European Interculturality and Philosophy

Dean Komel

Professor of philosophy at the University of Ljubljana and president of the Phenomenological Society in Ljubljana (Slovenia)

We are constantly in danger of yielding to temptation of understanding interculturality as a restorational culture between or even beyond cultures. A historical “background” for such pretensions can be found in the tradition of the subjectivist formation of culture, which gained its momentum in the 19th century, culminating in the first half of the 20th century in the crisis of European culture. Since its very beginning, “cultural philosophy” has been primarily a crisis concept, which first of all undermines tradition and the value of Europeanness and consequently all other cultural and civilization circles of our planet. This requires a different attention to the relationship between philosophy and culture, to their mutual conditioning. Such endeavouring to open up the possibility of this relationship should be understood as a constitutive discussion of the philosophical meaning of and within interculturality. 

However, how can we actually locate the starting point of this discussion insofar as we recognize the absence of central locus in culture, and with the time of constituting culture qua centre already behind us? Or we could say that there is medial disclosedness opening up, a certain in-between, intermezzo or interlude, played out precisely in the dimension of interculturality. In this sense it is possible to constitute the philosophical meaning of interculturality through the opening up of this intermediacy.

This of course requires deflecting attention to the relationship between philosophy and culture, to their mutual conditioning, which has proved historically constitutive for the Europeanness as a “variety in unity”. It should be further observed that, for interculturality, the supposition of plurality of cultures as opposed to a single culture is not in any sense a constitutive one. One should accede to multiculturalism’s claim that there is no single culture and that there are only cultures. However, it does fail to recognize that, in affirming the pluralism of cultures, it simultaneously denies this medial locus, that which mediates plurality in its transposition between one’s own and the alien. It is not enough to distinguish between the one and the many, the uniform and diverse; what it takes, rather, is to acknowledge the difference in-between.

There is no plurality without difference. If we formulate the difference only as plurality of differences, there is no difference any more. Of course, this is far from being an (onto)logical fact; it is, rather, a hermeneutic determination that needs to be developed in the dimension of intercultural midst, and which, so to say, pushes philosophy into interculturality. It is from this point on that insight can be gained into today’s multicultural situation, featuring both the striving for diversity and its abolition (without differences). Accordingly, “philosophy of interculturality” cannot be equated with “intercultural philosophy”, insofar as the latter endeavours to discuss common philosophical issues in various cultural and civilization milieus on the basis of confronting various methods, epistemologies and strands of thought. This implies the recognition of the philosophy’s determination by current intercultural situation. However, it tends to rather easily forget the meditative role of philosophy in the common midst of inter-culturality. This is evinced in contemporary philosophy by the revelation of difference qua difference

Philosophy of interculturality therefore views itself on the very level of difference, and thereby differs from multiculturalism, which argues for a plurality of cultures and against the unity of one culture. Taken philosophically, this opposition is the one between the pluralism of truths and the monism of the truth. However, it is one thing to deny the possibility of one truth and quite another to claim that there is no truth; the latter is closely related to the experience of nihilism, evincing the crisis of Europeanness. Philosophy of interculturality embraces the critique of culture as centre, too; but it also claims its right for the open midst of intercultural mutual encountering and understanding. The midst is anything but the centre; it is brought about through the differentiation rather than unification. In this way, the “common midst” can be grasped without consorting to the unified centre. This is why intercultural mediation deems important not only the acknowledgement of what cannot be unified but also the transcending of indifference into a wakefulness for the differences, which doesn’t simply raid over otherness; rather, it recognizes in it its own limitations and closeness, usually covertly at work exactly in the jargon of generalized philanthropy.

One of the key presuppositions of interculturality is that there is no central culture, just as there are no marginal cultures; cultures are determined only in their relation to the tradition of intercultural midst, eventuating among them in the manner of their opening and reserving. The reserving of cultures isn’t just some sort of negative facet of marginal cultural provinciality. In times of absent central culture, when culture as the centre is found missing, the very understanding of “provinciality” has also undergone considerable changes; since it is perhaps the only guarantee for maintaining the provenance of culture out of indifference.

This indifference in intercultural encountering does not only imply that we as Europeans have poor knowledge of ourselves or that we are unwilling to know one another (both on the axis of East-West and that of North-South), that we have no common identity traits, that we failed to grasp our “European essence”. The fact that we as Europeans are – as is often repeated, “poorly informed” about each other – is an issue of our habitual outlook and insight into matters and “culture”. Despite the potential and potent omnipresence of electronic media, our “perception of reality” is more and more grounded in abjecting all that cannot be appropriated by our habitual view. In other words: our world is being progressively formed and determined by one and the same perception of reality, which sees only (to) itself regardless of any habit. It is exactly the supposedly “habitual view on matters” that is destroying the tradition of habits, which is taken for granted as one’s own. We thus have self-evidently at our disposal what is habitual “for us” without even reflecting on the possibility of re-appropriating our habits. Us is us and that is all there is. This “us is us” perception of reality is a crucial obstacle in enabling the real perspective of intercultural encountering and understanding,since it neither stems from nor approaches the habitual, which is not bound by anything and at the same time bound to the inability of truth

The hermeneutic disclosure of intercultural midst is closely related to prominent philosophical issues of language and world as fundamental habits of common human existence. What clearly supports the idea that the same can be understood in various ways and that it is variety that opens up the common, is the language of philosophy itself. Despite its reaching the universal, philosophy has become rooted in individual cultures, bringing along an extraordinary intercultural language of the world, which fills human existence both in the sense of truth and freedom. In this regard, philosophy is not just “formal” argumentative language; by uncovering the truth it already speaks from within the openness of the world.