Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, Vol 7, No 2 (2011)

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Situated Cosmopolitanism, and the Conditions of its Possibility: Transformative Dialogue as a Response to the Challenge of Difference

Paul Healy


The challenge of accommodating difference has traditionally proved highly problematic for cosmopolitanism proposals, given their inherently universalistic thrust.  Today, however, we are acutely aware that in failing to give difference its due, we stand to perpetrate a significant injustice through negating precisely what differentiates diverse groupings and confers on them their identity.  Moreover, in an increasingly pluralistic and multicultural world it has become clear that doing justice to difference is an essential prerequisite for the internal flourishing as well as peaceable coexistence of diverse cultural and other groupings.  Accordingly, as a corrective for the homogenising presuppositions of highly a universalistic and decontextualised template like the Habermasian, the present paper defends the need for a situated, dialogical approach that can not only accommodate difference but also treat it as a resource for promoting mutual understanding and potentially transformative learning.

In thus defending the merits of a situated, dialogical template, the present paper also seeks to shed light on the conditions of its possibility.  To this end, I argue the need to transcend significant structural limitations inherent in the Habermasian discourse model, while aspring to preserve and enhance its distinctive strengths.  Accordingly, I press the case for a thoroughgoing reappropriation of such core Habermasian tenets as the symmetrical reciprocity requirement, the anticipation of consensus as outcome, and a one-sided emphasis on argumentative deliberation as the sole acceptable means of achieving this.  Proceeding thus, I defend the merits of a situated cosmopolitanism grounded in plurivocal transformative dialogue as a counterbalance to an unqualified universalism.  Correlatively, I defend openness to otherness under appropriately structured dialogical conditions as the primary prerequisite for a viable cosmopolitanism capable of meeting the needs of an increasingly pluralistic and globalised world.  In the process, some notable points of contrast with Richard Shapcott's dialogical template are identified.

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