UNESCO World Philosophy Day 2016: Prof. Roberta de Monticelli 'On the So Called ‘Clash of Civilizations’: Value Pluralism in the Light of Phenomenology'

Thursday, November 17, 2016 - 18:00 to 20:00
Renehan Hall, St Patrick’s College, Maynooth

'Faced with the complexity of today’s world, philosophical reflection is above all a call to humility, to take a step back and engage in reasoned dialogue, to build together the solutions to challenges that are beyond our control. This is the best way to educate enlightened citizens, equipped to fight stupidity and prejudice. The greater the difficulties encountered the greater the need for philosophy to make sense of questions of peace and sustainable development.'

Irina Bokova
UNESCO Director-General 

The goal of this event is, as Moufida Goucha, secretary of the SHS Commission of UNESCO, stated regarding World Philosophy Day ‘a unity of action, of common action, to reaffirm the true value of philosophy, that is to say the establishment of dialogue that must never cease when it comes to essential matters, and of thought which gives us back a large part of human dignity whatever our condition."

Samuel P. Huntington’s 1996 book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order provides an updated background for a renewed philosophical inquiry into the nature of conflict, perhaps the most pervasive phenomenon of human life and history. What seems to be specific to human conflict — as opposed to the sheer struggle for life or domination so widespread throughout the realm of nature — is dissent, that is value disagreement or axiological conflict and, more specifically, dissent regarding the most important values, or “the ends of life”. Greek tragedy illustrates the very nature of value conflict — something that cannot be reduced to a battle between Good and Evil, as is the case in other traditions such as ancient Persian tradition.
The main question this paper addresses is whether conflict is constitutive of the nature of value commitment, that is essential to it — so that value pluralism necessarily implies value conflict. If this is the case, no resolution of value disagreements, whether on the global level or within modern multicultural societies, is possible within axiological thought or through the resources of practical reason. In this case the only solutions to inner or outer conflicts will be “political”, in the sense of a Realpolitik, based no longer on the kind of ideological divide typical of the Cold War, but, as Huntington suggests, on a “remaking of World Order” that enhances cultural identities and “what counts for people…blood and belief, faith and family” (1996: 126). A possible World Order would be bound to be of a non-rational and non-axiological sort, as opposed to the one put forth by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 with its table of universal values.
This paper may be considered a first step toward an epistemic foundation (Morsink 1999, Joas 2012) for the Universal Declaration or, more generally, for a universal normative frame of pluralism, based on axiological thought and ethical universalism. The hard problem it addresses is whether a negative answer to our main question – whether conflict is essential to value and value-commitment – is indeed possible without ignoring or explaining away the actual reality of value conflicts. Answering the hard problem requires identifying the main tenets of the affirmative answer to the question (let’s call it “polytheism of values”, using the phrase made famous by Max Weber). This requires a radical form of axiological scepticism coupled with a perspective which gives value commitment primary importance in the constitution of personal and social identity. While rejecting the post-Nietzschean tradition that nourishes modern axiological scepticism and political realism, this paper also points to the inadequacy of the post-Kantian tradition supporting ethical universalism and political normativism. Even the most celebrated authors in this tradition, such as Rawls or Habermas, do not seem capable of defending universalism in the face of a plurality of embodied, particular cultural identities. What they neglect is recognition of the essential link between one’s personal identity and one’s value commitments. But how can we avoid the relativistic consequences of recognising this link?
Drawing on classical phenomenological axiology, this paper tries to disentangle the notions of culture, ethos, identity and ethics. It highlights the cognitive aspect of value commitment, thereby altering our reading of conflicts and, more generally, of human discord. Value commitment is founded in value (and disvalue) experience, as exemplified by the Preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Suffering the atrocities of racial discrimination provides the epistemic ground for recognizing equal dignity, and so it is with all universal values grounding human rights. Universality of values means their (virtually) universal accessibility from within any given culture. Experience and critical reflection can liberate the will from passive commitment to identitarian values, encouraging its freedom or autonomy. Emotional sensibility can be educated to become practical reason. In this way phenomenological axiology rejoins Socratic philosophy and adopts the liberating power of its appeal to evidence, or verification of belief. Universal values act as bonds of compatibility among different value-systems and cultural/religious identities. Max Scheler’s legacy for a global world encapsulates this idea in a word – Ausgleich, “adjustment” or “harmonization” – a word which, in contrast to its opposite, “clash”, shows a possible way of keeping together axiological pluralism, respect for each religious, cultural or personal identity, and ethical universalism. 

  Prof. Roberta de Monticelli is one of the most acknowledged contemporary phenomenologists in Italy and Full Professor for Philosophy of Personhood at San Raffaele University, Milan, and Director of PERSONA (Research Centre in Phenomenology and Sciences of the Person