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Religion and Society

Multiculturalism Adieu/1: the Reason

 

 

Author: Pierpaolo Donati

 

Title: Oltre il multiculturalismo. La ragione relazionale per un mondo comune

 

Publisher: Laterza, Rome-Bari 2008

 

 

 

 

The analyses engaged in by Pierpaolo Donati in this volume illuminate in a precise way the limits of multiculturalism understood not as a fact but as a political ideology. At an epistemological level multiculturalism is based upon a form of cultural determinism (according to which all knowledge is totally conditioned by the cultural context and is of value in relation to that context) which promotes the recognition of identities but in fact makes that recognition impossible.

 

 

This epistemological assumption (which for that matter is widespread in contemporary human and social sciences) has profound implications at an ethical-political level as well. At an ethical level the possibility of making a moral judgement on the various cultural models present within society is denied with the result that everything that is possible is considered licit in itself.

 

 

In an analysis of rather critical connotations, Donati does not fail to also demonstrate the source reason for multiculturalism: the need to create new pathways to the recognition of the common dignity of persons, independently of their ethnic, linguistic or religious origins. This ambition is also wedded to the universalism of human dignity, of a Christian matrix, which founds the secular concept of citizenship. At this level as well, however, multiculturalism displays its ambivalence by promising a recognition of the other that it cannot achieve. In the Western tradition three great semantics of recognition are present, understood respectively as distinction from, acceptance of, and knowledge of, another identity. Multiculturalism halts at the first step: ego is able to identify alter but it is not able to recognise if and why this is a bearer of ¬contents of truth or to be grateful towards it. Otherness is tolerated, respected, at the most it is promoted, but it remains substantially extraneous. Instead ‘in social practices we see that to recognise the Other (as an individual but also as ‘another’ culture) is a human act if and only if it is an act of validation (which sees the truth of the Other) inscribed in a circuit of symbolic exchanges’ (p. 34).

 

 

To overcome the rocks to which multiculturalism has led we should think anew about recognition in the light of a renewed theory of human rationality and reflectivity; only in this way is it possible to avoid both the exclusivism inherent in believing that there exists a single Culture and not very many cultures, and inclusivism, according to which all cultures are indifferently on the same level. To achieve this result it is not necessary to forgo rationality or to hybridise it with irrational elements; what we should do, instead, is to develop a distinct and reflexive reason complementary to the technical-scientific reason typical of modernity. Donati describes human reason as a complex faculty made up of instrumental rationality, of rationality linked to value, of the rationality of relations, and of the rationality of value as a good in itself (axiological rationality). Only in overcoming the conceptions of rationality that are prevalent in modernity, which are instrumental and mute as to ends, and without falling into post-modern irrationalism, does it appear to be possible to find the coordinates of a space that is able to save differences, recognising, however, a shared humanity in others.

 

 

The tension that always exists between the self and the other, both at a micro-social level and at a macro-social level, cannot by overcome by excluding one of these two terms; it must, rather, be recognised and relaunched in the awareness that the self does not assert itself in a tautological way, as a certain fundamentalism would have it, nor by denying itself, as a certain post-modernism argues, but in the relationship with what is other than oneself, a relationship that will never be completely transparent or clear but which remains an ineluctable pathway. Donati well demonstrates in this book that making reason relational is the path to follow in order to imagine a new system for society that is able to face up to the challenges of the processes of globalisation and to intensify intercultural relations.

 

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