Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, Vol 9, No 1 (2013)

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Overcoming Incommensurability through Intercultural Dialogue

Paul Healy

Abstract


Is universalism necessarily ethnocentric?  Are there inevitably incommensurable differences between diverse cultures and traditions?  While these questions may appear highly theoretical at first sight, they inevitably have significant practical consequences as witnessed by the prominent contemporary discourse about a “clash of civilizations” , on the one hand, and by the challenges confronting multicultural, on the other.  As these debates attest, the foregoing questions are truly significant because, if there is no genuine possibility of overcoming incommensurability by finding and building on common ground, the future looks bleak for intercultural relations, both internally and externally.  In revisiting pivotal issues at the heart of the Winchean rationality debates, and in drawing some selective comparisons with the Kuhnian incommensurability debates which came to the fore at a similar time, this paper draws on core hermeneutic insights to vindicate the tenability of a dialogical approach to the problem of intercultural communication and understanding, an approach which, it is contended, can give difference its due to the extent of stimulating a genuine and productive process of intercultural learning, in a manner that truly navigates between the Scylla of an ethnocentric universalism and the Charybdis of a self-sealing relativism, and thereby not only averts a destructive cultural stand-off or clash, but facilitates the emergence of  a well-grounded “fusion of horizons”.

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