Frank U. Uyanne, Awka (Nigeria) and Rotterdam
The phrase: sensus communis, especially in its Kantian interpretation, has a very specific meaning. For Kant, aesthetic judgments deal with understanding and, in a specific way, especially with feeling. But for the Igbo, no judgment has such a unique character. Every judgment involves the use of uche, which embodies all the human faculties. For every claim one makes one is expected to have thought of it thoroughly. Treating African art and Yoruba values, Barry Hallen argues that we should ‘avoid the arbitrary division that has been introduced into English language discourse by the use of the separate terms ‘ethics’ (as arising from morality) and ‘aesthetic’ (as arising from art) as if naming two different intellectual realms’.1 Without the formulation or the use of ‘words’, in whichever language, with all its limitations, there is a greater awareness of the fact that all judgments have the same nature arising from uche.
I agree with Kimmerle that Kant’s idea of sensus communis undermines a sharp or clear-cut distinction between reason and feeling. But Kant does not get as far as, for instance the Igbo or the Yoruba, in bridging the gap. Since sensus communis is of a specific language, one may have to speak of the subject matter in other languages. I do not mean an attempt to translate the phrase. Such translations tend to obscure the reality at stake.
Assuming that the challenges involved might require an intercultural approach, I have decided to distinguish two realms of sensus communis by the use of Igbo phrase uche ora or obi ora. One can say uche obodo or obi obodo too. However, ora appears to be more general than obodo. In a certain sense, Uche ora can also be compared with ‘general will’ as different from the ‘will of all’ in Rousseau. Judgment, which amounts to the assertion of uche ora or obi ora, both of which mean exactly the same thing, might be the highest form of judgment. In this context, ora which means community, can refer to any collectivity of all times and all places. It can, therefore, embrace the entire humanity.
In its most common usage, ora refers to a definite group of people within a definite territory. This shared geo-political unit is often consecrated as aja-ani, the earth goddess. Ora can also refer to social groups. One can say, where two or more are gathered, there is ora or community. The term obodo will not be appropriate in this sense. With respect to specific collectivities, sensus communis, like the ‘the general will’ or uche ora, is limited. However, for the Igbo, uche ora embraces the entire members of an Igbo community, namely, the living, the living-dead (ancestors) and the unborn. To describe or to ascertain the sense, will, uche or obi of the community is extremely difficult. To universalize it from one’s perspective is even more difficult.
How the two realms can be treated, for instance, in matters of shared aesthetic or political positions, is treated below with reference to the Igbo. Though Kant prefers the term ‘judgment’, in this analysis, the word ‘assertion’, ‘claim’ or other equivalents are used interchangeably.
2. Two notions of common in sensus communis
The distinction concerns sensus communis or uche ora as referring either to all humans or to any specific group or community. In the first sense, there can be just only one uche embracing all humans. In the second sense, there can be as many different senses or wills as there are communities or groups. Usually, however, each general claim is regarded as uche ora in terms of embracing all humans. W. Dilthey refers to these general claims as Weltanschauungen, or in English: worldviews. They embody judgments, which can be true or false, correct or incorrect, adequate or inadequate and so forth. They are subjects for intercultural dialogue. How this dialogue can proceed is a matter for dialogue too. The various cultures, schools, traditions, communities or worldviews might not share a common method ab initio. Here, I shall adopt the Igbo approach in their quest for consensus about uche ora.
Among the Igbo, uche ora is not static or definitively fixed, but dynamic embracing both resilience and change. As an embodiment of the claims of all the members of a community: the living, the living-dead (ancestors) and the unborn it is impinged upon from diverse angles. The elders in their wisdom must respect the young or azi in Igbo. They will query, who knows with what azi one comes to the world’.2 They are also watchful of the inspirations people can gain through traveling. Due to this, they hold that a traveler is wiser than an old man.3 At the same time, they add that ‘if a traveler is about to get lost, it is the old man who redeems him’.4 One needs to bear in mind that the Igbo believe in re-incarnation. These ingredients make the determination of sensus communis or uche ora an interesting art among the Igbo. They expect to pay great attention to the minutest details in order to ensure that their judgment indeed is uche ora.
They would expect a universal assent because they say: uche onye adigh ya njo, in a positive sense, that one’s (or a group’s) will is pleasing to one (or to the group). But they know that their judgment can be challenged or that they might modify it in respect of relevant data. We have witnessed the transformation of the Igbo uche ora, for instance, from the rejection of twins to great love for them. So far, I do not know of any claim that the gods, the ancestors, the living or the unborn are protesting about this innovation. The greatest challenge of the Igbo is to maintain a very high degree of consensus in order to preserve their solidarity.
I wish to borrow Kwame Gyekye’s idea of ‘essential universality’ and that of ‘contingent universality’5 in order to distinguish two moments of sensus communis or uche ora as referring to all humans. Though all such judgments call for universal assent, such an assent can be evaluated in two ways. First, a judgment might qualify as sensus communis in the sense that all humans already have always seen it to be so. Love for solidarity of the members of a community might be part of the uche ora of any given community, though this can only be established in a dialogue. This type of uche ora can be said to enjoy the character of essential universality. Human ignorance that it is ever made at all times and in all places, does not negate its existence. Some of such elements can be found in the various worldviews.
Second, it might happen that through contact, interaction or dialogue, certain aspects of particular worldviews gain universal acclaim. The love for twins might not qualify as part of the uche ora of all communities at all times and in all places. At least, it was not the case among the Igbo. For this, I reserve the character of contingent universality. It remains, however, to be found if there was no protest against such exclusion at any time or place in Igboland. Whatever is the case, the fact of exclusion points to a degree of inadequacy of the uche ora in such a context. Therefore, the universality of a judgment or claim requires to be scrutinized in the same way a particular community has to do about its own limited collective or general claims. The Igbo achieve this type of consensus by what I refer to as corporate thinking. This is the interaction of the will or uche of every member of a community in the process of achieving a consensus. This consensus, by its very nature, does not belong to any one of the members but to the community as such. Igbo elders work hard to achieve this in order to maintain their solidarity. They do not see any a priori general claim or uche ora. They avail themselves of various means including spiritual ones in order to achive sensus communis or uche ora.
Even if sensus communis or uche ora is out there only to be discovered, no individual person or group might have the capacity to establish what it is for all humans, or for any community, at any time. No single Igbo person can deal with uche ora. S/he will direct the inquirer to the particular ora or community. Where the ora is indefinite, or cannot be found, the question scarcely makes any sense. The consciousness that community exists can only inspire a serious inquiry at the end of which issues concerning its will can yield definite results. The concept of ora has neither temporal nor spatial limitations, but can apply to various collectivities.
3. Sensus communis in specific fields
This section deals with the status of aesthetic or political judgments. Here, the two notions of common in sensus communis are important. Therefore, in accordance with our analysis in section two, it will be appropriate to use the term uche ora or obi ora in this context.
Sensus communis in the field of political judgments: The management of human affairs has not taken one form. The reality is that different communities tend to fashion their various ways to maintain or create order among their members. A certain idea, which informs the political life of a given community, may be called its sensus communis politicus. That man is homo politicus, a political person, does not reduce the diversity of this sense. What humans, today, face is a choice between dictatorship and democracy, though the line between both is not yet clear-cut. In certain societies, it is more a matter of choice between the military and civilian forms of government. At times, a military option may be more popular: involving more people, than a civilian one about which we can talk of dictatorship of the majority, especially when indeed only the minority is in power.
One can ask: what is uche ora about democracy? To answer this, the Igbo must put the question to the ora itself. They cannot leave it to any individual however respectable s/he may be. There is a popular proverb that one person cannot answer or be called ora. An issue like this often keeps the entire members of a village literally speechless for split moments during which the elder could remark that the spirits (the ancestors or the gods) have taken over. This is the moment each person would be searching his or her own uche to find out what the uche ora could be. One could say that, for the ora democracy means collective decision, action and responsibility of a people for their own good. Another could refer to democracy as the will of the majority. But this will not be truly the uche ora since it contains a basic element of exclusion. They might end up with the claim that for the ora democracy is the institutionalization of collective decisions and actions, which must be representative of all the interests in the society. At this stage, what the Igbo will wait for is any possible voice of dissent without which the judgment or claim is sealed with the ancestral staff of justice called ofo. Some scholars refer to Igbo democracy as ‘oracracy’ or ‘ofocracy’. What is universal and in what sense in the above specific general claim is for humans to decide by any means they deem appropriate.
Thus, with respect to civilian political organization, it is not enough to refer to it as democracy in order to consider it to be acceptable to any particular ora or to all humans. There is need to ask the question: which type of democracy? That is to say, the suitability of a form of democracy must be asserted in terms of certain considerations. Even the members of a particular community might need to, constantly, re-evaluate the suitability of their own form of democracy. Similarly, the transfer of the political sense of a certain community to another, or its acceptance by the members of the later community, requires serious or painstaking scrutiny. This judgment regarding the suitability of a certain political sense has to be made by the people on the basis of their experience.
Assuming that all humans see democracy as a form of arrangement in which power belongs to the people, it is still up to the various peoples to decide what it means in their own context. When in a system power, indeed belongs to the people, it must be declared democracy. If the contrary is the case, it must be rejected for its failure to satisfy this requirement. But this judgment is all through the responsibility of the ora. A system can also be only more or less democracy. The idea of democracy and that of a specific form of democracy, respectively, can enjoy the status of ‘essential’ and ‘contingent’ universality. Humans can readily assent to the former as democracy, just as the latter could require closer scrutiny.
While calling the attention of others to assent to this type of political judgment as good for all humans, the easier judgment to sell is the one, which commands greater persuasion. This is the one that has greater chance to attain essential universality. Africans can easily achieve consensus or even unanimity about the claim that democracy is good for Africa. It can be true about African general claims. The assertion that partisan democracy is good for Africa might fail woefully. It thereby fails as valid for all humans, and fails as uche ora in its universal sense. It is this type of claim that ought to come constantly under scrutiny.
The satisfaction, which democracy must give, is the basis of whether or not the people can readily and willingly give their assent. Being a type of assent, which does not have a logical compulsion, no other person is in any better position to decide than the people themselves. It is possible to dismiss a judgment of some kind as mistaken, without thereby negating the idea of democracy as a system in which power belongs to the people. This rests on what can be called its essential universal character.
Under democracy, therefore, what matters is that all the members of a community are part and parcel of the political life and political decisions of their community. But, as Kimmerle writes: ‘majority-rule does not always and not automatically carry out the ‘general will’ of a community. There are forms of 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…. In the present day world it can be doubted what G.W.F. Hegel has stated in his Philosophy of Right (1821), that the modern constitutional state is the apt political organization to guarantee “concrete freedom”. This is doubtful with regard to the political life in the Western hemisphere. It becomes highly problematic if the Western model of democracy is applied in non-Western countries.’6
With a more specific reference, W.M.J. van Binsbergen evaluates the transfer of the Western democratic models to specific African societies. He asserts: ‘The specific constitutional pattern thus stipulated in the new nation-states of Africa in the 1960s could boast only a shallow time depth on African soil. Its roles, statuses, rights and organizational forms; and the concrete procedures of candidacy, individual vote, loyal opposition, etc., as defined by that pattern, were alien to the indigenous structures of legitimate political power which had prevailed in most parts of Africa through most of the 19th and early 20th century. In other words, the pattern was not in continuity with modes of participation and legitimation which Africans from a village background would spontaneously apply in their immediate face-to-face social environment.’7
The above quotations raise doubts about the extent the partisan model represents African sensus commuis. While the first indicates that it might not apply to the West or Europe too. This doubt is increasingly raised in different societies where its introduction has led to serious violence or war. Referring to partisan democracy, the International Institute for Democracy and Elections (IDEA) declare as follows: ‘Since the fall of the Berlin wall, more than fifty countries around the world have organized elections for the first time in their existence. But at the same time, we have seen more than a hundred serious violent conflicts around the world’.8
As a remedy, Kimmerle suggests that ‘the possibility would be created to implement ways of decision-making in political life which are more basically democratic and to give rights to communities which are positioned crosswise to the nation-states’.9 Remarkably, the three quotations recognize the limitations of a specific model of democracy. Yet, none of them questions the validity of the basic judgment about democracy. By not throwing the entire idea or judgment about democracy over board, we can recognize the basic power of the mind to draw certain limits in its judgment.
By the nature of the object of political judgment, which is not like that of mathematical ‘2+2=4’, there is no logical basis to claim any universal applicability. The risk to implement a certain model of democracy must be the responsibility of the members of a society. Once they enjoy the taste of power belonging to them, then, they are compelled to assent that it is democracy. The judgment that, now, power indeed belongs to them is a judgment whose validity they can or must accept because each of them has uche, the ability to judge. Among the Igbo, a major sign that a judgment could fall short of uche ora is when even a person objects to it. Such a voice is not ignored or dismissed because the person does not speak just for himself but also for all: the living, the living-dead and the unborn. Often such a last moment insight grasps the uche ora thereby saving the community the consequences of a wrong judgment. This is also the case when different communities are in search of their common general will. Each of them is expected to give assent only willingly or without any coercion.
The insight from an analysis of sensus communis in the field of political judgments is such that it can free humans from a form of enslavement to theories. It disposes people to be aware of the fact that they could be mistaken about what constitutes uche ora. Their judgments might have inadequately grasped the reality at stake. By the nature of the object of a political judgment, we need to ever update our data, which is scarcely ever sufficient, to move a particular political judgment to the status of ‘contingent’ or even ‘essential’ universality. This is one way to make up for the fallibility of an individual’s or a group’s judgment, which is assumed to be shared by all humans.
Sensus communis in the field of aesthetic judgments: In this section, sensus communis or uche ora (obi ora) is treated with respect to both a communiy of all humans or a specific community. The Igbo say, ife di nma n’anya gbaa, beauty delights the eye. This aesthetic claim can enjoy universal validity because all humans can give their assent to it. But the actual content of Igbo aesthetic worldview, which is determined by the various claims of beauty they share, must not square up with any other aesthetic worldview. Among the Igbo, the eye in the above assertion or judgment refers not only to the external but also to the internal eye. This does not mean that any two aesthetic worldviews must be mutually exclusive. All of them might share what Gyekye will call an essentially universal aspect of human aesthetic judgment. They are capable of transcending the particular worldview in which they originate. The members of the various worldviews soon recognize how much they share with people, who belong to various other worldviews. This consciousness is based on the common power of humans to make valid aesthetic claims. They can disagree until they all grasp the reality at stake.
An issue, which I wish to address is the claim that an aesthetic judgment is spontaneous. C. Jacobs writes: ‘Sensus communis demands an intellect which has lost its way. There is nothing ready. What takes place is spontaneous. … We find something beautiful or not beautiful. This judgment takes place as it were before we understand it or can put it in any schema and is thus in a certain sense a blind judgment.’10 I have tried to experience how aesthetic judgment can be made, especially in terms of uche ora. In this connection, all words or languages are methodically denied or suspended. Once this is done, the word ‘beauty’ disappears. The word claim, assertion or judgment vanishes too. One seems to be left with only one’s contact with reality. This contact is delightful, but there is no word attached to the experience. There does not seem to be any form of process of arriving at it. Without any label, the bright light of uche, on the basis of which this contact is possible, can be denied too. It just happens. This could be why one can describe aesthetic judgments as being blind ‘in a certain sense’.
But, how indeed spontaneous is it to judge something to be beautiful? As is suggested, too, what is blind about such a judgment? Beauty is not just a matter of the external but also of the internal characteristics. A human claim, which involves ‘the free play of the cognitive powers or faculties’,11 cannot be easily referred to as being spontaneous. It can be deliberate or complex depending on its object or the subject. When a community is the subject, the tendency is for such a judgment to be very deliberate or complex. The test of a person’s aesthetic claim is not just a matter of accept or reject it. What beauty or nma means for all humans or a particular community is not easy to determine. A specific aesthetic sense, which characterizes a people is an outcome of years of deliberation and modification of consensus on the basis of which their solidarity rests. This colours the institutions of the given community. Such a communal aesthetic sense can scarcely be altered, except through committed dialogue whose aim is to reach a consensus. A judgment, which arises from corporate thinking or ‘collective reflection’,12 as Gupta will put it, cannot be spontaneous but deliberate.
Except feeling or intuition means something else, an aesthetic judgment is just like other human judgments. I think that it is the idea of beauty without any word or language that raises the issue of intuition. The aesthetic sense of a community, for instance in terms of its rituals, institutions or codes of conduct cannot easily be appreciated except one has developed the sharp eyes to see it. Like a child, an outsider might not have the keen mind to see such communal aesthetic sense. The act of focusing after which an aesthetic claim is made shows that the judgment could be deliberate and complex. We can argue like A. C. Ewing that ‘the best and most reliable intuition comes after reasoning and not before’.13 It might be that our linguistic tools are too poor to represent what we experience. We can argue, too, that the faculties are always at work, though to deal with various objects in appropriate ways. Each subsequent claim in support of any previous one, de facto, extends the community of those to which a certain sense belongs. But this does not automatically prove that such a claim is truly shared by all humans. We can claim only the possibility that all humans can give their free assent to this specific worldview.
Indeed, the greater value, which the Igbo attach to inner rather than to outer beauty is just part of their aesthetic worldview. Due to this, they say, for instance, agwa bu nma, that character is beauty. A person who is externally beautiful, but internally not is referred to as ocha k’omaka or as o malu nma n’ugbene, that such beauty is just like that of the feathers: too shallow. Such a judgment of beauty cannot be so simple or spontaneous, but complex and deliberate. Even if such a judgment is about only externalities, it is itself complex since it contrasts with things that are not beautiful. This issue is more difficult to deal with in an arena in which different cultures negotiate their respective sensus communis aestheticus. Their ability to reach a consensus is one way they can make any sense of the aesthetic sense of all humans.
Like the Igbo, the Yoruba rate the internal beauty higher too. ‘In virtually every account of the term, however, ewa or beauty as a physical attribute was rated superficial and unimportant by comparison with good moral character (iwa rere) as a (metaphorical?) form of ‘inner’ beauty’.14 The iwa or inner beauty Hallen describes as ‘the head (highest form) of beauty (ewa)’.15 In an intercultural arena, in which all the cultures are represented, the possibility exists that this judgment might not be shared by all humans, at least not without some modifications. After all, the language issue must be ironed out in order to be sure that all humans refer to exactly the same aesthetic judgment. A judgment of beauty, which can qualify as uche ora, the general claim of all humans or of any particular group, seems to be the exclusive right of the ora to make.
Reference to the inner quality in aesthetic judgment is noticeable, too, in the concept of ‘Art-Way (dô)’, which Ryosuke Ohashi elaborates on. In his paper, aesthetic judgment refers not only to the form but also to the content of its object. The same deep aesthetic appreciation can take place in relation to an object: mask, music, text, statue, drawing, design or picture, which might look very ordinary at first look. Aesthetic characteristics of cultural realities are richer than they may appear to be. It is more by a certain degree of abstraction that an obscene object can be described as beautiful. Nevertheless, such an aesthetic claim can have its own community of members. The inner evil power of such an object is as it were ignored, or not taken into account.
These various inclinations that define the aesthetic sense of a people are carried into an intercultural forum for fruitful engagement. No community may exist without its own aesthetic sense. But the test for its validity as shared by all humans is never the exclusive prerogative of the particular community. In this test, all the presuppositions of each community are subjected to radical scrutiny. What is being tested is not really whether various people have grasped any object or event, but how this takes place and whether all humans are referring to the same aspect of reality. That all humans refer to the same thing cannot be proved a priori, nor can it be foreclosed as impossible.
The aesthetic sense of a certain group may move its members in a certain direction. Definitely, it can influence their sense of pride or shame for example. This manifests even in a people’s sensitivity to the spoken word. One can think, too, of a certain masquerade being offensive to the taste of a community. People may modify their behaviour to the extent they appreciate the aesthetic sense of others. This can happen not only in terms of inner but also that of external beauty. Classical music may appeal to an entire cultural or social group, who may not like jazz music at all. The same thing can happen in the area of visual art. With time, the members of all the different aesthetic communities may find themselves across the boundaries. For instance, there may be more cultures today whose members appreciate classical music, reggae and juju. Cross-cultural exchanges of aesthetic values is, also, seen in terms of the style of dress, building, hair-cut and hair-do, walking, smiling, speaking and even in commerce: how goods are displayed or the general conduct of buying and selling. Each aesthetic sense, whose scope of membership increases is thereby being recognized as a possible contingently universal claim. There appears to be a move in the direction of the attainment of an aesthetic sense truly shared by all humans. The task of intercultural philosophy is to keep abreast of such trends and to give them clear expression.
4. Intercultural challenges of sensus communis
To acknowledge that sensus communis concerns not only what all humans share, but also what the members of various communities share has intercultural consequences. Just as the former enhances intercultural dialogue, the latter tends to militate against it. The prospects and problems of intercultural engagement are treated below, rather briefly. We try to examine, fruitfully, the grounds of consensus and those of dissensus. In this, too, we recognize the relevance of the shared human power of grasping reality, and their limited worldviews.
a) Basis of consensus: The most basic ground of reaching a consensus in intercultural dialogue is the fact that we can speak in terms, which are mutually understandable. Speech in this context is not just a matter of words, but overall interaction a substantial part of which could be non-verbal. A person can speak, assert, judge or claim with his or her eyes, legs, hands and so on. This could be figurative, or referred to as communication, yet it is not less significant. The end is a mutual access to one another. Even silence is a method of making all sorts of claims. Each judgment indicates an assumption of a form of contact with reality. I consider even only the possibility of such an access as of great importance for any dialogue. Otherwise, they will be groundless. The ability or only the attempt to communicate the object of human judgments is another basis of consensus. But it calls for great patience too. Communication is not such an easy task.
However, one may ask: has any person seen any two persons, be it on grounds of culture for instance, who are absolutely inaccessible to each other? It is a lesser claim, as it is more obvious that all humans share a sensus communis, just as it is a wider if less defensible claim that they do not. Similarly, it is more tenable that humans can grasp or express their sensus communis, even what can be referred to as its essentially universal aspect, than that such a sense can neither be grasped nor expressed. The latter demands that every possibility must have been explored, exhaustively, whereas the search has just begun, at least in our case. On the contrary, the known cases of the sharing of a certain sense in respective communities, and the understandable way humans can share such experiences suggest that there is a universal sensus communis, a certain vision of how to organize the society or what all humans mean by beauty (nma in Igbo).
Regarding interculturality, the prefix ‘inter’ does not amount to some people being on one side and the rest on the other in a mutually exclusive manner. Nor does it refer to only the recognition of the mere existence of the other. There does not seem to be only two positions in an intercultural forum. On the contrary, a multiplicity of stands is often represented. It can be said that an intercultural arena calls for a free play of all cultures. It is an arena for a free play of all worldviews, each of which is put forward for confirmation. Such a context, therefore, provides the opportunity to explore, more importantly, the common grounds of the participants as humans. What to do with all this is itself a subject of intercultural reflection. It may turn out that points of difference become clearer and even less clear, or the reverse. But the contrary calls for more not less negotiations. Certain points of difference might need to be ironed out in the process of which a lot might be accepted and cherished as forms of the enrichment of the human community. Their interaction is expected to produce a single general will that each of them is ready and willing to declare uche ora, which embraces all humans. Should we abandon the task, who else does it for us?
A sense which all humans ordinarily share might fall under Kwame Gyekye’s idea of ‘essential universality’, just as any unique characteristics of a people that are appropriated by all others come under his notion of ‘contingent universality’, and the rest particularities. It is necessary to stress, as Gyekye did at the conference, that the globalization or universalization of any cultural category ought not to be a matter of force but choice. No community, however tiny, is characterized by only what is common to its members, that is, without any form of diversity or difference among them. The awareness of this feature is a strong basis for arriving at a lasting consensus with greater ease. A specific community of humans is not radically different from a community of all humans. At the end of their dialogue, the members of the various worldviews are stronger by the fact that they share in one recognized general claim or uche ora. This consensus can contradict some of the elements of their previous worldviews, but cannot possibly contradict those they take back to their respective communities. Otherwise, there is no consensus, which means that the uche ora is not yet either accepted or internalized, and so does not exist. Mere differences will be only a matter of peculiarities. Among the Igbo, for instance, uche ora is such that it does not annihilate individual will, either in terms of persons or groups. Its consensus character almost automatically only modifies the interacting wills, whether in terms of persons or groups.
b) Grounds of dissensus: In the above sub-section, differences or even conflicts appear to be treated with too much ease. But it is not so. The matter remains serious. Conflict, however simple, ought to be taken serious before it becomes complex. But we have to find ways to handle such matters. In this light, I want to underline what Hoogland asserts. According to him: ‘Within a modern, plural and multicultural society another method must be found in order to cope with fundamental normative differences between worldviews, ways of life and cultures’.16 In this connection it is a very interesting thing that the reality of multiculturality is not necessarily modern. Among the Igbo, for instance, a community is usually multicultural, though in a limited sense. In the most diverse manner, every person has his/her own personal god: his or her Chi. The members of the various communities that make up a village or a town, generally, have each their own separate god: their Chi. In this sense, they belong to various worldviews. Yet, they have to meet as members of one community. Such uniqueness raises some doubt about the reality of something being, for instance, Igbo, African, Dutch, European, Japanese, Asian and so forth. In what, one may ask, consists uche ora or sensus communis of such communities?
Thus, Kwame Anthony Appiah asserts: ‘The reason that Africa cannot take an African cultural or political or intellectual life for granted is that there is no such thing: there are only so many traditions with their complex relationships - and, as often, their lack of any relationships - to each other.’17 However, scholars like Appiah are only dazzled by the reality before them. There is not ‘only’ cultural diversity without unity, even if culture embraces the entire human community. Thus, Appiah’s statement is one-sided. Doubts arising from points of difference can only becloud but can never negate the existence of the common in the above regards. There is a variety of ways to reveal what people or humans share.
What this can offer to intercultural philosophy is the Igbo idea of meeting as utu uche. When the Igbo meet, every member is expected to consult his or her uche. This uche, as an embodiment of the shared views that can forewarn us, also, makes some demand on us. For instance, it demands that we listen, and that we act in accordance with its order. Thus, inattentiveness may lead to a misrepresentation of the sensus communis. This, too, is not the end of the matter. One may be very attentive but unable to express what one has grasped so vividly. Whereas, one is able or ready to agree with whoever succeeds to reduce it to words. This type of personal assent is a way to confirm a shared sense among the members of a community. One’s inability to express oneself concerns one’s language limitations. A whole group can have this linguistic problem too. In the case of a giant like Appiah, it would not surprise the Igbo if somebody less famous could clear his doubts about Africans or Europeans having something in common. For the Igbo, not only that uche bu akpa (will is like a bag), they will ask: ka i ma nkea, i ma nke ozo? (if you know this, do you know that?).
This is a way to say that each person does not know just exactly what every other person knows, and that no person is all-knowing. In individual or group cases, each claim must be evaluated on its own merits. A person like Appiah may talk of ‘Western science’ as if such diversity that astonishes him about Africa does not exist in the West. Such are issues, which are put in their proper perspective, in an intercultural forum. A person or a community: big or small, can learn from any other. They can share, for instance, by a mutual scrutiny of their claims. Such an interactive process is one way uche ora can be achieved or be identified as the case may be.
When people engage in an intercultural discourse, they usually rely on their various worldviews, which they assume to be valid for all humans. But they are not expected to be dogmatic in their defense of their worldview, ideology or school of thought. Nor are the members of the various worldviews expected to pile them up on top of one another. Those various perspectives are expected to interact, and this chance needs our support. The interaction may end up in a common worldview or ideology, despite any irreducible or unresolved peculiarities. We cannot afford to remain imprisoned in our various convictions which Nietzsche refers to as ‘the more dangerous enemy of truth than lies’.18 A liar lives with a contradiction within, so (s)he can recognize the truth but fails or refuses to accept it. Conviction leaves little or no doubts in the mind of a person. A degree of doubt is required for fruitful interaction. This is why the idea of fallibility in Kant’s treatment of aesthetic judgment is very vital. It is a way to dispose oneself to listen to other views in order to crosscheck all available claims.
As Ben Okwu Eboh remarks: ‘To give in to the persuasion of our spontaneous convictions about the world is very natural and attractive, but such an attitude will definitely undermine the growth of human knowledge.’19 Stressing similar views, D. W. Hamlyn notes: ‘The growth of knowledge is not really like the growth of a building if only because knowledge does not grow simply by way of addition. The growth of our knowledge involves much modification and indeed abandonment at some places of what we earlier held to be true; it also involves the connection and linking of pieces of knowledge that have earlier seemed distinct, and occasionally the reverse.’20 Of course, this does not mean that humans will never be convinced of anything. They have to, but only with a certain openness, aware that such convictions are based on their limited information. Thus, even what may be considered to be universal to all humans could collapse in the face of new data. This test, which is going on for millennia, is still a matter of time.
To sum up, it has to be repeated that sensus communis raises the issue of what is common and to whom or to which category it refers. Such issues enable us to reduce the tendency to mistake the idea of being common with that of a particular community, or simply to universalize it.
Similarly, a proper understanding of the idea of community helps us to appreciate the reality of there being various worldviews, on the basis of which the members of a group may share a peculiar aesthetic or political sense. Herein lie, too, the difficulties which arise from their areas of difference. Another basic area of difficulty concerns linguistic capabilities. According to P. Makepeace, thought always ‘overflows the symbols’,21 and ‘there are similarities and differences in the world which any individual’s linguistic resources, even the combined resources of all the speakers of a given language, are incapable of describing’.22 Any participant in an intercultural dialogue can testify to this often ignored linguistic limitations. The task demands a great deal of patience from all the interacting individuals or groups.
With due respect to all the obstacles, it is argued that humans can reach a consensus about what can be readily and willingly accepted as uche ora or sensus communis with respect to all humans. This test requires the interaction of all cultures to be confirmed. When dissensus is resolved, for instance, what takes its place is consensus. Such an enterprise is referred to in Igbo as utu uche, that is, the contribution of ideas. It asks an open-minded defense of every person’s or group’s claims. The ultimate corporate judgment, which is made in the above context as a result of corporate deliberation, could be the highest form of intuition one can think about. Its outcome is not an exclusive but shared property of all the interacting individuals and groups.
Finally, one can argue that too much reliance on individual rationality, which is too narrow, lies at the root of several conflicts worldwide. Indeed, as G. E. Mueller puts it, ‘any isolated, unexamined, one-sided ‘ism’ is false’.23 In line with this, Gupta warns that ‘social realities cannot be changed peacefully unless we develop an ability to reflect on the state of such realities together’.24 On an optimistic note, F.U. Okafor asserts: ‘Comparative philosophy is in the process of recapturing that philosophic spirit which manifests itself in dialogue, openness, anti-dogmatism, and an endless desire to know more and more about humanity, not just the universal human being but the historical and cultural person and that person’s world’.25 These various historical and cultural persons and their various worlds interact in an intercultural arena to enrich one another through dialogue.
1. B. Hallen: ‘The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful - Discourse about Values in Yoruba Culture’, in: SAPINA Newsletter,IX,3, 1997, p. 132.
2. M.E.N., Njaka: Igbo Political Culture, Evanston 1974, p.52.
3. Ibidem, p. 52.
5. K. Gyekye: ‘Sensus communis in African Political and Moral Thought. An Akan Perspective’, a contribution to the Sensus communis conference in 1997, see also in this volume.
6. H. Kimmerle: ‘Orientation: Sensus communis’, a contribution to the Sensus communis conference in 1997, see also the ‘Introduction’ in this volume.
7. W.M.J. Van Binsbergen: ‘Aspects of Democracy and Democratization in Zambia and Botswana: Exploring African Political Culture at the Grassroots’, in: The Journal of Contemporary African Studies, 13, 1, 1995, p. 10.
8. International Institute for Democracy and Elections (IDEA), ‘Is Democracy the Road to Peace?’, in: Press Release, 1999 (Dec. 6), p. 1.
9. Kimmerle, loc. cit, p. 2.
10. C. Jacobs: ‘Blanchot, Duras and sensus communis. About Community out of Passion by Death’, a contribution to the Sensus communis conference in 1997, see also in this volume.
11. S. Kemal: Kant’s Aesthetic Theory - An Introduction, London 1992, p. 49.
12. R. K. Gupta: ‘Social Science Is Not Merely About Pursuing Truth’, in: The Social Engineer, 1994 (Jan)
13. A.C. Ewing: Ethics, Stoughton 1976, p. 141.
14. Hallen, loc. cit., p. 133.
15. Ibidem, p.135.
16. J Hoogland, in his contribution to the Sensus communis conference in 1997.
17. A.K. Appiah: In My Father’s House. Africa in the Philosophy of Culture, Oxford and New York 1992, p.79-80; added emphasis.
18. F. Nietzsche: Twilight of the Idols/The Anti-Christ, Middlesex 1975, p. 173.
19. B.O. Eboh, Basic Issues in Theory of Knowledge, unp.wk., 1981, p. 4.
20. D.W Hamlyn: The Theory of Knowledge, London 1980, p. 10-11.
21. P. Makepeace, ‘Knowing What I Mean’, in: Analysis, 18, 4, 1958, p. 89.
22. Ibidem, p. 9.
23. G.E. Mueller: Origins and Dimensions of Philosophy, New York 1965, p. 395.
24. R.K. Gupta, loc. cit., p. 2.
25. F.U. Okafor: ‘In Defence of Afro-Japanese Ethnophilosophy’, in: Philosophy East & West. A Quarterly of Comparative Philosophy, 47, 3, 1997, p. 377; see also his ‘African Philosophy in Comparison with Western Philosophy’, in: The Journal of Value Inquiry, 31,2, 1997, p.266.
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