marginalising and despising the experience of others. Contextual theology challenges this way of thinking, as well as the dualism of theory and practice in Western theology. "Contextuality is focussed on the whole: it is that form of theology which sees the otherness of the other (the Other), and in so doing at the same time recognizes its own social and cultural limitations. It represents a way of doing theology which is not afraid of the tension between particularity and universality, between history and eschatology" (Witvliet 1984:28).
Contextual philosophy also proceeds from the assumption that all philosophy is contextual. Western philosophy from Plato to Hegel has not realised this. Hence its ethnocentrism. Secondly, contextual philosophy takes the whole of its context into account, including culture. Culture may be a more or less important factor in a particular context, compared to another. But socio-economic factors as they relate to culture, and vice versa, are also explicitly taken into account. Kimmerle's argument for dropping the word "progress" in favour of "shift" is exactly the argument contextual theologians have been making for some time now. Whether a particular philosophy is a "good" one, or a better one than another, is not decided in terms of where it finds itself on the scale of progress (the criteria of which being dictated by Western science – by the powerful), but in terms of the adequacy and relevance of that philosophy with regard to its particular context - which always remains embedded in the general world situation.
Contextual philosophy has its roots squarely in critical theory. Kimmerle also conceives intercultural philosophy as critical theory, in that it wants to contribute to reducing suffering and terror. Contextual philosophy would see culture critically as sometimes (often) contributing to suffering and terror, especially in cases where a culture enforced by tradition and its agents is not adequate to the demands of a particular context. Contextual philosophy would strengthen the emergence of a new culture, not discarding the old, but treating it as a resource, transforming it in the process (see Fornet-Betancourt 2000).
Contextual theology sees the "epistemological break" with traditional Western theology in its being a theology "from below". Its interlocutors are the poor and the marginalised. By proposing the name contextual philosophy I want to explicate the dimension of an alternative way of knowing determined by context. I want to link on to what Kimmerle says about universals, that they are (yet) unnameable. In his critique of Horkheimer and Adorno’s Dialectics of Enlightenment Habermas (1983:522) describes his predecessors’ dilemma in terms of the inability of instrumental reason to formulate concepts that would express the perspective of the object of knowledge, manipulated, violated, deformed nature. He proposes substituting the paradigm of the philosophy of consciousness with that of the philosophy of language that implies inter-subjective communication aimed at reaching consensus under the ideal circumstances for dialogue. This dilemma is one of epistemology. Contextual philosophical dialogues are not only important on account of a greater potential for solving the problems faced today on a planetary scale, but our very ability to know adequately is at stake. In a recent book the Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski (2001:321-323) says Africa has from the start been visited by the worst human types: robbers, fortune seekers, slave traders, mercenaries. Colonial control has merely given this situation a different face. One of the consequences is that European colonial languages have never developed an adequate language to describe Africa:
Naturally, respect for other cultures, the desire to learn about them, to find a common language, were the furthest things from the minds of such folk …. As a result … the world’s cultures – instead of becoming versed in one another’s ways, drawing closer, permeating one another – became mutually hostile or, at best, indifferent.
The cultural monopoly of crude know-nothings had a further consequence: European languages did not develop vocabularies adequate to describe non-European worlds. Entire areas of African life remain unfathomed, untouched even, because of a certain European linguistic poverty. … The richness of every European language is a richness in ability to describe its own culture, represent its own world. When it ventures to do the same for another culture, however, it betrays its limitations, underdevelopment, semantic weakness.
In the quoted passage finding a common language and the development of vocabularies adequate to describing the African experience are two sides of the same coin. In South Africa such vocabularies do exist – in the form of the other official languages. One of the major tasks of the philosophy of the inter, whether as intercultural or as contextual philosophy, is to promote article 6 of the South African constitution.
My proposal regarding the name of the kind of philosophy I have in mind is tentative. One objection might be that the dimension of the inter, of in-betweenity, and the emphasis on dialogue is lost in the name contextual philosophy. Originally I thought of proposing the name intercontextual theology. Heinz Kimmerle has pointed out to me that it is not very elegant to use two prepositions AS PREFIXES in one word. I was then reminded of the original meaning of contextual, and for the time being have settled on this name. The dictionary meanings of context are:
The part of a text or statement that surrounds a particular word or passage and determines its meaning.
The circumstances in which an event occurs; a setting.
The discourse that surrounds a language unit and helps to determine its interpretation.
The set of facts or circumstances that surround a situation or event; as in "the historical context".
That which surrounds, and gives meaning to, something else.
These meanings, all relevant for the meaning of " contextual philosophy", are derived from the Latin contextus, the past participle of contexere, which means to join together (com- texere), or to weave (American Heritage Dectionary). "To weave" has convinced me that contextual philosophy is an appropriate term. It immediately reminds of Kimmerle’s (1985:76) use of Lyotard’s "patchwork of minorities". This image, he says, allows both – difference and oneness(es). The design of a quilt is not the product of arbitrariness, nor of the conscious mind, but of fantasy, aesthetic sensitivity and judgment. The multiplicity is the encompassing space and relativising in-between of meaningful unities, which must be preserved as best as possible.
In this paper I have sketched the main elements of Heinz Kimmerle’s conceptualization of intercultural philosophy: a new concept of difference that makes possible a new take on "different and equal", which is the foundation for real dialogue. I have interrogated the concept of culture in intercultural philosophy, and have argued that for the South African context sufficient emphasis must be placed on power relations as they impact on cultures and the legacy of a history of cultural domination. I have tried to show that Kimmerle’s notion of the equality of cultures implies in the first instance that a particular context is not judged in terms of criteria foreign to it, but taken seriously as a valid instance of the human condition, and in that sense it is of equal status with all other situations all over the globe, and throughout history. And because all "localities" are linked in some way or another, and progressively so as the result of the information technology revolution, it belongs to adequately conceptualising the thoughts and feelings of a specific locality that the dimension of the inter, and the impossibility of articulating universals, and the need for dialogue, should be reflected. If a particular philosophy should negate these shifts in reality, it would be disqualified as inadequate. The fact that it seeks dialogue is indicative of the experience of an aporia. It is lack, incompleteness, that is universal.
In conclusion I tentatively propose "contextual philosophy" as a more appropriate name for intercultural philosophy, in the light of the heavy baggage carried by the concept "culture" in South Africa. This term not only resonates with contextual theology in taking into account the socio-economic situatedness of all thinking (to which culture belongs), and shares the commitment to liberation, but also carries with it the original meaning of context – to weave, or join together, from different and equal units, an in-betweenity, or inter.
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