Cross-cultural Understanding and Ethics

James Mensch
Charles University, Prague
Thesis: With the end of the cold war, ideological conflicts have faded. In their stead, we have witnessed the rise of cultural strife. On the borders of the great civilizations conflicts involving basic cultural values have arisen. These have given increased emphasis to the ethical imperative of cross cultural understanding. How do we go about understanding different cultures? What are the grounds and premises of such understanding? How does such understanding tie into the basic ethical theories that have marked the West? The premise of this paper is that such understanding requires a new paradigm, one fundamentally different from that animating Western, scientific rationality. What is required is a rethinking of what constitutes our ethical selfhood. After proposing a concept of such selfhood, this essay shows that it is an implicit premise of Plato’s, Kant’s, Freud’s and Darwin’s thoughts about ethics. It makes some practical suggestions for increasing cross-cultural understanding and then concludes with a brief description of the normative, ethical ideal of such understanding
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