Religion, Philosophy and Culture
Religion, philosophy and culture are three "elements"
of the human reality. If the first could be compared to the feet
with which Man journeys towards his destiny, philosophy could represent
the eyes that scrutinize that journey, and culture, the earth on
which Man is walking during his concrete pilgrimage. Interculturality
represents the relativity (not the relativism) of everything human,
and therefore of these three notions.
The question of the nature of philosophy is already a philosophical
question, and intimately connected with what Religion stands for.
An intercultural approach shows that one cannot separate Philosophy
from Religion, and that both are dependent on the culture which
nurtures them. In order to do justice to the problem, we need to
introduce the function of mythos, which complements that of logos.
1. What are we talking about?
2. Homeomorphic equivalents
3. What it is that we are talking about
4. The encompassing myth
5. Nature and culture
7. The transformative function of philosophy
9. Mythos and logos
«Philosophy is but the conscious and critical accompaniment
of Man's journeying towards his destiny. This journeying is
called religion in many cultures.»
«Philosophy is but the conscious and
critical accompaniment of Man's journeying towards his destiny.
This journeying is called religion in many cultures.»
The following considerations, intending to put or discover a certain
order in the world of religio-cultural galaxies, will serve as prolegomena
to the unavoidable problem, today more than ever, of the meeting
Intercultural philosophy situates itself in terra nullius (no
man's land), in a virgin place that no one has yet occupied; otherwise,
it would no longer be intercultural but would belong to a determined
culture. Interculturality is no one's land, it is utopia, situated
between two (or more) cultures. It must keep silent. Now today,
since it is coming to vogue, and because historical archetypes repeat
themselves, I fear that we are finding ourselves, like Moses face
to face with a "promised land", but without anyone having
promised it to us: maybe because it does not exist except
as an utopia. 2
When Aaron enters it, that land ceases already to be "promised"
and he appropriates it as a Hebrew land, which must "expel"
its original inhabitants. When Christianity and later modern science
have entered these foreign lands they equally believed that these
were promised lands they believed that their duty was to "expel"
the ancient errors and convert the "Natives". It is not
customary for philosophy to go out and conquer or convert, but it
has often been the one that has justified such intercultural skirmishes.
«Interculturality is no one's land, it is utopia, situated
between two (or more) cultures.»
This somewhat polemical introduction would like to put us on our
guard against the risk that the growing movement towards intercultural
studies be nothing but the symptom of a culture, which, because
it is in crisis, seeks to expand its "market," as does
the capitalistic system with its investments in the "Third
Interculturality is problematic. The very moment that I open my
mouth to speak, I am obliged to use a concrete language, and thus
I am completely in a particular culture: I am on a land which already
belongs to someone. I am in my culture. cultivating my land, speaking
my language. And if I must, moreover, be understood by my readers,
I must necessarily enter a land which is common to all. While we
have, in a certain sense, conquered space, since there are readers
on all continents, we have been unable to dominate time, since we
are necessarily contemporary. While assuming the past and taking
into consideration the possible futures, we communicate in the present
and cannot escape the myth of contemporaneity, no matter how polydimensional
it may be. We are obliged to representation.
What therefore is the territory that belongs to a problematic
intercultural philosophy? My answer would be simple if we were not
dealing with philosophy. It would then be sufficient to say that
it is a territory acknowledged as common, for example that of music,
and then approaching it according to the distinct perspectives of
our respective cultures. But this is not valid in the case of that
human activity which claims to leave thematically no territory outside
of its critical reflection.
It follows that we are thematically obliged to question the very
nature of our question about philosophy and about the very soil
where what we call "philosophy" has flourished.
In the following text, after having put forward three reflections
on the issue of philosophy, followed by three considerations on
what is culture, we shall then dedicate three chapters to our specific
We have already insinuated that we initially and provisionally
understand by philosophy, that human activity which asks questions
about the very foundations of human life under the heavens and on
1. What are we talking about?
«The question about philosophy is already philosophical and,
thus, already belongs itself to philosophy. To which philosophy?
Obviously, to all philosophy.»
Let us repeat: the question about philosophy is already philosophical
and, thus, already belongs itself to philosophy.
To which philosophy? Obviously, to all philosophy, as we have
just said. But the answer to be given to the question: what is that
philosophy, is no longer a common one, since we shall give one answer
or another according to the particular conception that we have of
philosophy. Now, this conception depends on the culture within which
we elaborate an answer. We are dealing here, not with what is called
a hermeneutical but a prior philosophical circle. We cannot ask
the question what is philosophy except within a specific philosophy,
even if, in most cases, that philosophy is not explicit.
The answers are varied. We know many of them: we ask about Being,
about Reality, about the nature of the question itself, about what
saves us, makes us aware, critical, free, happy, gives a meaning
to our life, allows us to act, etc.
What is it about? It is about knowing what different cultures
have understood by philosophy.
The "histories of philosophy" have much to say about
that question. But what is the question asked by these philosophies?
Obviously, they relate the "history" of the different
conceptions of "philosophy". Within cultures where philosophy
has a certain validity or importance, no major problem arises. But
once again, what are we talking about when the word does not exist?
How are we going to translate it, and what criterion do we have,
in order to know that our translation is correct?
This brings us to an unavoidable methodological issue.
2. Homeomorphic equivalents
«It is on the basis of that one culture and with instruments
of that same culture that we have approached those foreign lands,
those foreign cultures.»
The majority of studies on this theme have been more or less monocultural.
This is due to the global predominance of Western culture during
the last 500 years, and to the concrete fact that an Hellenic word
has been used to formulate the question. The question: what is philosophy,
was asked on the basis of what the Greeks originally understood
that word to mean. It is on the basis of that one culture and with
instruments of that same culture that we have approached those foreign
lands, those foreign cultures.
This is all the more meaningful since the majority of learned
people from other cultures have hastened to show us that what we
call by that name also existed in their respective cultures. Thus
we have important studies on Indic, Chinese, Bantu, Japanese and
other, philosophy, as being so many branches that enrich the known
studies on Ancient, Medieval, German, Spanish ... philosophy.
«Homeomorphic equivalents are not mere literal translations,
any more than they merely translate the role that the original word
claims to play, but they play a function which is equivalent or
comparable to that supposedly played by philosophy.»
These experts usually tell us that their respective philosophies
are oftentimes more rich in certain aspects that have been neglected
by Western philosophy, and that they help us to broaden and deepen
the very conception of philosophy. But it is rare that they have
asked themselves in a critical and thematic way, what question they
were asking when asking the question of philosophy. We know today,
for example. that there are idealists in India, materialists in
China, mystics in Japan, a more sensuous and concrete philosophy
in Africa. etc. The majority of those who cultivate (or engage in)
philosophy have started from the Western model and have made known
to us that what is called philosophy in the West. has existed and
still exists in other cultures. But the Greek concept of philosophy,
with all its variation and reforms, continues to be the paradigm
according to which one proceeds to research what is philosophy in
When translating the word, one seeks equivalents to the concept
of philosophy, equivalents conditioned by the original Greek model:
even if the notion has somewhat evolved subsequently.
I have introduced, a few years ago, the notion of homeomorphic
equivalents, as a first step towards interculturality. One should,
in our case, research both the eventual equivalent notions to philosophy
in other cultures, and the symbols (not necessarily the concepts
and even less a unique concept) that express the homeomorphic equivalents
of philosophy. Homeomorphic equivalents are not mere literal translations,
any more than they merely translate the role that the original word
claims to play (in this case: philosophy), but they play a function
which is equivalent (analogous) or comparable to that supposedly
played by philosophy. It is therefore not a conceptual but a functional
equivalent, i.e. an analogy of the third degree. One does not seek
the same function (as that exercised by philosophy) but the function
that is equivalent to that exercised by the original notion in the
Let us consider a few examples that may help us. "Brahman"
is not a translation for "God", since the concepts do
not correspond (their attributes not being the same), and since
the functions are not identical (brahman not having to be creator,
providence, personal, as God is). Each one of these two words express
a functional equivalence within the corresponding two cosmovisions.
There is more. In that example, the correlation is almost biunivocal
(one word homeomorphically corresponding to the other); but it could
not be. We can for example translate "religion" by dharma
without necessarily translating dharma by "religion."
Dharma equally means duty, ethics, element, observance, energy,
order, virtue, law, justice, and has been even translated by reality.
But the word "religion" can also mean sampradâya,
karma, jati, bhakti, marga, pûja, daivakarma, nimayaparam,
punyasila ... Each culture is a world.
If by philosophy, one then understands the intellectual activity
which clarifies the use of our concepts or which purifies our language,
we shall not seek what plays that role in the other culture. but
what accomplishes the function equivalent to that which the clarification
of concepts and words plays in the first conception that we have
«We cannot claim to define through one single word what intercultural
philosophy is, nor even presuppose that such a philosophy exists.»
There are at least 33 notions in classical Sanskrit which could
he homeomorphically compared to the equivalent function of philosophy.
One can therefore discuss the issue of whether this activity of
the human mind should be called philosophy. We believe that it is
appropriate if we do not wish to condemn ourselves to a cultural
Solipsism: but we must not forget that the relationship must be
established in both directions, moving for example from the Greek
equivalents to those of the other culture, and from the latter to
the Hellenic ones.
We cannot claim to define through one single word what intercultural
philosophy is, nor even presuppose that such a philosophy exists.
What is possible however is to inquire about the many homeomorphic
equivalents, and, from within the other culture, to try to formulate
what can correspond to what we are trying to say when we say the
We must seek a middle way between the colonial mentality which
believes that we can express the totality of the human experience
through the notions of a single culture, and the opposite extreme
which thinks that there is no communication possible between diverse
cultures, and which should then condemn themselves to a cultural
apartheid in order to preserve their identity. I am thinking of
the case of Bhutan as a political example. Our problem is not merely
a "speculative" one.
Without claiming in the least to say something which is universally
valid. let me venture, as I journey through this middle way, to
sketch an answer to the problematic that we have set forth.
3. What it is that we are talking about
«What we could call intercultural philosophy would be a new
genus of philosophy, an enriching of the term beyond its cultural
Given the contingent fact that today's Western languages are somewhat
intercultural vehicles, we could adopt the Hellenic word philosophy
as a symbol of something, which, up till now, had no reason to be
present in the meaning of what was called philosophy originally
and that is still called philosophy.
What we could call intercultural philosophy would then not be
a new species of philosophy, alongside the classifications offered
to us by the histories of philosophy, but it would be a new genus
of philosophy, an enriching of the term beyond its cultural limits.
Just as as we shall see the great cultures of mankind
are not real species of a real genus, but each one of them is rather
a genus (with subcultures as species), so the intercultural notion
of philosophy would represent a distinct superior genus (which we
could perhaps continue to call philosophy) and not another species
of a unique genus.
«Philosophy could he understood as the activity by which
Man participates consciously and in a more or less critical manner,
in the discovery of reality and orients himself within the latter.»
This kind of supergenus, of a purely formal character and valid
only within a specific moment of time and space, would be a transcendental,
and not a categorial relation with what, until now, has been called
philosophy. This philosophy would be a formal transcendental and
not a category. In this sense, intercultural philosophy does not
exist as does an idealistic philosophy (one which presents certain
common traits), or a Catalan philosophy (without content that is
necessarily common, but cultivated by the Catalans or in the Catalan
language). An intercultural philosophy exists only as transcendental
to the different human activities which correspond homeomorphically
to what, in a certain culture, we call philosophy.
As I try to follow this middle way which avoids solipsism without
falling into colonialism, I shall try to describe in a very provisional
manner, as follows, the philosophical activity that would have a
certain intercultural validity:
Philosophy could he understood as the activity by which Man participates
consciously and in a more or less critical manner, in the discovery
of reality and orients himself within the latter.
By saying activity, we wish to surmount the reductionism that
is represented by a certain conception of philosophy as being something
purely theoretical. An intercultural philosophy cannot eliminate
the dimension of praxis, understood not only in a platonic and/or
Marxist sense, but also eminently existential, to use another polysemic
word. The word "activity" also indicates that it is a
matter of acting, of a human agere, which need not therefore be
limited to a mere mental or rational operation.
By using the word Man, we refer to the philosophical activity
which is specific to the human being. Neither angels nor animals
philosophize. Philosophy is an activity, belonging to Man as such.
Philosophy would be that primordially and specifically human activity.
The notion of participation in our description claims to indicate
the passive aspect of philosophical activity.
Life, as well as the reality in which we live, has been given
to us and we find ourselves immersed in it. We are, as we participate
in it, something anterior and superior to ourselves, both individually
and collectively. Philosophical activity is an activity of acknowledgement
before being one of pure knowledge.
By qualifying philosophical activity as conscious, we wish to
indicate that consciousness embraces an activity and a reality which
is much broader than reason, not only because Spanish and French
words include very wisely moral conscience, i.e. the knowledge of
good and evil, but also because while it includes rationality and
intelligibility, it does not limit itself to the latter. We are
aware that there is something that we do not understand, we are
aware that both Nothingness and Being, even if they are unintelligible,
can be real. There exists a thinking which is non discursive, non
deductive, an imaginal, iconic awareness, a non reflexive intuition,
etc. And experience shows us that many cultures have cultivated
these types of consciousness which are not included in rationality
without necessarily falling into irrationality, the latter
being incompatible with philosophical activity, thus abandoning
the realm of the human strictly speaking. 5
«Practically all philosophies have known that truth has a
seductive appearance; it simultaneously reveals and hides itself.»
We add the word critical because we seek to underline both the
intellectual dimension of philosophical activity and its questioning
character. Every man could potentially be a philosopher, but the
word "critical" suggests that the first innocence has
been lost, and that, in the vision of reality held by any man, the
philosopher asks the why of what is given to him. The word "critical"
comprises also reflection, skepsis and introspection. Human consciousness
is constitutively consciousness: it is a gnosis which knows that
we are not alone (ni estamos ni somos solos). We have added degrees
to critical consciousness, for even if a minimum of self-consciousness
seems to belong to all philosophy, it is not necessary to accept
a Kantian type of "critique" as being essential to the
notion of philosophy.
No matter what, with a more or less critical consciousness, philosophy
is a discovery of what is and of what we are. Not only is reality
disclosed to us by itself, but we also discover it in virtue of
our active participation in the dynamism of reality itself of which
we are a part. There is no point in saying that this discovery or
revelation takes place within some limited parameters that make
us who we are and of which we are aware. Philosophical activity
is as much a discovery of reality as that of what we are. It is
a partial, hypothetical, doubtful, imperfect, contingent discovery
but a revelation in the last analysis. A revelation which, because
it is one, continues to be so; i.e. an unveiling which never ceases,
not only because of a possible infinitude of reality, but because
of our own finitude, which results in that every discovery is at
the same time a covering over. Practically all philosophies have
known that truth has a seductive appearance; it simultaneously reveals
and hides itself. Not only would absolute truth dazzle us, but it
would not enlighten us, for it could not be total if we ourselves
were not in it. Or, as we shall insinuate further, all incursion
of the light or of the intelligibility of logos within the obscure
realm of the mythos is accompanied by another shadow that the logos
leaves behind it and which the mythos discreetly covers anew. All
demythization is accompanied by a remythization; 6 it is always
necessary that something be "pre-sup-posed".
«From the starting point of interculturality, philosophy
can be considered as the conscious and more or less critical companion
of Man's journey corresponding in many cultures to what could
be translated by religion.»
By reality, we understand all that is, or is thinkable, all that
can enter our consciousness, the representation (whether realistic
or idealistic), the idam of the Upanishads ... We exclude neither
Being nor Nothingness, nor do we limit ourselves to what can be
expressed by the verb to be. We use this word as the broader and
(maybe) deeper of all not as all (no theory whatsoever is
formulated here), but as an ultimate symbol which would hence encompass
also what could dialectically appear as non-real. Let us not forget
that the great challenge of interculturality is the relativization
of all apriori.
The notion of orientation, finally, wishes to underline the vital
aspect, both practical and existential, of philosophy. It is through
philosophy that Man gives orientation to his life, forges his destiny
and moves towards what he considers his goal (whatever may be its
meaning). Philosophical activity would thus be that specifically
human activity by which Man realizes as such what many cultures
have called the salvific character of philosophy, or of what it
is customary to translate by religion. This orientation may postulate
a North or at least a magnet, but it is philosophy, as conscious
activity about the meaning of life or of reality, which puts the
compass into our hands. And while some extremist positions say that
we should do away with the compass, that waying on our own without
an (external) compass, would also be the interiorization of a compass
which does indicate no other direction but the one that we create
or imagine. From the starting point of interculturality, philosophy
can be considered as the conscious and more or less critical companion
of Man's journey corresponding in many cultures to what could
be translated by religion.
It is obvious that every word used will be differently interpreted
by different philosophies. It follows that an intercultural philosophy
questions all notions, and each one of the notions of a current
in a given culture.
After having taken all these precautions, I believe that one can
speak provisionally of intercultural philosophy as being a transcendental
relation to what we call philosophy. We have not thereby left our
culture, we have not jumped over our own shadow but we have opened
ourselves, as much as possible, to the experience of the reality
of other cultures, ever ready to dialogue with the latter, as we
shall now say.
It is well known that the term "culture" has undergone
during the 17th century in Europe, a certain mutation which has
crystallized in a modern sense only since a little less than a century
ago. It is a term, which remains suspect to some especially the
Anglo-Saxons. Before that, culture meant something else.
Cultura anima may be one of the better definitions of philosophy
(Cicero: Tusculanae disputationes. II, 13). The word means I cultivate
(cura, curatio, cultus), implying honor and veneration. Culture
was always culture of something. Hence has it come to mean what
we still mean when we speak of a cultivated man. And it is through
the intermediary of "civilization" that "culture"
has come to take on the meaning that is widespread today. 7
4. The encompassing myth
«For the myth gives us the horizon of intelligibility where
we must situate any idea, any conviction or any act of consciousness
so that they may be held by our mind.»
To the hundreds of definitions of culture that exist today, I
shall risk adding one more, which has at least the advantage of
being maybe the shortest of them all, and which finally coincides
with the majority of accepted descriptions. All the latter say that
culture is constituted by rituals, customs, opinions, dominant ideas,
ways of life which characterize a certain people at a given period.
If language is an essential element, history and geography are equally
We summarize all that in the word myth, understood as symbolizing
that which we believe at such a deep level that we are not even
aware that we believe it: "it is useless to say it," "it
is understood," "it is obvious," "we shall not
pursue the investigation any further" ... We question myth
only when we already partly stand outside it: this is because it
is precisely the myth which offers us the basis from which the question
as question makes sense. For the myth gives us the horizon of intelligibility
where we must situate any idea, any conviction or any act of consciousness
so that they may be held by our mind.
«Each culture is a galaxy which secretes its self-understanding,
and with it, the criteria of truth, goodness, and beauty of all
Of course, there are particular myths and we must also distinguish
between on the one hand, mythologies, mythologoumena, mythemes,
and on the other, myth strictly speaking, which is what makes possible
a narration of myths, a science about myths, more or less explicit
groups of myths and the themes themselves as rational translations
of what the myths themselves allow to appear as translatable. All
this should not be confused with the myth strictly speaking, that
horizon which gives the condition of intelligibility of everything
that is subsequently said.
Each culture, in a sense, could be described as the encompassing
myth of a collectivity at a certain moment in time and space; it
is what renders plausible, credible, the world in which we live,
where we are. This accounts for the flexibility and mobility of
myth as well as the impossibility of grasping our own myth, except
when we hear it from the mouth of others because having accorded
the latter a certain credibility or when it has ceased to be a myth
for us. Myth and faith are correlative, just as there exists a special
dialectic between mythos and logos (as well as between logos and
Each culture possesses a cosmovision and reveals the world in
which we live in which we believe to be. Each culture is
a galaxy which secretes its self-understanding, and with it, the
criteria of truth, goodness, and beauty of all human actions.
Cultures are not folklore, as certain mainly political milieux
are in the habit of interpreting them, when they speak arrogantly
and condescendingly of multicultural tolerance. Cultures are not
mere specific forms of a genus called human civilization. Each culture
is a genus. Cultures are not abstract species of a single sovereign
genus. The sovereign genus, which would be human culture, exists
only as an abstraction.
Let us say it more academically: there are no cultural universals,
i.e. concrete meaningful contents valid for all the cultures, for
mankind throughout all times. What one calls human nature is an
abstraction. And every abstraction is an operation of the mind which
removes (abstracts) from a greater reality (as seen by this mind)
something (less universal) which it considers as important. There
cannot be cultural universals, for it is culture itself which makes
possible (and plausible) its own universals.
«There are no cultural universals. But there are, for sure,
human invariants. But the way according to which each one of the
human invariants is lived and experienced in each culture is distinct
and distinctive in each case.»
By saying that there are no cultural universals, we are using
a way of thinking which is foreign to the modern "scientific"
mentality, in which predominates (when not dominates) simple objectivity
(and objectibility) of the real. Culture is not simply an object,
since we are constitutively immersed in it as subjects. It is the
one that makes it possible for us to see the world as objects, since
self-consciousness, i.e. subjectivity, essentially belongs to the
It ensues that all classification of cultures is nothing but a
formal abstraction with a claim to objectivity to which no real
culture can be reduced. Culture is the encompassing myth which makes
it possible for us to believe the world in which we live. Every
cosmology is the logos of a kosmos which shows itself to us as such,
thanks to the mythos which renders it visible to us.
There are no cultural universals. But there are, for sure, human
invariants. Every man eats, sleeps, walks, speaks, establishes relationships,
thinks ... But the way according to which each one of the human
invariants is lived and experienced in each culture is distinct
and distinctive in each case.
It is undeniable that at certain given moments of mankind, there
are myths that acquire a greater universality than others, but even
in such cases, the way we usually interpret them, is distinct. "You
shall not kill" can be the formulation of an abstract universal
myth that we all interpret today as the condemnation of cannibalism:
however, the real belief in an absolute "thou shall not kill"
is far from being universal. Let us not forget that a myth is constitutively
inobjectifiable and that it is myth (in the sense in which we use
this word) only for those who believe in it. As for the others,
these are myths only in a condescending and pejorative sense of
the word, as used in the modern colonial era. We see the myths of
others as more or less legendary mythologies we do not see
the beam in our own eye.
«Cultural respect requires that we respect those ways of
life that we disapprove, or even those that we consider as pernicious.»
It is very revealing to inquire whence and why a "mythology"
was born (not the narrative, mythos-legein) as a rational science
about others' myths (legends). All those who do not come from the
South or the Center of England speak English with an accent: only
the "natives", of course, speak without an accent ...
Everything which did not fit into the mental framework of what is
called the Enlightenment, which flourished precisely when the West
had politically "conquered" more than three quarters of
the planet, has been called primitive myth, and still nowadays,
"on the way to development".
Cultural respect requires that we respect those ways of life that
we disapprove, or even those that we consider as pernicious. We
may be obliged to go as far as to combat these cultures, but we
cannot elevate our own to the rank of universal paradigm in order
to judge the other ones.
This is the great challenge of pluralism and one of the cements
5. Nature y culture
«Man is a cultural animal. Culture is not extrinsic to him,
but natural. Man is a being that is naturally cultural or
We can pursue with a double assertion:
a. Culture is the field that makes it possible for us to cultivate
the world that it itself presents to us, so that Man may become
fully human and achieve his fullness.
b. Culture is the specific form of human nature. The nature of
Man is cultural. Culture is not an additive to Man, it is not something
artificial. Man is a cultural animal. Culture is not extrinsic to
him, but natural. Man is a being that is naturally cultural
or culturally natural. The ultimate criterion for condemning another
culture will therefore consist in showing that it is anti-natural
although the very idea of nature is already culture-specific.
One could critique western civilization by saying that it is the
culture which has championed a dichotomy between the natural nature
and cultural nature of man, so that it has separated religion (a
cultural fact), from what is natural, thus converting it either
into something that is supernatural, or into an ideology (comparable
to a mere doctrinal superstructure). By thus separating culture
from nature, it has constructed a culture which is artificial in
the pejorative sense (although it is said to be scientific). According
to the Chinese proverb, one cannot stay too long on the tip of one's
toes. It seems to me that it is a key for understanding Western
Yet the Western experience is fertile. We cannot separate nature
from culture, but neither should we say that they are simply the
same. The problem in the West has been acute ever since the Greeks.
The physei, what corresponds to physis, to nature, is not identically
the same as nomôi, as what pertains to nomos, to the norm.
To separate them or to make them into something identical would
lead to the destruction of the humanum. Their relation is non-dualistic,
advaita. Culture is neither a mere accident of Man, nor is it his
substance: it is not identical to human nature. There can be antinatural
Much water has flowed under the bridges since the Greeks. Maybe
the following considerations could be of some help here.
«The concept has been identified with the intelligibility
of a thing: it follows that if philosophy wants to know what things
are, it must necessarily operate with concepts. The concept has
thus become the unique instrument of philosophy.»
While in the world of nature, there are things, in the world of
culture, there are objects. Here either, it certainly is not possible
to separate them. Everything that man touches, no matter how natural
he believes it to be, is always at the same time cultural. So-called
natural things never cease to be representations of human consciousness.
But natural things are distinct from artificial ones, especially
from "ideas", "representations", "idols",
"images" ..., which do not claim to be in the world of
nature, but to be real in the human world of culture. These realities
we call objects, since they are undoubtedly projections, ob-jecta
of our mind, objects of thinking. Justice, for example, is not a
thing: being a cultural reality, it is an object of human thinking.
For animals also and maybe also for sentient awareness, there
are things. But for man, there are also objects, and he thinks objects
as such. That is why he can thus meditate upon them, experiment
with them and manipulate them.
We must here take up a theme which is unavoidable when speaking
of an intercultural philosophy. An object is a representation of
human consciousness. From that perspective, natural things, as we
call them, are also objects. But it is the human mind itself which
distinguishes between the objects that exist in nature and those
that belong to the world of culture. A horse does not belong to
the same order of reality as does justice, but one cannot say that
an African mask, in its ritual reality, is simply natural, nor exclusively
cultural. The whole Sacramental view of the universe, whether Hindu,
Christian, Bantu ... presupposes this non-dual relationship between
the natural and the cultural.
Objects of thinking are cultural invariants. Every man thinks,
and to think is to think something. This something is the objectum
of thinking, what the activity of the mind projects, throws in front
of itself in virtue of the stimulation it has received.
The concept, however, is not such an invariant. The concept is
a universal in the most technical meaning of the term, it is an
abstraction of the mind which grasps or claims to grasp the "quiddity"
of a thing, called essence, substance, representation, idea, or
as one wishes. The same word has been used with many meanings. But
the concept is not a cultural universal. And this is what we wish
to underline: not all cultures operate with concepts.
«There are numerous classes of intelligibility, many ways
of being aware of reality and of participating in it. That is the
The concept, which is maybe the genial "invention" of
Socrates (or of the Platonic Socrates), in spite of the protests
of Isocrates at that time, has become the best instrument of Western
philosophy. For Hegel, concept is the mediator par excellence between
being and becoming, and not only an instrument, but, so to speak,
the soul of the things themselves.
The concept has been identified with the intelligibility of a
thing: it follows that if philosophy wants to know what things are,
it must necessarily operate with concepts. The concept has thus
become the unique instrument of philosophy.
There are, however, homeomorphic equivalents to philosophy, which
do not operate with concepts. I am not referring only to what the
19th-century colonial mentality has called prelogical or preconceptual
thinking, but equally to systems of thought as elaborate as a good
portion of Indic philosophy. 8 There is, for example, a philosophical
activity of Man which operates with symbols and not with concepts.
It does not therefore try to do a conceptual algebra which corresponds
to reality, but to present or to make possible intuitions of reality
itself. There are numerous classes of intelligibility, many ways
of being aware of reality and of participating in it. That is the
«Interculturality is the philosophical imperative of our
We have already asserted that interculturality is the philosophical
imperative of our times. But we have mentioned a twofold temptation:
monoculturalism and multiculturalism.
There is a monoculturalism which is as subtle as it is well-intentioned.
It consists in admitting a vast range of cultural diversity, but
against the unique backdrop of a common denominator. Our categories
have taken root so deeply in the substratum of modem man, that it
is difficult for him, for example, to imagine that he could think
without concepts or without applying the law of causality. One postulates
therefore a universal and hence common reason, and a unique intelligibility:
likewise, one finds it difficult to see how we could abstract from
our categories of space, time and matter.
«The relativity inherent to interculturality does not question
the discoveries of a culture, but neither does it absolutize them.
It relativizes them, i.e. it considers them valid and legitimate
within a given culture.»
An example, which is powerful in every sense of the word, can
be taken from modern science, which claims to be universal, forgetting
that its cements themselves have been drawn up from a particular
culture. We have already mentioned as monocultural examples the
"scientific" ideas of space and time, to which we could
add those of matter, energy, and above all the possibility of translating
in algebraic terms the phenomena of nature, the docility of the
latter towards set and determinating laws. Because of the spectacular
feats that it has made possible, modern science, often without willing
it, has converted these polysemic symbols already mentioned (time,
space, matter ...) into univocal and definable (circumscribed, although
not understood) signs.
Whatever may be the case, since we shall not enter now into a
global evaluation of modern science and of its underlying epistemology,
we only affirm that all these pillars on which modern science rests,
are not intercultural: they belong to one culture only. We do not
intend to say by this that other forms of thought and their underlying
myths are more valid or less valid, nor that they should or should
not disappear. We are only stating that we have here a monoculturalism
which does not allow the full blossoming of other cultures.
Let us repeat that monoculturalism is not incompatible with tolerance
of all those ways of life which accept the encompassing myth of
modern culture. In the present situation, the latter could be described
as the law of the market, the power of money, the universal value
of modern science, the technological complex as the necessary framework
of the common life of human beings, and above all, the specific
way of thinking and seeing life. To the dominant monoculturalism
belong the major portion of what are usually called the definite
assets of modern science, such as the fact that it is the earth
that rotates around the sun and not vice-versa, the law of entropy
or the malaria cycle, modern man is not ready, and rightly so, to
accept a cultural relativism which would bring him to doubt about
his "scientific progress".
But the cultural relativity of an intercultural discourse has
nothing to do with such relativism. The relativity inherent to interculturality
does not question the discoveries of a culture, but neither does
it absolutize them. It relativizes them, i.e. it considers them
valid and legitimate within a given culture and within the parameters
admitted by the latter: in a word, within the encompassing myth
of that culture. Not to be disposed to relativize the present cosmology
when we have relativized all others is equivalent to a fossilization
of time and to the very negation of the idea of progress
unless one wishes to domesticate the latter in order to oblige it
to a gratuitously postulated linearity or to set the realm in which
the "paradigm" could change a very significant
attitude of modern monoculturalism. We have indicated at the beginning
that monoculturalism is very rooted in the human mind and difficult
to surmount. Here again dawns the challenge of interculturality.
«It is obvious that because of its very power, our civilization
can allow itself the luxury of being much more tolerant than weaker
Our civilization accepts easily other cultures as long as the
latter accept the rules of the game that the former postulates.
And it is obvious that because of its very power, our civilization
can allow itself the luxury of being much more tolerant than weaker
What has brought about the theoretical justification of monoculturalism
is the practical triumph of evolutionary thinking, which in turn
is indebted to the linear conception of time. According to that
thinking, mankind follows a linear "progress"; with its
meanderings, twists and turns, up to an "omega" point
that some philosophers interpret as the secularization of
the eschatological thinking of Abrahamic religions. It is not so
much a matter of the hypothesis according to which man has come
from the monkey as of the fact of believing that we have evolved
within a geography and history which have a double dimension, and
that the meaning of human life, of mankind and of the whole cosmos
consists in "developing", i.e. evolving towards that "end".
Evolution is primarily a form of thinking which believes that it
can reach the intelligibility of a phenomenon if it has explained
its linear temporal gestation, in other words, if it visualizes
the trajectory according to which a given phenomenon has come to
be, by riding a time which has brought it all the way up to us.
Cosmology is being reduced to a cosmogony: to explain the gestation
of something is equivalent or comparable to having understood: it
the how has then become equivalent or "equiparable" to
the why and has replaced the what for to control the how
it is superfluous to know the what. What is important, because that
is what is efficient, is to "know" how things operate.
«We are in a monocultural world: there is no consolation
in saying that it is pluricultural. Only one culture sets the rules
of the game.»
If such be the case, it is enough to "know" the evolution
of man and of cultures in that unique sense. The official language
of the United Nations, which speaks of "developed" and
"developing" countries is highly revealing. We are in
a monocultural world: there is no consolation in saying that it
is pluricultural. Only one culture sets the rules of the game.
It is precisely the task of philosophy to reach the ultimate roots
of reality and to become aware of this monoculturalism which is
invisible from within our own myth. Then, possibly, we may find
a window which will allow us to find an exit. We are saying "exit"
because it is practically a world consensus that we must exit from
this modern civilization which has no future, since it cannot continue
to grow and develop indefinitely.
An intercultural philosophy could show us that other civilizations,
without denying their negative aspects, have had other myths which
allowed them to live a full life obviously for those who
have believed in them; but we must immediately add here, that this
is in no way a matter of idealizing the past or of seeing only the
bright side of other cultures. And that is what precisely brings
us to interculturality.
«In no way are we denying that there can be a transcultural
validity of certain formal ways of thinking.»
The other temptation mentioned comes from the extreme opposite,
which we have called multiculturalism. We have already said that
multiculturalism is impossible. Acknowledging the primordial function
of each culture, which consists in offering a vision of reality
which allows man to live his life, we could maybe defend an atomised
and separated pluriculturalism, i.e. a separate and respectful existence
between diverse cultures, each in its own world. We would thus have
the existence of a plurality of cultures without mutual connection.
But what is obviously impossible is the coexistence of their fundamental
diversity in today's world.
One cannot put forward that acknowledging this incompatibility
already supposes a supracultural or universal logic. For such an
incompatibility can be justified within the respective categories
of diverse cultures. For example, for a culture such as the Western
one, it appears obvious that there can be no life in common possible
with a culture which believes that spirits constantly and freely
interfere in human actions, without consideration for what are called
physical or psychological laws.
Also from the point of view of other cultures, it is obvious that
there is incompatibility, not so much because there is formal contradiction,
but because there is a de facto incompatibility. The theoretical
justification would then be, for example, not that A is incompatible
with B because B is equiparable to Non-A, but because A is simply
greater than B and phagocytises B.
In no way are we denying that there can be a transcultural validity
of certain formal ways of thinking. Let us not forget that every
universality is formal and that formality presupposes certain axioms
(precisely formal ones) that are postulated or acknowledged. Thus,
for example, the principle of non-contradiction which applies when
affirming the incompatibility between A and non-A, presupposes that
A remains constant both in time and in my thought, that non-A as
negation of non-A corresponds to it-is-not-A, and mostly that my
thought of A and of non-A corresponds to the extra-mental reality
of A and of non-A, etc. presuppositions that need not be
recognized by all cultures.
«Monoculturalism is lethal and multiculturalism is impossible.
Interculturality recognizes both assertions and seeks a middle way.»
Moreover, multiculturalism today is also de facto impossible.
The dominant culture has already penetrated foreign territories
to such an extent that it would be myopic not to see it. Technocracy,
to say it in a word, has practically penetrated the four directions
of the earth. We may have to surmount or dominate it, but we cannot
ignore its ubiquity. Maybe it is destined to become the unique culture
which will replace all others; but this does not mean that it is
a super-culture encompassing all others.
In that context, we have, to this point, said two things: that
monoculturalism is lethal and multiculturalism is impossible. Interculturality
recognizes both assertions and seeks a middle way. Monoculturalism
asphyxiates other cultures through oppression. Multiculturalism
leads us to war of cultures (with the foreseeable routing of the
weakest) or condemns us to a cultural apartheid which also in the
long run, becomes stifling.
We have taken the position that cultures are mutually incompatible,
but in no way have we said that they are incommunicable. The fact
that the circumference and the radius are mutually incommensurable
(we could have said it in a more poetic and Platonic way, of the
lyre and of the bow), in no way means that they do not condition
each other, nor that they can become separate.
«Interculturality is inherent to the human being and a unique
culture is as incomprehensible and impossible as a single universal
language and as one man alone.»
We could even expand the metaphor and add that, just as there
is no circumference without a radius, there is no culture without
interculturality, at east implicit. Every circumference has its
radius even if the latter is not outlined. No culture can remain
static without destroying itself. A culture is nothing but an abstraction
if it is not concretely embedded in human beings that cultivate
and live it, and thus modify and transform it without following
logical laws. A certain discipline called by the modern name of
Begriffsgeschichte or History of Ideas has inclined us to believe
that, except for certain modifications of paradigm, cultural transformations
follow roughly the laws of deduction or of induction as if
they were computers. Human reality does not exhaust itself in history,
nor human history in the history of ideas may Hegel forgive
us! One thing is the condition of possibility for a particular cultural
stream to emerge, and the necessary plausibility for that stream
to find root and to grow, another thing is to limit human freedom,
the activity of the mind and the creativity of men to these simple
intellectual operations. A man is not a machine, anymore than thinking
is mere calculus.
This means that interculturality is inherent to the human being
and that a unique culture is as incomprehensible and impossible
as a single universal language and as one man alone. All cultures
are the result of a continuous mutual fecundation. The dream of
the Tower of Babel is the great temptation of the powerful, of the
"entrepreneurs" (of works-of all kinds) and of those who
inhabit the higher mansions. The human condition is made up of more
or less comfortable huts, but within human scale and with practicable
pathways (not highways) between them.
«To think that cultures are incommunicable because they are
incommensurable is a rationalistic presupposition.»
The example of language is an eloquent one. One only has to live
in Australia, in India or in the United States of America, to become
aware of the variations and variants of the English language. Suffice
it to move across Peru, Bolivia or Mexico to understand that Spanish
is an abstraction and that living languages are always dialects
at least the spoken languages , for example the academic
To think that cultures are incommunicable because they are incommensurable
is a rationalistic presupposition which believes that only a common
ratio mensurabilis can be the instrument of human communication.
To understand (entenderse) each other does not mean to comprehend
each other (comprenderse). Intelligibility is not the same thing
as awareness (tener consciencia). One can be aware of something
that is unintelligible, as we have said. The fact of having separated
wisdom into knowledge (without love), on one hand, and love (without
knowledge), on the other hand, has fragmented the human being.
Interculturality is the complete form of human culture. But interculturality
means neither one (single) culture, nor a disconnected plurality.
Here again, emerges the necessity of surmounting monism without
fading into dualism: advaita. Intercultural communication presents
a special problematic nature. This will be the aim of our following
Our topic will be met only partially since we are not trying to
elaborate an intercultural philosophy but only to describe from
outside this terra nullius (no man's land), by opening windows and
doors in an attempt to communicate. For that purpose, we can formulate
the following considerations.
7. The transformative function of philosophy
«Each philosophy emerges from the womb of a culture, and
simultaneously by questioning what holds that culture together,
can transform it. In fact, every deep cultural change has emerged
from philosophical activity.»
The purely formal description of philosophy, as being that human
activity which deals in a practical and/or theoretical fashion with
the ultimate problems of which man is aware, allows us to assert
that it is its mission to overcome the possible (and real) inertia
(physical and mostly mental) of man, who, ensconced more or less
comfortably in his culture, doesn't try to look beyond his own myth.
Assuredly, each culture offers to philosophy the language that
the latter needs to formulate its insights. But it is no less certain
that each philosophy tries to question the very foundations on which
each culture is based: it is philosophy that investigates the ultimate
content of the more or less explicit cosmovision of each culture.
We have already indicated that a specific difference of philosophy
with respect to other "disciplines" consists in looking
back rather than ahead, in questioning what holds a culture together
instead of hurrying up to scale a (cultural) edifice in construction.
In that sense, philosophy is authentic skepsis, revolutionary, protesting
«By trying to be aware of its myth, philosophy opens itself
up to interculturality in order to accomplish its task of transmythicization,
thus transforming the original culture's vision of reality.»
In other words, each philosophy emerges from the womb of a culture,
and simultaneously by questioning what holds that culture together,
can transform it. In fact, every deep cultural change has emerged
from philosophical activity. It has repeatedly been said that philosophers,
although with chronological time lags, are those who influence the
most the destinies of history. This radical character of philosophy
means that it takes its nourishment from a sub-soil where also other
cultures take their roots. By that I mean that the stimulus of philosophical
thinking comes from its underground contact with other roots. Or
if we were to radically change metaphor, will be transcultural what
carries far away seeds and lets then fall into the philosopher's
cogitation (without forgetting the irony and humor hidden in that
cogitation a philosophy without humor loses the humus which
keeps it vigorous and stops it from wilting into fanaticism). By
trying to be aware of its myth, philosophy opens itself up to interculturality
in order to accomplish its task of transmythicization, thus transforming
the original culture's vision of reality.
This transformation takes place although at velocities that can
be very different within both cultures in question. The authentic
meeting between cultures does not necessarily take place mid-way,
but certainly outside the respective field of either. Otherwise,
there would not be meeting but phagocytosis or rejection. I insist
on this point because the skirmishes (generally economic and political,
even military) of certain cultures in foreign fields are not examples
of interculturality but of domination.
Each philosophy is a human effort to move out of its own myth,
an attempt to move out of the horizon of one's own world, as represented
in miniatures of the late renaissance, which show man piercing the
heavens, and glimpsing into an infinite universe which was then
starting to dawn before his very eyes. Every philosophy, by approaching
the mythos with logos, exercises a demythologizing function, although
it otherwise necessarily remythologizes, as I have said. One cannot
separate the logos from myth or the myth from logos.
Let us summarize a very complex situation. One receives this incitement
to philosophize, as much from the avatars of one's own culture as
from the stimuli that come from foreign cultures.
«Mientras que "multi" y "pluri" indican
las aportaciones sectoriales y metodológicamente clausas
que varias disciplinas proporcionan al estudio de un tema, "inter"
designa que el problema mismo está planteado en términos
tales que no puede ser resuelto desde una sola disciplina y que
"trans" disciplinariedad apunta a la constitución
de un nuevo abordaje que supera los abordajes disciplinares que
le dieron origen.»
The contemporary effervescence within the dominating culture has
sparked a series of efforts to try to move out of this culture's
The present culture, preoccupied by the growing specialization
of knowledge, has begun to cultivate, especially among academics,
what has been called pluri-disciplinarity. The latter consists in
approaching a problem belonging to a given discipline with the help
of the methods of other disciplines, although the problem continues
to belong to the original discipline. It is as if one were calling
upon mates to jump aboard one's ship and help one avoid shipwreck.
Another effort consists in a methodological transfer, i.e. in
applying the method belonging to one discipline to another discipline.
This has been called interdiscplinarity. Here one does not ask others
to come and help us, but we go over to their ship or, at least,
we want to navigate together. Obviously, for a method to work, it
has to abide by and be more or less homogeneous with the object
under investigation. One can only help us if we are experts in the
functioning of our own ship. Thus the mathematical method can apply
to physics, but it would not be adequate to apply it to theology
for example. In other words, interdisciplinarity can only apply
to homogeneous disciplines.
More recently, some have introduced the term transdisciplinarity
to designate a method which claims to go beyond the barriers of
discipline. When neither the oars nor the sails of our boat are
of use on the river, we ask people somewhere to throw us some ropes,
to pull us from the shore maybe in order to navigate upstream. This
method wishes to confront the most diverse disciplines and approach
a plural intelligibility of the complexity of human phenomena. 9
One must navigate on the water and move on earth. But both the fact
of starting from the existing disciplines within the contemporary
culture, and the requirement that the methods used should be dependent
on those disciplines, result in that one does not go beyond the
culture in which these disciplines have their rationality of being.
The sailors in the boat and the hawlers on the embankments both
try to have us go up the ever same river.
Transdisciplinarity represents a decisive step towards interculturality,
but one is still within disciplines that claim to be universal and
belong to a particular culture. One is still within the syndrome
of globalization just as the studium generale a few centuries ago,
believed in the unique ars magna which claimed to be able to be
the foundation of a true universitas, by unifying all knowledge.
The challenge of interculturality is more disconcerting and must
hence be more humble and not claim to displace transdisciplinarity
but situate it and relativize it. The question will then be asked:
what is appropriate? Universitas or rather pluriversitas?
«I am not denying that there may be and must be relatively
transcultural values, but this is not synonymous with transculturality.
In that respect one can rather speak of interculturation or of mutual
In another order of things, one speaks of inculturation. Two great
examples: Christianity and modern science with its technology. The
initial presupposition is, obviously, that these living great historical
facts of mankind are supra-cultural, and that they therefore have
the possibility and even the right to inculturate in the different
cultures of mankind, without thereby bringing them to lose their
After all that we have said, it should be clear, that, unless
one is defending a reductionist conception of culture, no human
phenomenon can aspire to be supra-cultural. This does not prevent
that there be values or cosmovisions which, born in a particular
culture, may be adopted or accepted by others. I am not denying
that there may be and must be relatively transcultural values, but
this is not synonymous with transculturality. In that respect one
can rather speak of interculturation or of mutual fecundation.
I have insisted on the polysemy of words, and I myself have used
this word as a possible reinterpretation of inculturation in the
present Christian reflection. 10 In our intercultural context, that
word could also serve as a symbol of the middle way mentioned above,
between cultural solipsism and imperialistic globalization.
Another word, polysemic also, which could help us, would be pluralism.
In both cases, it is a matter of not cutting off potential human
communication. without having to reduce them to a common denominator
of a unique reason. 11
«Cultures cannot be reduced to contexts which house different
texts and give them meaning.»
It may be appropriate on this occasion to express some considerations,
which we shall reduce to three, on what could be called a methodic
of interculturality. Let us first set the main problems.
The "methodic" belonging to interculturality cannot
be one that is followed in interpreting and comparing texts. Nor
can it be a hermeneutic of contexts. To interpret a text, one is
required to know how to read and to know the pretext which made
it possible. The adequate hermeneutics for such an enterprise is
one that I have allowed myself to call diatopical. The topoi, or
cultural sites, are distinct, and one cannot presuppose a priori
that the intentionalities which have made it possible for these
different contexts to emerge, are equal. However, with the necessary
caveats of a diatopical hermeneutics, contexts can be put into relationship
and thus one achieves a certain understanding of these contexts.
However, as previously said, cultures cannot be reduced to contexts
which house different texts and give them meaning. Texts can give
distinct answers to a problem. It is the contexts that present a
problem for us, but it is not legitimate to suppose that the problems
of the different cultures are the same (only with different answers).
The questions themselves are different.
Nevertheless, as we have said, human communication is not impossible
because man is much more (not less) than reason and will. The text
is run by reason, the context by will. But the human texture is
anterior to both the text and the context and it is the fruit neither
of reason nor of will. It is given to us, it is a gift, we find
it, we acknowledge it, we accept it or rebel against it, but it
is there as materia prima, that some will call divine, God or in
some other way. It is sufficient for us to acknowledge that the
ultimate priority belongs to the given, to the gift, to what we
receive or believe that we receive.
From that perspective, interculturality is also a given. And while
each one of us, from within, is seeking to encompass or to situate
other cultures, at least formally, we cannot but acknowledge that
the instruments we hold to come closer to other cultures, come to
us, forged by the culture in which we are living. There is in man,
a feminine dimension which has been too much ignored in the majority
of philosophical reflections.
a. The first consideration, after that general reflection, is
not very popular in the mainstream culture: the field of interculturality
does not belong to the will; it escapes it, and is found beyond
the will to be able to, to know and to seek.
«The field of interculturality does not belong to the will;
it escapes it, and is found beyond the will to be able to, to know
and to seek.»
Authentic interculturation is not the inculturation of a culture
which considers itself superior, or as having the duty to inculturate,
to save, to colonize, to civilize ... It is a spontaneous fruit
of the human condition, a natural result of man's life on this planet,
a hieros gamos, if we wish to abuse a certain "mythology"
in which the Gods pull the strings of the elective affinities and
avatars of history. The healthy relations between cultures, those
which seek no sort of conquest, belong to the very dynamism of the
yin/yang of reality, to the commercium between the divine and the
human, as attested by history itself.
Hence the necessity of a pure heart: although, by pronouncing
the word necessity, we already introduce the great temptation of
wanting to direct and even to manipulate it, in order to realize
our "good intentions", so often justified under cover
of divine Will (interpreted by us, inevitably). Moreover, wanting
to possess a pure heart already soils it, to desire nirvana is the
greatest obstacle to its attainment, or to think in advance how
we are going to witness to the spirit makes us lose not only credibility
but the very power (purity, grace) of the spirit.
In a word, the methodic of interculturality is not voluntary,
but simply natural.
«The methodic of interculturality is not voluntary, but simply
b. Interculturality also shies away from the hold of the intellect
(its apprehension, comprehension, grasp, begreifen); interculturality
is not of the domain of reason. Reason can only operate from its
own field, and from the particular field of a given space and time.
"Sociology of Knowledge" also includes a History and Geography
of Knowledge. Our intelligence is imbedded in time and space and
cannot function outside of them and outside of very particular spaces
and times. It is appropriate to mention here if only parenthetically,
that even the cultures that we geographically experience as borderline
are not contemporary but diachronical. Each has its own space and
lives in its respective time. Neither the clock nor the sun are
the masters of human time, any more than Newton or Einstein are
those who have discovered space.
It follows that reason, which is always our reason, is not the
competent judge for the negotium of interculturality. A first consequence
of this is that what is called comparative philosophy is a pure
impossibility and a leftover from that imperial and colonialistic
past that the intercultural discourse obliges us to mention more
than once. The basis for this is very simple. For an authentically
comparative philosophy, we would need a fulcrum that is neutral,
impartial and hence external to philosophy. Now, by definition,
such does not exist. Philosophy as we would like to define it, is
characterized by the claim of not admitting a superior authority
which orders or dominates it. That authority would then be the authentic
philosophy. It is significant in this respect to remind oneself
that comparative studies have emerged when the goddess Reason reigned
in monarchical and despotic fashion in western culture. And nowadays,
even if it is no longer absolute queen, it has not yet abdicated
its throne of constitutional monarch thus giving free rein
to the struggle, especially political, for power, through the means
of each one's instrumental reason.
«The median way opens up when we become aware of the function
and power of myth next to the indispensable but not exclusive role
of logos in Man. This is what I have called the new innocence.»
Many years ago I introduced the notion of "imparative philosophy"
to situate more adequately our irrepressible aspiration to know
the concrete human panorama as it presents itself to our intellect.
We cannot compare, but we can and must learn (imparare from high
Latin) from the wisdom of other philosophies and cultures, and hence
In a word, reason does not have the mission of governing (man),
but the function of policing. Reason which reigns with much honour
in more than one culture cannot autoconsecrate itself the monarch
of all cultures. But the alternative is not chaos.
c. La alternativa, si así queremos llamar a este esfuerzo
por describir la interculturalidad, no debe renunciar ni a la razón
ni a la voluntad, sino sólamente a superar toda idolatría.
La vía media se abre al darnos cuenta de la función
y poder del mito al lado del papel imprescindible pero no exclusivo
del logos en el hombre. A esto lo he llamado la nueva inocencia.
From the outset we suggest that the present mainstream culture
had set its stakes on logos in all its dimensions, but had omitted
to take the mythos into account, reducing the latter to being the
Cinderella of the former.
My aim here is not to underline the importance of mythos nor to
give it back its role. 13 Let me just state that its function is
essential for an intercultural philosophy.
9. Mythos and logos
Let us try to come to a certain conclusion. Cultures are plural.
The plurality of cultures in this world does exist, not only in
times past but also today. We have already criticized the mainstream
culture's facile temptation to phagocytize them all, with the consolation
of making them evolve towards a superior culture, without their
truly losing anything. This is the modern syndrome of "conversion"
according to the Christianity of the second half of this century,
a syndrome which manifests itself even more crudely in the contemporary
scientific mentality: nothing should be renounced, one must surmount
According to the vocabulary that we are using here, one could
say that the plurality of cultures is a fact that is obvious to
the logos; their pluralism is a myth, obviously for those who believe
«The dialogue between cultures requires not only mutual respect
but also a minimum of mutual understanding, which is impossible
without sympathy and love.»
By pluralism, I mean that human attitude which, recognizing the
contingency of everything which is human, and that man is not only
an object of knowledge but also a knowing subject (knower), acknowledges
that systems of thinking and cultures exist which are mutually incompatible
and even contradictory, and that nevertheless man does not have
the capacity to pass absolute judgement. This does not mean abstaining
from critique, nor from the obligation to oppose certain forms of
culture which are considered to be noxious or erroneous from another
was professor of philosophy at the Universities of Madrid, Roma,
Varanasi (India), Harvard y Santa Barbara (California). He lives
and works now near Barcelona.
But the nature of intercultural philosophy is not so much a question
of dealing with borderline cases, or with decisions to be taken
regarding aberrations as of seeking paths of interculturality which,
without aiming at building a new tower of Babel, do not renounce
human communication. This means giving up the spiritual and material
bulldozer but not the human word, which is dialogue.
We have already said that interculturality is the locus of dialogue.
What is lacking to reach cultural conviviality is dialogical dialogue,
whose condition, among others is mutual respect. We say dialogical
and not merely dialectical dialogue because the latter already presupposes
the primacy of a logos (a very restricted one at that) that many
cultures do not accept.
The dialogue between cultures requires not only mutual respect
but also a minimum of mutual understanding, which is impossible
without sympathy and love.
All this brings us to the re-valorization and maybe the transforming
reinterpretation of a notion which, in spite of being very Hellenic,
might be able to serve as a springboard to interculturality. We
are obviously referring to the myth which is word, narration, which
is conscious, which is not incompatible with logos, but which is
irreducible to the latter. We cannot embrace reality no matter how
proteic our effort: neither the individual alone, nor one culture
alone, nor man isolated from the cosmos and the divine.
We cannot on the other hand, as men, renounce aspiring to the
whole, we cannot settle for a part of the whole of which we are
in some way conscious. And so the binomial mythos-logos seems to
open the window for us unto that vision which, unsatisfied with
the pars pro toto, becomes aware of that which (without dominating
it) laughs, enjoys, lives ... the totum in parte.
Interculturality continues to be a no man's land that we all can
enjoy, provided we do no seek to possess it.
Translated from the French by Robert Vachon.
Forum for Intercultural Philosophy 1 (2000).
Source: external linkINTERculture 135 (1998), 99-120.
1 This text reproduces, with some variations, the
inaugural address of the first Congress of Intercultural Philosophy,
held in Mexico City in March 1995, address whose title was "Filosofía
y cultura: una relación problemática". It
was published in: Ilu. Revista de Ciencias de las Religiones 1 (1996),
2 The major part of all of the themes considered in this article
have already been at least sketched in many of my writings, even
if only those are mentioned which can help to justify the brevity
of this text.
3 See the pioneering work of R. Fornet Betancourt (1994): Filosofía
intercultural. México: Universidad Pontificia de México;
and even more recently R. A. Mall (1995): Philosophie im Vergleich
der Kulturen. Stuttgart: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft.
4 See my study (1993) "Satapathaprajña: Should we speak
of Philosophy in Classical India?". In: G. Fløistad
(ed.): Contemporary Philosophy, Vol. VII. Dordrecht: Kluwer,
5 One can quote as an example the work edited by D. Fraser (1974):
African Art as Philosophy. New York: Interbook, who overcomes
aesthetic and anthropological "cliches" that are usually
applied, in a more or less condescending manner, to African culture
(sensual, aesthetic, vivacious, joyous, primogenial but with
6 Playing with the possibilities of the German language, I have
introduced a few years back, the word "Ummythologisierung".
See my article (1963, published in Italian in 1961) "Die Ummythologisierung
in der Begegnung des Christentums mit dem Hinduismus". In:
Kerygma und Mythos (Hamburg) 6.1, 211-235.
7 See, among many other studies, volume III (1967) of Europaïsche
Schlüsselwörter, entitled "Kultur und Zivilisation",
edited by Sprachwissenschaftliches Colloquium, Bonn München:
Hueber, and the chapter "Zivilisation, Kultur" of volume
VII (1992) of Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe, edited by O.
Brunner, W. Conze and R. Koselleck, Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta.
8 See my book (1997) La experiencia filosófica de la India,
Madrid: Trotta, which dispenses me from being more explicit.
9 See the interesting book by B. Nicolescu (1996) La transdisciplinarité,
Monaco: Rocher, which inaugurates a whole movement, and which has
published a collective manifesto (at Arrabida, 1994) on transdisciplinarity.
10 With respect to Christianity which offers us a good example but
which I cannot deal with here, see the contributions of the Indian
Theological Association, little known outside its milieu (while
noting its maturity in the course of time): J. B. Chethimattam (ed.)
(1972): Unique and Universal. Fundamental Problems of an Indian
Theology. Bangalore: Dharmaran College; J. Pathrapankal (ed.)
(1973): Service & Salvation. Bangalore: TPI; M. Amaladoss
/ T. John / G. Gispert-Sauch (eds.) (1981): Theologizing in India.
Bangalore: TPI; C. van Leuwen (ed.) (1984): Searching for an
Indian Ecclesiology. Bangalore: ATC; K. Pathil (ed.) (1987):
Socio-Cultural Analysis in Theologizing. Bangalore: ITA;
K. Pathil (ed.): Religious Pluralism. An Indian Christian Perspective.
11 Sorry not to be more explicit on the theme of pluralism inherent
to interculturality, that I have treated at length and repeatedly
on other occasions. See for example (1995) Invisible Harmony. Minneapolis:
Fortress, and J. Prabhu (ed.) (1996): The Intercultural Challenge
of R. Panikkar. Maryknoll: Orbis.
12 See my (1980) "Aporias in the Comparative Philosophy of
Religion". In: Man and World (The Hague Boston
London) 13.3-4, 357-383, y "What is Comparative Philosophy
Comparing?" In: G. J. Larson / E. Deutsch (eds.) (1988): Interpreting
Across Boundaries. New Essays in Comparative Philosophy. Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 116-136.
13 The bibliography is immense. May I signal, because of their importance,
the two volumes (which comprise a vast bibliography) of Ll. Duch
(1995): Mite i cultura. Aproximació a la logomítica
I. Barcelona: Publicacions de l'Abadia de Montserrat, and (1996):
Mite i interpretació. Aproximació a la logomítica
II. Barcelona: Publicacions de l'Abadia de Montserrat.