Gerrit Steunebrink, Nijmegen
Sensus communis and Modernity as a Common Horizon
A Contribution to the Theory of Intercultural Communication
Sensus communis and Modernity as a Common Horizon
A Contribution to the Theory of Intercultural Communication
In his essay 'On perpetual peace' Kant makes an interesting remark about the role of the differences between religions in the course of world history. According to Kant world history is moving towards a growing community of nations. But this process, however positive for excluding the possibility of war in the future, has a dangerous side. A universal monolithical political system could arise which, according to Kant, can only mean that despotism will rule the world. The call for unity should be counterbalanced by something else: 'But nature wills it otherwise, and uses two means to separate the nations and prevent them from intermingling linguistic and religious* differences. These may certainly occasion mutual hatred and provide pretexts for wars, but as culture grows and man gradually moves towards greater agreement over their principles, they lead to mutual understanding and peace. And unlike that universal despotism which saps all man's energies and ends in the graveyard of freedom, this peace is created and guaranteed by an equilibrium of forces and a most vigorous rivalry.'
One should not think that the call for unity is an idealistic appeal: 'On the other hand, nature also unites nations which the concept of cosmopolitan rights would not have protected from violence and war, and does so by means of their mutual self?interest.' Kant thinks that the spirit of commerce takes hold of every people in the end and that this spirit cannot exist side by side with war. Sometimes Kant is reproached for not having seen the possibility of economic wars. But Kant considers a future system of economic relations in which there exists a mutual dependency from which nobody can escape. This mutual dependency of nations, like the mutual dependency of individuals within a particular society, produces the necessity of a cooperation to which we are at the same time morally obliged: 'In this way, nature guarantees perpetual peace by the actual mechanism of human inclinations. And while the likelihood of its being attained is not sufficient to enable us to prophesy the future theoretically, it is enough for practical purposes. It makes it our duty to work towards this goal, which is more than an empty chimaera.'
Kant is, of course, thinking of a world union of nation states based on mutual dependence. The historical situation of mutual dependence obliges to the transformation of this situation into a morally reasonable whole.
Kant's theory of the coming worldsociety, is established on the same principles as his theory about the constitution of a particular society. Every society is based on the development of individual talents through a basic antagonism between the individuals. Due to this antagonism the society, formed by a social contract that overcomes the antagonism, is a developed, mature society and not a dead embryo. Religious differences have the same function in the constitution of the worldorder as the differences between individuals and their talents in a particular society. They give life and colour to the whole as a harmony of unity and otherness. Kants seems to see positive what everybody deplores who is concerned about intercultural and interreligious relations: the devastating effects of religious wars. His intention is clear. He underlines the positive value of the fact that differences cannot tolerate each other. Different religions have to fight with each other.
Within a gradual approach towards greater agreement on principles that will produce peace, societies with different religions develop their antagonistic forces in interaction. By doing so the coming worldsociety is not based on the extinction of differences, but on the contrary, on the preservation of differences. Other than Rousseau, whose theories form the background of his thinking, Kant values struggle as a positive force in the history of human civilization. But is struggle the last word? Does Kant really think that there are fundamental religious differences that should be preserved at all costs? Is this the way Kant considers religious differences? Let us have therefore a closer look at what Kant says about religious differences. Let us look at the asterisk he puts in the expression 'religious* differences'.
1. Differences, religion and morality
Kant's asterisk keeps us from the interpretation of religious differences as a real plurality: 'Religious differences - an odd expression! As if we were to speak of different moralities. There may certainly be different historical confessions, although these have nothing to do with religion itself but only with changes in the means to further religion, and are thus the province of historical research. And there may be just as many different religious books (the Zendavesta, the Vedas, the Koran etc.) But there can only be one religion which is valid for all man and at all times. Thus the different confessions can scarcely be more than the vehicles of religion; these are fortuitous, and may vary with differences in time or place.'
'Different religions' is as strange an expression as different moralities, because according to Kant, morality is the basic content of religion and without any doubt morality is one. Morality being one, different religions cannot exist. Existing differences therefore can only be superficial differences regarding space and time.
Is Kant again becoming an ethnocentrist by claiming the existence of only one morality? Does he not again produce the despotic monoculture and monoreligion that he is afraid of? Doesn't he, in fact, absolutize something specifically European, the morality of the pure heart towards something universal? Shouldn't we become suspicious? International commerce - that is Western capitalism - creates mutual dependence. On this basis we should advocate an international society of contractual societies, that is Western democracy. In the end we should understand religion in a typically Western way as the morality of the pure heart, which again is a modern, Western conception of ethics. Eventually our universalist thinker Kant is just an ordinary Western ethnocentrist.
I want to defend Kant against this reproach, especially in order to defend his concept of morality. However he himself is not quite aware of the problems he creates. Or, perhaps one should say that he is not quite aware of the depth of the problems he sees.
The content of morality is good will and respect. Good will does not mean the propaganda of a pure heart ideology, but it means the recognition of a universal criterium in judging a good action. It is the first and only thing you are obliged to presuppose in everybody. As such according to Kant it exists everywhere and in every time. Good will does not know any progress or graduality. That means the good will of a Neanderthaler, an Eskimo, an Indian is as good as that of a socalled civilized modern European or Japanese. Of course, there is progress in history, but Kant carefully distinguishes between the progress of social institutions and progress in morality. The latter is impossible according to Kant. By making this distinction, he avoids the pitfalls of a Hegelian type of philosophy of history in which progress in the consciousness of freedom is in danger of becoming identical with moral progress. The principle of respect that forbids instrumentalizing other human beings for your own purposes, is just an other way of stating again the value of the interculturally valid golden rule.
Thus Kant is minimalizing the differences between the religions. He does not think about cultural embodiments of these moral principles, for these do not regard morality as such. Kant therefore is not really interested in the 'ethos', a collection of maxims, a style of dealing with ethical problems and traditions of a people. He cannot be! Of course, he does not deny their existence and even necessity, but they in themselves are not the ground of the morality of actions. Kant is definitely not Herder as we shall see. To get a good insight in the value of Kant's universal perspective we first have to deal with the Kantian idea of the sensus communis. On this basis we will advocate the universal perspective of Kant mediated by a reflection on cultural differences.
2. Sensus communis as a principle of civilization as such
Kant inherited the concept of the sensus communis, which has a long history, directly from the British moralists. For Shaftesbury it was a principle of taste that guided social actions and united the good and the beautiful. Therefore it was an eminently social principle. He dreamt of the Greek unity of the social and the ethical, of truth, the good and the beautiful. Against Hobbes he defended the Aristotelian conception of man as an essentially social being.
Kant's philosophy aimed at undoing these uncritical identifications of the true, the good and the beautiful. For him sensus communis was not a kind of unifying principle. So he first restricted it to aesthetic judgments. But it could have some social and therefore moral implications. In judgments about beauty the sensus communis is the principle of the rationality of an experiece of beauty that is identical with its communicability. Without wanting to resurrect a whole history of interpretations of Kant, one can say that it is a kind of consensus theory of beauty based on immediacy. This immediacy accounts for the difference to a scientific judgment.
A scientific judgment is based upon a specific concept that can and has to be communicated in a discussion, in an intersubjective discursive process. The participants in the discussions try to convince by reinforcing arguments. Therefore there are winners and losers. Despite not being based on a specific concept, an aesthetic judgment is not irrational, for it is based on the same general powers of man that produce determinate concepts. Only in an aesthetic experience do those powers, the faculty of reasoning and the faculty of sensibility, not force themselves to a specific concept, but engage in a free, imaginative play that never destructs the original harmony of these powers presupposed in every human activity. Not being used to produce specific knowledge, the faculties of knowledge are used for themselves, they feel their possibilities in a free play. Therefore, Kant can say that the aesthetic judgment combines the general and the particular in an immediate way. The general powers of understanding are united in an individual experience not mediated by a concept. The typical aesthetic experience therefore is 'This tulip is beautiful' and not the general statement 'Tulips are beautiful'.
The immediate harmony of the powers of understanding and sense perception, is the basis of aesthetic pleasure as a rational pleasure. The aesthetic pleasure expresses a feeling which accompanies every scientific endeavour but which cannot be explained by science, the feeling of pleasure in enacting ourselves as rational beings. Not mediated by a specific concept the communication of the aesthetic feelings functions directly. To say together: 'That is beautiful' is a way of directly communicating feelings that are provoked by a representation. For Kant this original, unmediated communication is an intrinsic part of the aesthetic experience itself.
The essence of communication as direct contact between human beings becomes especially clear in shared aesthetic experiences, that is in the faculty of taste. Communicability as such shows itself in the unmediated sharing of feelings of beauty. The consequences are important. Taste offers a better view on man as basically a communicating being than science. Science creates differences, speaks explicitly of true or false, and hence excludes. But a judgment of taste precedes these differences and shows communicability as such and therefore the basic unity of mankind. Aesthetic feeling, that is taste, is far more commonsensical than understanding is, Kant explicitly states, if we understand 'sense' in the right way.
'Man is a rational being' can be replaced by 'man is a being with taste'. Here speaks the universal voice of mankind! This voice, this sensus communis is 'the mode of representation of all other men in thought, in order, as it were, to compare its judgment with the collective reason of humanity, and thus to escape the illusion arising from the private conditions that could be so easily taken for objective, which would injuriously affect the judgment.'
What is its intercultural value? At first sight this seems clear: there is a voice of humanity preceding all differences and perhaps transcending all differences, at least in aesthetics. But at second sight it is not that clear. To clarify the issue I first want to elaborate on the social and cultural value of the principle of taste in general. We take the way Kant took to reestablish the connection between sensus communis as an aesthetical principle and as a social one. Of course, from a social point of view one has to be interested in this sensus communis. For this theory of the communicability of feelings can be connected with man's natural need for a society, that is with man as an essentially social being. From a social point of view this sensus communis is the beginning of civilization. For in society man does not want to be just man, but a fine man in his way. Becoming a fine man means that someone has to give himself a good shape. By style man is presenting himself, he presents his particularity, he says 'this is me' and at the same time he transcends this particularity by making himself communicable to others. Here the fact that the judgment of taste immediately combines the general and the particular reveals its social relevance.
This social relevance is not merely superficial. Kant's idea of the 'fine man' has its origin in 18th century Rococo civilization. But like Mozart he gives this civilization a dimension of depth. Giving himself a style man transcends his given biological nature. By making himself communicable, that is by becoming social, man transcends himself. Sensus communis is therefore a theory that states that man's transcendence over his biological nature and his sociability coincide. In one and the same act man transcends his biological nature and socializes. That is the meaning of the statement that in society man does not want to be just a man, but a fine man!
He becomes a 'fine' man by taking into account the general communication with everybody. By cultivating the particularity of his feelings, by styling himself, by making himself communicable, he realizes human universality in himself. The universality of humanity happens in communicability! Therefore it seems, according to Kant, that this communication is dictated by humanity itself as an 'original contract'. We will come back to this very important expression. The coincidence of transcendence and sociability in communication, this contract manifests itself on a very basic level as the origin of civilization as such and Kant turns out to be a very interesting cultural anthropologist.
Basic culture starts with using stimuli for communication like the colours with which one can paint one's body as, in primitive cultures, the Iroquois or the Carib do. One can use flowers, shells and feathers too. Then higher forms emerge that transcend the level of stimuli: dresses that are important in society and which are valued very much. Perhaps Kant is thinking of ceremonial dresses. With these the basic forms of nonverbal, nonconceptual communication culture develop itself. Progress in culture is progress in communication.
This is the sensus communis as the basis of society. Kant once described man's nature as unsocial sociality. Man wants to be a social being, he looks for togetherness, but this togetherness is always crossed by his unsocial inclinations, his need for competition, in short his antagonistic side through society becomes a fully developed society. By this antagonism man is driven out of his laziness, so forces him to develop his talents, civilization, art and taste and hence he will use his moral capacity to establish practical?moral principles: 'and thus a pathological enforced social union is transformed into a moral whole' . This moral whole is a society based on a social contract, by which man's tendency to realize his freedom at the cost of others is transformed into the will of everybody to make the realization of everybody's freedom possible by giving up a part of it.
Now we can understand why Kant spoke of the sensus communis as a kind of original contract. The sensus communis represents the social side of man's unsocial sociability. The idea of society as a social contract suggests that this moral whole has to be dictated him by force. His nature says 'no' to what his morality prescribes him. Sensus communis says that his nature itself is characerized by communicability as a kind of social contract, so that a morally organized society is based on a deeper tendency towards togetherness. So society is based not only on man's egoism, but also on man's social nature. There is a kind of original peaceful togetherness, an original 'yes' to each other that is the basis of all civilization.
We can say that the sensus communis is a principle of culture or civilization as such, wherever and whenever. It does not give a clue for understanding differences in culture. Kant speaks of a feeling of humanity as such before all differences and unmediated by specificity. That is typical for sensus communis as an aesthetic feeling. Before we can evaluate the intercultural value of this concept, we have to tackle one more problem. Specific cultures in the contemporary sense of the word are considered to be determined by a specific ethos. Kant's theory of sensus communis as a kind of definition of culture is not complete without a reflection on the relation to morality.
What is this relation? In the context of taste, being social is being civilized, but both are not the same as being moral. Civilization is only a preparation for morality, certainly not identical with it. Therefore Kant distinguishes between an empirical, social interest in taste and a moral interest in his Critique of Judgment. The moral interest seems to advocate the cultivation of Rousseau's feeling of loneliness and Aristotle's idea of autarchy. But the connection between taste and morality is laid in his Anthropology from a pragmatic point of view. There we find sociability ('gesittet sein') and morality ( 'das sittlich Gute', or 'das Moralische') related to each other in an new way. There we find also interesting remarks about differences between the nations.
3. Sensus communis and culture
In his Anthropology from a pragmatic point of view Kant discusses the cultivation of taste, communicability, as a moral duty. In taste man has a receptivity ('Empfänglichkeit' for other people) to enjoy things together. In trying to please and in being receptive for the praise of other people man enjoys togetherness.
Because this experience is something universally human, based on taste as his reasonable inner voice, the cultivation of taste is a moral duty. Man is obliged to cultivate his receptivity for other people. Cultivation of taste makes man civilized and therefore apt for his position in society. Cultivation of taste first means the promotion of morality in outer appearance: good manners.
Then Kant makes a play with words that cannot be repeated in English. To make someone civilized (gesittet) - to give him good manners - is not the same as to make him good in the ethical sense (sittlich gut, moralisch), but prepares for it. That is implicated in the endeavour of pleasing other people. But then he deepens the connection between morality and taste. Civilization does not just prepare for the good, it is a part of it. To be good mannered has the appearance of being good and therefore it has a 'grade of the ethical good'. Wanting to appear as a good person implicates the positive evaluation of moral goodness. Kant likes it to show that people who do not believe in morality, but only in the appearance of it, in the end are involved in what they want to avoid: morality. One has to value morality positively, if one wants to play with the appearance of it. It is interesting what Kant does with something apparently superficial as good manners, civilized behaviour. At first sight it is superficial and one can cheat people with it. Kant was not naive about the value of courteous manners of the Rococo culture of his time.
But if morality is based on good will and respect, then politeness, civilized behaviour as cultivation of receptivity is nothing else but showing respect and good will. And one cannot renounce this value, on the contrary, one has to affirm it when cheating with it. This being the case Kant wonders about his own expression of 'taste' as morality in outer appearance. For this appearance is no longer external to morality. It is not only a preparation for morality, but a part of it.
This is the only time that Kant identifies civilization (Sitte) with moral goodness (Sittlichkeit). And he does correctly so. For he says that there is no way to morality but morality itself. Respect begins with respect. Showing good will, cultivating the appearance of it, so that good will may shine through, is a part of good will itself. Therefore Kant uses the expression that cultivation of taste as communicability, that is civilization, is a grade of morality itself. This is the only time too that Kant speaks about a 'grade' of morality. For morality, conceived as good will, has no 'grade'!
In his way Kant makes a neat unity between good behaviour, manners, civilization on the one side and morality on the other side. Ethos and ethics come together on the basis of the duty to cultivate one's receptivity to each other. Here taste or the sensus communis bridges the gulf between moral goodness and culture as a system of manners. But again this theory gives no clue to culturally different systems of manners.
Kant's theory is a theory of civilized behaviour as such. Kant cannot have an eye for specific differences. By morality man transcends his natural condition, and this is a universal truth, for which civilization prepares or in which civilization participates. Kant looks from the particular to the general, but not from the general to the particular. Civilization is a form of styling particularity. By this one transcends one's particularity at the same time and therefore a general perspective realizes itself. This general perspective of every civilizational activity is a property typical of man. Therefore, civilization can prepare for the really universal human destiny, morality. The spirit of Schiller, of the last part of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, the love for humanity as a whole manifests itself in Kant's sensus communis.
Kant does not deny differences between peoples and civilizations! He speaks of the different characters of nations in his Anthropology from a pragmatic point of view. He even frowns upon the intermingling of nations. The differences should be preserved in spite of philantropical feelings! But this is all a matter of nature and hence morally irrelevant. Just as morality, civilization is immediately universally human.
This becomes clear when we look at his definition of 'people'. A people (populus) is a quantity of human beings living in the same region that form a whole together. But there is another kind of people, that is called by Kant a 'Nation' (gens). A 'Nation' consists of a people, united by common descent, that recognizes itself as a civil whole. This 'civil whole', that means a state, a civil society based on a social contract, is the only thing that matters to Kant because this is according to him a moral unity. The unity of humanity and the differences between the peoples are relevant only on this level.
Kant considers what we would call a specific culture a kind of system that consists of ethical maxims that express the mentality of a people and have become a second nature! But it is still nature and not reason! They cannot be classified according to reasonable principles. From Kant's point of view this is perfectly understandable. Maxims handed down are traditional ethical rules. In their traditional selfevidence they have no moral value to Kant. Only by being tested, passing the test of the categorical imperative, by proving themselves to be universally applicable, do they get a moral value. These acts are morally good in the strict sense of the word, only when good will and respect are the cause of acting according to the maxims of a traditional culture. But at the same time this goodness transcends all cultural differences. The 'Sinnesart' , the 'mentality' or culture of a people plays a role on the natural level, but not on the level of moral reason. Reason is one.
The principle of the sensus communis puts forward the unity of mankind as the principle of culture in a very beautiful way. But here, as in the case of morality, there is a difficulty with differences. Kant transcends immediately cultural differences towards the categorical imperative, but does not reflect positively on the ethical relevance of different traditions of ethical maxims as the concretization of this imperative. However, this is the aim of the Anthropology to a certain extent! Therefore he cannot deal with differences between concrete ethical traditions. Hence, paradoxically, Kant has no feeling for the historicity, the concrete cultural setting of his own ideas of universality. This specific setting is modern civil society as a society of individuals.
I do not want to get rid of Kant's universal moral perspective. Certainly not of his moral universalism. Everybody experienced in intercultural communication knows that you are lost without the presupposition of good will and respect in every contact, especially when you do not know the specific different cultural circumstances!
That the idea of a state society based on a social contract is a product of a specific culture and therefore may not claim a priori universality is not reflected on by Kant. Kant's ideal of humanity shows the same problem. Humanity is seen by Kant as a whole that transcends all individuals and all individual states moving on to the goal of a cosmopolitan society, a civil society of civil societies. I don't want to deny the value of this idea in modern times as a practical goal of politics. But this idea presupposes a kind of worldwide modernization, as Durkheim already notes in his On the division of social labour, the cultural origin of which is not clarified by Kant and so becomes potentially ethnocentric. The same is true, of course, of the idea of democracy.
Hegel understood very well that these ideas are the product of change in Europe. They are the product of the transition from a traditional to a modern society. This transition is the a posteriori context of the discovery of the a priori universal and individual morality and its political implications. But this transition is never definite. A purely modern society without any form of tradition and communal principles does not exist and cannot exist. That is the message of Romantic, Hegelian, Durkheimian and all communitarian criticisms of modernity. And to a certain extent Kant is aware of this himself, when he says that the sensus communis is a kind of original contract, constituting the basis of all societies preceding the social contract!
These problems become manifest in the discussion between Kant and Herder. Herder wants to bridge the gulf between nature and reason as principle of cultural activity. Kant reacts very restrictively by saying that these thoughts transcend the possibilities of human understanding. Herder does not like rationalism and stresses the fact that the development of man's rational capabilities is embedded in tradition. He goes so far to say that tradition has a divine origin. Kant who, of course, suspected traditon as a source of basic knowlegdge, openly confesses his embarrassment with a theory of learning that is not based on the use of reason as the faculty general to man. Herder does not like Kant's and Lessing's idea of a humanity that transcends individuals, generations and peoples. Kant really cherishes the idea of humanity as a whole. Only the animal species have their reality in the individual representant. But what would be the point of the development of so many specific human talents through the antagonism of unsocial sociability, what would be the point of this history of suffering, if there is no progress of humanity as such? It is typical for the human species that the species itself makes progress in history. For Herder humanity is a general notion, a species that has its reality only in individuals and individual peoples. Humanity is differentiated over many different individual cultures. Therefore Herder indicates differences in humanity and individual characters. According to him humanity as a species cannot make progress, for this would undermine the sense of progress itself. If humanity would make progress from the beginning towards the final fulfilment, at the same time no specific historical individual would enjoy the results of this progress of humanity at the end. So what is the sense of this progress?
It is understandable that Herder does not like the concept of cosmopolitanism either. Because humanity is an abstract concept for Herder, cosmopolitanism is a kind of empty humanity. The heart of a cosmopolitan is a house for nobody according to Herder. Last but not least, Herder is interested in the notion of 'people' before the transformation to state. He mistrusts the bigger formations as the state as something artificial. Actually he denies the value of the social contract and of the state for the sake of natural communities. Herder is already thinking in terms of community and society. So he explicitly denies all Kantian values though, interestingly enough, he is inspired by Kant. For the intention of Kant's Critique of Judgment is to bridge the gulf between nature and reason.
4. Sensus communis: cultural and intercultural
Kants universalistic way of thinking has to be defended, but only after having taken into account the position of Herder. Of course, humanity is only real in different cultural settings. But the reverse is also true as Herder knows himself. Because all cultures are different manifestations of humanity, there is a possibility of transcending every cultural context. This is the basis of the meeting of cultures. Every culture has its foundation in a specific sensus communis, and the meeting of cultures is based on a sensus communis underlying the specific sensus communes.
We can further learn of the principle of sensus communis that humanity as a universal sensus communis is not an abstract concept, but occurs in this encounter. Just as individuals in one and the same act transcend their biological nature, that means become human, socialize and make a civilization, so cultures in one and the same act of transcending their particularity socialize with other cultures and 'create' humanity in every particular encounter.
What we need is the development of a sensus communis between different cultures. How can we style our cultural particularity in such a way that we make our identity communicable to others? How does a culture become receivable for another culture?
When a society, based on an explicitly social contract, presupposes a kind of tacitly original contract in the form of a sensus communis, does not a world unity, conceived as a society of societies presuppose some intercultural sensus communis that precedes all political differences?
Let us apply this reinterpretation to a specific question and combine Herder and Kant in a modern way. When a gens or community has to make a transition to a modern 'contractual' state, then such a transition is only possible on the basis of the virtues and values of the sensus communis, the 'original' contract of the existing culture. That means, when the international community of nations wants the nations to adopt a system based on human rights, these rights can be implemented only, when they find a legitimation in original cultural and religious ideas.
5. Sensus communis and modernity as a common horizon
It was, in my opinion, the book on Origin and Goal of History by K. Jaspers that already formulated very early, in 1949, the philosophical relevance of the fact that through the influence of modern technology humanity as the class of all human beings was not just an abstract concept anymore, but a reality. The famous, prophetic statement of Kant, that the community of nations has now gone so far, 'that a violation of rights in one part of the world is felt everywhere', had really come true. Jaspers' book is the application of Kant's notion of 'Perpetual Peace' under modern conditions.
Jaspers discovers the philosophical relevance of this fact and offers a theory of the possibility of intercultural communication on the basis of modernity as well as an intercultural criticism of modernity at the same time. Jaspers' concept of history is essentially not teleological and his concept of humanity is eminently communicative. In his opinion the teleological aspects are a matter of theology and not of philosophy! His concept of humanity really shows the synthesis of sensus communis as hermeneutics and as practical solidarity.
In his theory not only humanity in general becomes real in communication, but every specific human identity too. Every identity of a person or of a group originates in and through communication. I discover who I am within a communication with other people and this communication is a part of my identity. There is no identity before or outside this communication. For we mutually 'codetermine' each others' identity. That means universal sensus communis and particular identities come together in this concept of communication.
This concept of communication has many important consequences. It means according to Jaspers that we can discover in the reality of other cultures a unique and irreplaceable source of historical existence. At the same time this discovery reveals a possibility of ourselves. It is not our own existence. We are not this way of being human, but potentially we are. In this respect Indian and Chinese philosophies are challenges for Jaspers.
In this way of thought the fact is also interesting that it offers a basis for a theory of change without the loss of identity. That cultures change by influencing each other is now a normal fact as it was in the past. But this does not necessarily implicate a loss of identity. A real encounter and real communication with another culture can provoke a change by digging up new, undiscoverd possibilities within my own culture. In other words: change can mean growth of identity!
Jaspers thinks that the really humane basis of this process of intercultural communication was discovered in history with the emergence of the worldreligions and philosophical systems between 800 and 500 B.C. They all discovered the individual as the universal human. The Vedanta, Hinduism, Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism, the messages of Zoroaster, the biblical prophets and their Christian and Muslim successors, Greek philosophy, they all abandoned a group way of thinking and adressed their message as a universal message to every human being as an individual. Jaspers stresses the fact that this consensus between the worldreligions and philosophy should not be interpreted in a teleological way. It is not the necessary result of history! This fact is a kind of essential consensus by historical accident. At the same time, it is a chance that should be recognized as an appeal to realize humanity by communication. Therefore, this situation is a kind of practical imperative. For a long period, this perspective of man as an individual did not realize itself socio?politically. The large nations that followed on this period blocked a real understanding of human individuality. But today, this ancient concept of the value of human individuality has a chance of realizing itself under modern conditions. In the idea of universal individuality again we meet a kind of universal sensus communis which we become conscious of in the situation of modernity.
In Western history, modernity is something really new. It consists of scientific thinking and technology on the one hand and of the democratic political ideal on the other hand. The emergence of this modernity is influenced by biblical religion according to Jaspers, but, unlike Hegel, he does not see modernity as a result of Christianity as such. This has to do with the fact that, according to Jaspers, Christianity or whatever religion is not the absolute religion. Therefore modernity shows the necessity of dialogues between religions.
Modernity is a process that has spread out over the world, but that is in danger of loosing its true potentiality for freedom. The technological worldview and the democratic ideal both deteriorate to nihilism, mass society, ideologies without an anchoring in the truly humane. Jaspers is aware of the argument that says that modern culture is a threat to non?Western cultures. His answer is that it is a threat to Western culture, too. Modernity is a common predicament in good as well as bad developments. Modernity will always need the anchoring in the humanistic heritage of the universal religions and philosophy.
In a real Kantian sense Jaspers is looking to a new worldorder, a nondespotical unity in plurality. But looking for more than reasonably can be expected, according to Kant, he directs his hopes at a federation of states in which the claims of national sovereignty are neutralized in favour of humanity. The faith underlying this worldorder depends of the great traditions that stem from the major changes in 800?500 B.C. Just as one cannot expect a common worldstate, but only a kind of federation, one cannot expect a common belief. Nor can one hope for a new religion with a new revelation. This revelation would prove its falseness in its violent exclusiveness.
For it is clear according to Jaspers that the truth of faith in the plurality of its historical manifestations can only be real in an ever continuing and intensifying communication. This is the way religions are real in the coming worldorder and philosophy exists, according to Jaspers, to criticize all exclusive claims and blind intolerance. It represents the superdenominational position of all individuality as such. And the dialogue between religions and philosophies is necessary to protect human individuality in the modern situation from the distortions of modernity. By this theory of communication and pluralism Jaspers bridges the gulf between Kant and Herder in a better way than Hegel, in his Eurocentric way of thought, does. The dialogue is the outcome of the universal sensus communis. And this dialogue wants respect for particularity.
I would like to come to some more specific conclusions on the basis of Jaspers' theory. Firstly, the idea that communication with other cultures implies the discovery of new possibilities in a specific culture can be applied on the encounter of a culture with modernity. Jaspers only deals with the fact of modernity as the basic condition of intercultural communication. But how do you communicate with the culture of modernity? In a very specific sense modernity provokes other cultures to changes which they can only survive when they find possibilities in their traditional culture, in their particular sensus communis as the basis for an implantation of modernity. As I have already said, Jaspers' theory of communication between the worldviews offers a possibility of realizing changes without loss of identity. The internalization of foreign influences can even be an enrichment and growth of identity. Modernity especially confronts non?Western cultures with this challenge, as it once did Western culture itself.
When we develop Jaspers' theory in this way we gain greater insight in the Reformation movements of the Hindu and Islamic world in the nineteenth century. They all tried to find a basis in tradition for modernization. For them this implied reformation as a process of change without loss of identity! Interesting is that Jaspers' theory of a premodern conception of the universal individual that has a chance to realize himself in modernity is confirmed by these movements. They indeed try to establish aspects of modern individualism and democracy on the basis of this premodern conception of the individual present in their religion. At the same time, one should add, is this conception the sensus communis of the worldreligion.
6. Modernity and reform movements: India and Turkey
I want to present two nineteenth century reformation movements. Both tried to relate modernism to central tenets of traditional belief in order to solve social and political problems. The difference between the two movements is that the first one succeeded from a political perspective and became the origin of modern India. The second one did not. The movement of the young Ottomans prepared the emergence of modern Turkey, but is not really the father of it. Eventually a modern secularist Turkey came into existence that still has problems with its religious legitimation. But, as we will see, this fact was a result of politics and not of Islam.
Both reform movements were inspired by the need to integrate modern natural sciences, the origin of Western military power, and modern social?political ideas. Both were interested in the Christian reformation of Luther, because this reformation introduced modernity in the Western Christian world. It did so by going back to the original sources!
A religious reformation never appears by claiming to introduce something new, but, on the contrary, always declares to restore the origin. Every religion knows this kind of reformation movements. The specific character of the reform movements we speak about is that the feeling of the need to go back to the beginning originated in the confrontation with modernity. Therefore these movements were interested in the Lutheran reformation.
The famous Hindu reformist Ram Mohun Roy (1772?1883) was not afraid of a confrontation of Indian thought with Western science. He saw the possibility of a synthesis between Indian thinking and Western natural sciences and political ideas. The encounter with Western culture was a fruitful challenge to rethink the central ideas of Indian philosophy and theology. Roy investigated Indian history to rediscover the original religious values that had got lost in particular, unessential historical developments. For him, for example, the custom of burning widows was an aberration of true Indian belief. He stimulated the British to abolish this custom, while the British government, frightened of loosing power, respected this and other local customs on the basis of a false kind of cultural relativism. Through the influence of his thought the principle of religious freedom was incorporated in the Indian constitution, together with a prohibition of cruel religious practices.
From the perspective of Jaspers' philosophy it is a very interesting fact that Roy discovered the mystical teaching of the Self of the Upanishads and Vedanta philosophy to be the original Hindu thought. For this type of philosophy differs from the traditional Vedic beliefs by the fact that it recognizes the human being, without distinction of class, nation or caste, as an individual. Individuality as universal principle breaks through. Vedanta philosophy is for Roy the true original message of Indian thinking. At the same time these original values are reinterpreted in the perspective of modernity, for he interprets this idea of human individuality in a social and political way as the dignity of the individual in society. Indian social theory and legitimation of power was never based on mystical philosophy. From the other side, mysticism, the discovery of the Self was considered to be pre?eminently an activity transcending all politics. By turning this mystical Self that was believed to be an universal possibility of every human being into a social political individual Roy could give a basis to the idea of human rights in his culture. In his Indian way he appropriated the idea of human rights.
Through this internal recognition of the value of the human rights he could criticize British colonialism and ask the British why they did not give human rights to the Indians. By reinterpreting the Indian tradition from the viewpoint of Vedanta philosophy, he gave shape to 'Hinduism' as a religion for Indian intellectuals by means of which they could integrate the modern Western worldview in a religious?philosophical system that in depth and subtlety could rival with Western systems.
The other reform movement I want to discuss had quite another result. There is only an indirect relation between the movement of the Young Ottomans, inspired by Islam, and the Republic of Turkey. The religious link was lost and this loss still causes problems of legitimation. Indeed, modern secular Turkey has its roots partly in a reform movement that was inspired by the idea of a renewal and restoration of islamic values.
The movement of the young Ottomans, to be distinguished from the movement of the Young Turks in the beginning of our century, was itself a reaction to preceding attempts towards a reformation. At the end of the eighteenth century, the bureaucrats of the Ottoman Empire felt the need for a reformation because of the military defeats due to modern Western technology. In 1837 they introduced a set of reforms of the army, the education system, taxpaying system on a Western basis, and the so?called Tanzimat (literally this means 'reformation'). At the same time a Western style of daily life, of clothing for example, was made obligatory. For several reasons this reformation did not succeed. One of the counter-reactions was that everything went wrong because Islam was neglected. Therefore the Yong Ottomans were convinced that reformations should be established on firm Islamic ground. The top-down character of the reformation was the issue at stake.
Namik Kemal (1840?1888) is the most outstanding personality among the young Ottomans. Now he is known, above all, as a nationalist in Turkey. But, as Serif Mardin showed, in the first instance he was an Islamist. His efforts to integrate elements of Western thought into Islamic conceptions are impressive and useful, not only for learning something about Ottoman thinking, but also for a confrontation with our own Western background.
Kemal tried to find equivalents in Moslim thinking for severla points of western social theory. So he was not a narrow 'culturalist', but a generalist in a Kantian style. Therefore he had no problems with taking over the specific results of other cultures. 'Take it where you can get it', was his slogan which is a very practical form of sensus communis. He tried to discover a legitimate ground for political activism in Islamic thinking and thereby to avoid and relativate the religious predestinarian beliefs that inhibited all action.
He was very much intrigued by the idea of a social contract as the basis for democracy, people's sovereignty and human rights. We have already seen how Kant uses the idea of the social contract in relation to the sensus communis. The young Ottomans, inspired by French thinking concerning the social contract, for example by Rousseau, tried to implement this idea in the sensus communis of their own culture. Namik Kemal strove to build an Islamic equivalent of social contract thinking in his theory of society. He reflected upon society as the outcome of the human need for protection of freedom against enmity. This 'natural' explanation of society is not in contradiction with Islamic theory.
The second step was a theory of government. In this theory there is a positive relation between government and Islam. Government is founded theoretically by the delegation of power to the leader (imam) of the community. In governed society the Muslim law of shari'a is valid, but according to Namik Kemal the shari'a is identical with the law of nature. This surprising interpretation of shari'a as natural law stems from the fact that Islam does not possess something like a neutral 'law of nature', based on an autonomous nature of things. Christian philosophy and theology established a synthesis between the autonomous nature of man and things and their dependence of God in their theory of creation, which for example Al?Ghazali did not establish. Therefore, according to Serif Mardin, the humanism of mystical Islam in Turkish tradition had to help Namik Kemal a bit in his universalistic interpretation of shari'a. We meet again Jaspers at this point, and there seems to be some resemblance with Ram Mohun Roy.
But according to Mardin, in Islam there is a substantial basis for the idea of the social contract and the ideal of human rights. According to Islamic theology man has an agreement with God when he testifies that God is his lord and he is his 'slave'. On the basis of this agreement, explains Mardin, he is not only an object of imprescriptible rights on the part of God, but at the same time subject of imprescriptible rights vis?à ?vis the world. Therefore man has been granted a free and inviolable juridical personality in relation with other men. 'Since these liberties are the result of an agreement, one could almost say a contract, with God, no human being can ever curtail the liberty of another Muslim', explains Mardin.
Mardin forgets to mention that this statement is not very far from John Locke's view that, because man is the property of God, he cannot be the property of his fellow man. A theological heteronomy is the basis of interhuman autonomy and of human rights, according to the theory of the founding father of Western liberalism! And again we meet Karl Jaspers. For it is this premodern individuality, based on a convenant with God, that modern Islamic thinkers tried to interpret as a subject of human rights, resulting in a modern individual.
The idea of a social contract between people and a sovereign is based by Kemal on the concept of biat. This concept plays a role in the way the authority of the caliphs is confirmed by an elective body of notables, 'the men of the pen and the men of the sword', who were considered to be 'binders and looseners'. This body stipulates the bond on which rests the power of the prince and the obedience of his subjects due to him. By accepting the investiture, the caliph binds himself to exercise his power within the limits laid down by divine law. Because this elective body to a certain extent represents the people, according to Kemal it is the people that enter into contract with the sovereign. In this way, Namik Kemal tries to formulate a theory of people's sovereignty on a Muslim basis.
It is easy to indicate the differences between these Islamic conceptions and modern Western ones. Mardin makes clear that the contract between the sultan and the community is not a delegation of a part of the people's sovereignty to the sultan. Sovereignty belongs to God. However, even Mardin accepts the theory that the relation with the Muslim community can be interpreted as a 'tacit contract' .
In this respect it is also relevant that Namik Kemal could not accept the continental postrevolutionary idea of the state as the principle lawgiver. Islamic law is essentially law made by scholars, the state as such was never considered to be the principle source of lawmaking. Therefore Kemal did not look to postrevolutionary continental European states, but to the common law tradition of the Anglosaxon world that did not go through the French Revolution and was not influenced by Napoleontic lawmaking. According to Mardin we meet in this independent position of the Islamic lawspecialists an Islamic basis for the idea of civil society.
Why did this synthesis not succeed socially and politically? Of course, this reform-thinking was a product of intellectuals and bureaucrats that lacked the support of an uprising middle class. The modern individual was not there yet. The weak point in Young Ottoman thinking was its state?orientedness. It payed no attention tot the idea of individualism as a principle of society as such. Only Prince Sabahattin regards the individual as the basis of society. Again, that has nothing to do with Islam as such. European culture always had an antiliberal, romantic, 'communitarian' reaction to liberalism. According to Mardin, the antiliberal romantic thinker Herder is present, too, in the works of Namik Kemal.
But why did modern Turkey in the end lose its ties with the Islamic origin of its own modernism? Not because of Islam, but because of politics! Because the sultan feared the alliance between the liberals and the religious teachers - the ulema - he persecuted the liberals and actively encouraged obscurantism in the medresses, the Moslim teaching institutions. The two elements of the possible modernist Islamic synthesis drifted apart. Activism without a deep foundation got the upper hand. 'As to the ulema, they never recovered from the blow dealt them by the "defender of the faith", the sultan?caliph.'
Therefore, secular Turkey is the outcome of a top?down modernist revolution that tried to eliminate Islam politically. Islam could not be seen anymore as a possible legitimation of modernization. As a product of a cultural elite this modernization movement has no substantial connection wih traditonal cultural values. The modern society based on the ideas of the social contract did not find its roots in the cultural sensus communis, the original contract of Turkish society. Nationalism, the consciously constructed new 'civil religion' did not succeed in its task. Therefore, the introduction of modern political ideas entailed the introduction of a new culture and a break with the past. Refastening the broken chains between present and past remains a challenge for Turkey in the years to come.
7. Sensus communis: dialogue and solidarity
We come to a conclusion. We went a long road from Kant's concept of sensus communis as a universal feeling of human togetherness and as the principle of civilization as such to different cultures as specific embodiments of this universal sense. With the help of the philosophy of Karl Jaspers we developed a concept of intercultural communication as the sensus communis of these different 'sensus communes'. The philosophy of Jaspers showed that modernity is the context of the dialogue between philosophies and religions. The transition from a universal premodern concept of man as an individual to modern individuality and the foundation of this modern individuality in this universal concept is the content of this dialogue. His idea that this real universal human individuality can only realize itself under modern conditions is fruitful for the analysis of nineteenth century reform-movements.
So dialogue is another word for sensus communis, for it is the synthesis of the universal and the particular, cultural sensus communes. But this dialogue concerning modernity is still one?sided. Non?Western cultures are integrating modernity in their tradition, but what do Western cultures do with these non?Western traditions? Jaspers hinted at the possibilities that non?Western philosophies could offer to Western culture. He hinted, too, at the threat that modernity means for Western culture itself. So we are already discussing our own problems together. Therefore, the best translation of sensus communis within the common horizon of modernity is solidarity.
1. I. Kant, 'On perpetual peace', in: H. Reiss (ed.), Kant's Political Writings, Cambridge 1977, p. 114.
5. See P. Guyer: 'Pleasure and Society in Kant's Theory of Taste', in: T. Cohen/P. Guyer (eds), Essays in Kant's Aesthetics. Chicago 1985, p. 21?55.
6. Kant: Critique of Judgment, Akademie Ausgabe, Berlin 1968, vol. V, § 40.2.
7. See Kant: Critique of Judgment, loc. cit. (note 6) § 41, p. 163?164.
8. Kant: 'Idea for a universal history with a cosmopolitan purpose'. In: Reiss, op. cit. (note 1), p. 45.
9. Kant: Anthropologie in pragmatioscher Absicht, I, § 69, Akademie Ausgabe, loc. cit. (note 6), vol. VII, p. 244.
11. Kant: Anthropologie, op. cit. (note 9), II, C, p. 311.
12. Op. cit. (note 9), Part II,C, p. 312.
13. See E.Durkheim: De la division du travail social, Paris 1996, p. 401.
14. Kant: Recensionen von J.G.Herders Ideen zur Philosophie der Geschichte der Menschheit., Akademie Ausgabe, loc. cit. (note 6), vol. VIII, p. 43?66 especially p. 58?68; J.G.Herder: Ideen zur Philosophie der Geschichte der Menschheit, part II, book 8, Ed. Darmstadt 1966, p. 221?224.
15. K. Jaspers, Ursprung und Ziel der Geschichte. München 1983, 19491.
16. Kant: 'Perpetual peace', loc.cit. (note 1), p. 108.
17. See for more elaboration of this subject: G.Steunebrink: 'Toleranz in Europa nach dem Ende des Kulturrelativismus'. In: K. Hahn, M. Husemann?Lüking, Föderale Perspektiven für Europa (Europa 2000. Studien zur interdisziplinären Deutschland? und Europaforschung, Band 8), Münster 1995, p. 277?307.
18. Jaspers theory does not give insight into the problems of so-called 'tribal' cultures of our days. I cannot offer here a modification of his theory, making it apt for applying to 'tribal cultures' and their religions.
19. V. van Bijlert: 'Raja Rammohun Roy's thought and its relevance for human rights'. In: A.A. An?Na'im/J.D.Gort/H.Jansen/H.J.Vroom (eds.), Human Rights and Religious Values, an Uneasy Relationship? Amsterdam 1995, p. 93?109.
20. See S. Mardin: Türk Modernlesmesi, Istanbul 1992, p. 9.
21. Abdullah Kaygi: Türk düsüncesinde çagdaslasma, Gündogan, Ankara 1992, p. 73.
22. Mardin, op. cit. (note 20)., p.93.
23. Mardin: The Genesis of Young Ottoman thought, Princeton University Press, 1962, p. 294.
24. Mardin: 'Freedom in an Ottoman Perspective', in: M. Heeper/A. Ervin (eds.), State, Democracy and the Military, Turkey in the 1980's. Berlin/New York 1988, p. 23?35.
25. Mardin, op. cit. (note23), p. 408.
26. N. Göle: The Forbidden Modern. Ann Arbor 1996, p. 140.
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