As the opening ceremony continued, a few choice luminaries were thanked for their acceptance of invitations including Hans Poser (TU Berlin, VP of the Leibniz Society), Gianni Vattimo (more about his speech later), Akeel Bilgrami (Columbia) and Tu Wieming (Harvard/Beijing).
At which point TM was invited to give his speech, which I must admit rather disturbed me because it begged way too many questions. He began by addressing the human condition and the challenges faced which were common. Intercultural diversity entails dialogue but that cannot b solved by trading and defending particularisms (consistently I really wanted a clearer idea of what he meant by cultures since he sometimes used civilisations and even spiritual traditions as synonyms for cultures). Dialogue is required for human flourishing (the basic virtue ethics and eudaimonistic approach of his was clear and never justified as a privileged approach). He continued with a rather qualified critique of what MacIntyre has called the Enlightenment project (without rejecting the Enlightenment or the notion of a negotiation universal(isable) ethics). While the Enlightenment has become the model for values and ethics in the West, it has also become a dominant ideology stressing rights discourse, liberty, dignity of humanity, autonomy, due process and rationality – seemingly decent values. While he did not wish to raise the old bugbear of Asian values, he stressed that these also include universalisables such as justice, sympathy, compassion and communal solidarity – it is not clear why he wants the lists to be somewhat mutually exclusive. He was right to say that no government nowadays can deny its citizens Enlightenment values (was this a veiled critique of his context? I don’t think so but it could be read so). What is needed is a dialogue between values to create universals, to embrace diversity and not just tolerate it and recognise that E values are not sufficient (why exactly?). Authentic communities (meaning what exactly?) require dialogue, setting aside prejudice that defends an exclusive account of truth, even setting aside the insufficiency of the categorical imperative in search of reciprocity and reflection.
Communication is dialogical and cannot be imposed and monological but requires recognising difference in which the other is relevant (the intersubjective ethics being suggested seemed quite basic to me – I would take Ricoeur before any of this). Dialoging is part of the process of self-reflection and self-becoming (which is actually one of the themes of my paper later in the conference). Pluralism as a good cannot exist with exclusivisms: to establish and help the self one needs to establish and help the other and cultivate the art of listening as central to dialogue. Debate and dialogue are signs of a healthy and wholesome culture – neither pure acceptance nor pure rejection (perhaps some undefined manzila bayna al-manzilatayn?). While communities need identity to be coherent, they also require change and renewal especially in the light of current challenges – he consistently mentioned the ecological challenge. It is only through dialogue that universal ethics may be achievable (strange this naive adherence still to the E project) and a new human consciousness is needed that does not replicate modes of dominance and is not ineffective but holistic. Isolated cultures cannot survive – open ones adapt (again there are ironies of the context – but I must say the discussions have been remarkably open – much more so and more intellectually vibrant than they would be elsewhere in the world whether that is Jerusalem, Cairo or even one suspects DC for that matter nowadays – the boycotters I think really got this wrong). He then shifted to talking about spiritual traditions and not cultures and their need for two elements: a language of global citizenship, and another for the particularisms of their tradition, the latter sinking roots in the former and not allowing the particular to constrain the universal. There was some general notion that spiritual traditions are ecologically more friendly (evidence?). The need for revive humanity require a third turn in contemporary philosophy after the epistemological and the linguistic – this is the spiritual turn (rediscovering Aristotle etc – one sees MacIntyre in much of what he is saying here) – spiritual traditions remain a major source of philosophical inspiration. While calibrating and deconstructing the dominance of the analytic tradition is a good thing, one wonders whether the plea for the spiritual turn can be taken seriously unless one explodes the very notion of the spiritual/religious/theological in terms similar to Vattimo or de Vries and others.
In many ways the spiritual almost walawi conclusion of TM fitted well with AN’s speech that followed – classic messianic fare. Beginning with bits of duʿāʾ al-faraj and moving onto the idea the philosophy is a discourse on reality and a means for acquiring knowledge that lends to a sending down of mercy. Philosophy is needed for harmony (against some of TM’s critique of anthropocentrism this was exactly that). Humans are central to creation – know self through knowing perfect manifestations and disclosures of the divine – the dialectic of self and God is central. True knowledge lies in knowing the perfect manifestation = perfect man = imam (well the last step is clearly implicit but he did not use the word). The sanctity and ontological force of the perfect man is essential for human salvation (which is how he reads philosophy). Philosophy as soteriology and mysticism. Classic AN – and speaking to some of the others invited from abroad they just did not get it.