Peer review of paper number 112
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A very engaging paper that brings up many important issues. I especially liked the idea of 'process' over 'progress'. For myself, culture and identities are seen in the process of becoming and not essentialised. Different/same, us/them, African/European and various other dichotomies have plagued Western thought since time immerorial. In contemporary times this problem still exists and sneaks into debates about cultural relativism and universals. Even the notion of African philosophy presupposes an essential African identity that universalises Africans as all the same and as seperate and ultimately unknowable for Europeans. Kimmerle, despite his attempt in "freeing the way to gaining a perspective on African Philosophy for a Western-European audience...is adamant that African Philosophy cannot yet be adequately grasped in its specificities – especially by a non-African". 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 - a break in dialogue or worse a presuppossed inability to engage in such a dialogue. What I enjoyed about this paper is the switch from such a stance to that of a dialogue (or polylogue), where differences become less important and what people have to say becomes more important. Very much like the old emic/etic distinction in anthropology. Where emic is the local or insider perspective and etic is the foreign or external view. In anthropology the emic can be understood through dialogue and understanding of local ontologies. Renato Rosaldo has much to say on cultural relativity where it is not so much as insurmountable differences or being unable to critique another culture, but a way of understanding why something is done in a specific way. Moral relativity is often conflated with cultural relativity where to say something negative or critical is equated with neo-colonialism - such as condemning female genital mutilation. Cultural relativity can allow someone to explain why the practice is done even as they condemn it. In openning up a dialogue that allows differences to be articulated without the clause of difference as lacking something, can generate mutual understanding and respect for difference and for other people. Which is to say that other people in other parts of the world have something to contribute to the consultable record. The debate about universals and especially Kimmerle's contribution in that "the way universals are formulated often reveals their being determined by Western culture", is one I find somewhat problematic in so much that other non-Western peoples and cultures often universalise as often based upon their own notions. How many African/Asian/take-your-pick scholars universalise Western culture as all the same or depict a universal African/etc. identity. Furthermore the idea that universals will condence out of an inter-cultural dialogue still pre-supposes that there must be universals. Are universals even necesary or something that should be sought? Identity has become a huge issue in the fractured post-modern age of globalisation. This paper highlights many of the contentions and debates without succumbing to absolute notions of self/other so germane to the debate. It takes seriously the African philosophies and cultures (big note on the pluralisation) as well as the Western views - on condition of a dialogue. Michael Francis
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