Heinz Kimmerle/Henk Oosterling (eds)
Sensus communis in multi- and intercultural perspective
On the possibility of common judgments in arts and politics

Würzburg: Könighausen & Neumann 2000

The following reflections on ‘Sensus communis in multi- and intercultural perspective. On the possibility of common judgments in arts and politics’ have served as a guideline or general orientation for the discussions about this subject on the conference, which is mentioned in the Foreword. They have been revised after the conference and can hopefully provide a tentative framework for philosophical and integrated research of different disciplines in this field. 1. Immanuel Kant, in his Critique of Judgment (1791­), intro­duces the presupposition of a sensus communis, in order to make it possible that aesthetic judgments can be conceived as transcendentally valid. He intends to state by this, that the human sub­ject when it finds a piece of art beautiful, will have the feeling that any other subject (or, even any reasonable being) has to share this judgment. It is amazing enough that Kant, who stresses the transcendental validity of reason and understanding in his theoretical and especially in his practical philosophy, thinks of a feeling (sensus) as an instance that can guarantee such a claim in the field of aesthetics. We do not want to go deeper into the interpretation of this fact here. But we take it as a sign that Kant’s argumentation is problematic under the conditions of today’s thought, when questions about the possibility and transcendental validity of common aesthetic judgments are raised within and outside the Kantian realm of argumentation. 2. By these questions it has become obvious that trans­cendentality or general and necessary validity, as it is claimed by Kant in different fields of philosophy, can no longer be defended in contempo­rary philosophi­cal thought. It is especially questionable with regard to aesthetic judgments. On the other hand, there is no doubt that aesthetic judgments are accompanied by the feeling that others will share it. That leads us to the problem: if the position is no longer acceptable that my aesthetic judgments have to be shared by all other subjects, who are the others that actu­ally do share them and what kind of community is constituted by such common judgments? Kant's argumentation has to prove its power in the field of historically, socially, politically and geographically limited areas of validity. If the sensus communis is limited in this way, there is no longer a universal consensus, but common judgments are related to the historical, social or cultural groups who agree on them. At the same time a dissensus has to be stated with regard to other groups who have a different taste and different judgments. Thus not only the conditions of commonalities in the field of aesthetic judgments have to be investigated, but also of particularities in this field. 3. One can observe that common aesthetic judg­ments often have to do with the preference of persons for a certain style of art. For instance, those who have in common that they like classical music are in most cases others than the fans of reggae or house-music. Corresponding agreements and differences can be found in the fields of visual and performing arts and in literature. For instance, many persons are fond of realistic or impressionistic pain­ting, which might mean that they do not like surrealistic or conceptual art. Certain groups of people like more traditional ways of theater and of writing, others prefer extremely experimental styles. This kind of preferences is generally rather stable among adult persons. They change sometimes in the transiti­on from juvenile to adult age. 4. It is not easy to point out what relations exist between groups of persons who share a preference for certain periods or currents of artistic style and the social stratifi­ca­tion or political options of these people. Empirical re­search can help to improve the knowledge about these relati­ons. It is, however, obvious that aesthetic judgments can be shared among persons of different cultures. The cultural dividing line between them can be passed over rather easily when pieces of art are under discussion. Often Western friends of classical music share their taste with people from Japan or China, informal painting finds its admirers and its opponents in the West, in the East, and in the South, and certain novels even from seemingly remote parts of the globe (e.g. Nigeria or Columbia) are read all over the world. What happens also rather often in present time, is the emergence of new aesthetic judgments which are shared by groups of persons from diffe­rent cultures. Music-styles like jazz or reggae arose in the Black communities of the USA or of the Carribe­an Islands and spread over the rest of the world. African wood car­ving, sand-ta­bleaus from the Australian Aboriginals or the huge sculptu­res of the Easter Islands ­ find admirers in all the different cultures. 5. This kind of common aesthetic judgments among persons of different cultures is of great importance in multi- and intercultural res­pect. These terms are used here in the following meaning: Multi­cultural issues deal with problems which arise when people of different cultures live together in the same geographical area or on the territory of the same state, and intercultura­l issues deal with problems which arise when people of different cultures, living in different geograhical areas, communicate with each other regularly. In bost cases phenomena of misun­derstanding and of ‘xenophobia’ are very frequent. These phenomena prevail in most of the political and social debates on multi- and interculturality. It turns out to be very difficult to find an unbiased and reasonable basis for the reflections on this problem. As a counterpart to misunderstanding and ‘xenophobia’ it is important to sort out fields of agreement and of shared judgments in multicultural societies and in intercul­tu­ral communications. At the same time, it is important to show what the positive effects of particular points of view can be. The focus of the contributions of this volume is mainly on commonalities and particularities of aesthetic judgements in the intercultural dimension. 6. No special argument is needed to make clear that agreements and shared judgements in aesthetics have in itself a political dimension. It is helpful for the mutual understanding among persons of diffe­rent cultures in general, if they share aesthetic judgments. The connection between aesthetic and political judgments, however, might even be more substantial and integrate. As the artistic taste is accom­panied by the feeling of being shared by others, the politi­cal will certainly is not a purely individualistic affair. A sensus communis seems to be presupposed here as well. J.-J. Rous­seau's analyses of the ‘general will’, in his Social Con­tract (1762), are well known. Although the ‘gene­ral will’ is not neces­sarily identical with the ‘will of all’, it can be regar­ded as the basis for political deci­sions of a commu­nity. This is not referred to as a justification of some kind of majority-rule which does not sufficiently take into account the will and the desires of the minority-groups. However, the fact cannot be denied that there are groups who share more conservative politi­cal options and others who can more easily agree on necessary changes. Conservative, socialist and also liberal ideologies still bind together groups of persons. These are examples for sensus communis in the field of political judgments. They imply that it is also necessary to take the conditions of positive or useful particularities into account. 7. Obviously this kind of judgments can transgress dividing cultural borderlines as well: The broad international organizations of socialist or christian-democratic parties can illustrate that their agreement on certain political judgments is inter­cultu­rally relevant. Many Africans, whether they live on their own continent or in the diaspora, are in a predica­ment, because they have high estimations of their traditional cultural values and at the same time welcome rapid social changes. Therefore, it is uncertain which respective political currents they will want to join. With regard to Western multi­cultural societies it is worthwile to mention that the borderlines of political options are no longer very clear: not all people of little income are in favour of socialist politics, the adherents of liberal ideas are spread among different social groups, and not all leading persons in economic life tend to conservative political options. It is hardly possible to say, where which groups of persons from non-Western cultures join in. Since the end of apartheid South African politics shows the breath-taking example of regarding multiculturalism as a chance and as a positive starting point for a democratic state. 8. As already has been said, majority-rule does not always and not automatically carry out the ‘general will’ of a commu­nity. There are forms of democratic government, also in Western democra­tic states, which are not ‘government of the people, by the people and for the people’, as Abraham Lincoln once has formu­lated it. Sometimes a gap can be found between the will and the desires of the people and the politics which is made by a formally chosen democratic government. In the present day world G.W.F. Hegel’s statement in his Philosophy of Right (1821), that the modern constitutional state is the only apt political organization to guarantee ‘concrete freedom’, can be doubted. This doubt arises once we regard certain phenomena in the political life of the Western hemisphere. It is even more problematic if the Western model of democra­cy is applied in non-Western countries. 9. In intercultural philosophical discussions other forms of political life have been described in which decisions are taken not by majority, but by consensus. Very instructive is in this connection the chapter: ‘Democracy and Consensus: A Plea for a Non-Party Policy’ in a book of Kwasi Wiredu.1 Political decision- making on the basis of consensus can be regarded as an alternative to Western democracy within the realm of a nation-state. Ernest Wamba dia Wamba, in his article Beyond Elite Poli­tics of Democracy in Africa2, attempts to shape a ‘new mode of politics’ which is inspired by certain African ways of coming to political decisi­ons (‘palaver’ and ‘mbongi’) that carry out the principle of consensus. He fails, however, to make clear how these ways of decision-making can lead in contemporary African states from ‘elite politics’ to ‘mass men/wom­en-democracy’. Mahmud Mamdani, in an interview On Democracy and Human Rights3, points at specific forms of political life in traditional African communities, which have been called ‘tribes’ by the colonial administration and which have to be taken into ac­count if the Human Rights, as they have originated in Wes­tern history, are reconsidered and extended from an African point of view. This reference to traditional community life in Africa is combined with ideas rooted in socialist theory, when Mandani claims that Human Rights should not only be applied to the communities of citizens (of a nation-state), but also to members of the communities of labour. This would be in favour of the many migrating workers who live in nation-states of which they are not citi­zens. 10. At this point, again the connec­ti­on between aesthetic and politi­cal judgments has to be reflected upon. Kant speaks, with regard to aesthetic judgments, about the ‘free play’ of the faculties of the mind (sensiti­vity and under­stan­ding­). In accordance with this, the communi­ties which are con­sti­tuted by common artis­tic taste are based on the free choice of their members. If there is not only a sensus communis aesthe­ti­cus, but, as I want to suggest, also a sensus communis politicus, an analogy to ­aesthetic judgments can be found in the field of politics: the same kind of ‘free play’ should be practised in the constitution of the groups which share politi­cal options and which contribute to the ‘general will’ of a communi­ty. Thus the possi­bility could be created to implement ways of decisi­on-making in political life which are more basically democra­tic and also to give rights to groups of persons which are positioned crosswise to the nation-states. This would be an importand step towards more emancipation which is not necessarily combined with modernization of the Western style. Historical conditions of Western and non-Western countries and the adherence to different religions and worldwiews come into play when we reflect on these problems. 11. During the conference, the suggestion has come up that the final grounds for common judgments in the fields of aesthetics, politics, history, religion and worldviews are to be found in universal human values or inclinations. However, this suggestion has to be thought through under the conditions of the Kantian claim of transcendental validity and of the critique on this claim. In other words, can we think about universalism without re-affirming transcendentalism? In order to answer this question, the relation between universals and particulars has to be discussed again. Kwame Gyekye from Ghana has pointed out and defended in the discussions, that ‘there must be at least a tacit or implicit or unexpressed agreement’, which is universally valid, ‘on the reality and importance of the notion of the common good’. Without such a universal consensus on the basic thoughts and values, according to him we could not proceed from the assumption that common aesthetic, political, historical or religious judgments are posibble in multi- and intercultural communication. Ryôsuke Ohashi’s position, which is determined by his Japanese background, implies that such an agreement has to be thought of not only as unexpressed, but as unexpressable, as an ‘empty space’. His analysis of the aesthetic being in traditional Japanese puppet-theatre, which is real and at the same time not real, could be applied to this more general question. Such a position would mean that we cannot articulate universal human values or inclinations as such, but nevertheless can look forward to them and judge their particular cultural appearances. Notes 1. K. Wiredu: Cultural Universals ans Prticulars. An African perspective. Bloomington and Indianapolis 1996, p. 182-190. 2. In: Quest. An International African Journal of Philosophy, 6,1 (1992), p. 28-42. 3. In: ZAST (Zeitschrift für Afrikastudien), nr. 13/14 (1992), p. 3-8.

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