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2009-05-05 21:49:45|  分类: 默认分类 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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PB: What is your take on cultural relativism?


Where it's most diverting is in the field ofrelativist ethics. It is argued: How can you criticize other countries becausein their context, their ethics is the right one? That view overlooks theimmensely constructive possibility of arguments that are used in the context ofa debate in one culture but where the argument draws also from another. Andit's always been like that, even religion. Buddhism arose in India. It's theonly agnostic world religion. But it went out to Japan,China, Korea, all kinds of places from India. Incontrast, the purely cultural relativist position would be to ask: What has aKorean or a Japanese got to learn from the Indians on Buddhism?


A similar thing can be said today. To say of some practicethat's prevalent in some countries, like stoning of adulterous woman in Afghanistan or genital mutilation in North Africa, - "Look, that's their practice, youcan't criticize," is ridiculous. That critique may not survive even in Somalia or Afghanistan, provided a freediscussion is possible, involving women as well as men, rather than dissidentsbeing threatened or being put in jail. One of the strongest arguments thatshows the weakness of the cultural relativist dismissal of dissent is the needthat authorities have to put local dissidents in jail for taking a -"foreign" point of view.


And there are some strong intellectual arguments foruniversalism. Just as Chomsky claims that our ability to use certain forms ofsyntax and language are present in all human beings, similarly there are anumber of capacities to think on your own, if you try, that exist amongdifferent people.


PB: Some of your critics in India -and there are some, true to the argumentative tradition - have said that inthis book you have indulged in the same kind of partisan selection of evidencefrom history that you find in others. They say that spanning more than 2,000years, for your point about tolerance and pluralism and the inclusionary viewof Indian identity, you choose figures like the Emperor Ashoka in the thirdcentury bc, Emperor Akbar of the 16th century, and then Rabindranath Tagore inthe 19th/20th century. And they say that others could choose historical figuresrepresenting the opposite: orthodoxy, intolerance, etc.



AS: I am not claiming thatAkbar or Ashoka represent anything like the - "essential India." My point is that theyrepresent a very strong perspective that has come up again and again, whichincludes a lot of tolerance. But of course there is also a long history ofextreme intolerance and nastiness. Indian culture has this variety that needsacknowledgement. Since the focus has been so much on the other side, I am usingmy focus as a correction. I have quite an elaborate discussion of science andmathematics in India.This is not a claim that everyone was a scientist in India. It's a claim that thattradition exists.


When we try to draw on the past, we draw always in aselective basis. When the French and the British and the Americans were drawingon the European past in saying there is a democratic tradition, and theyreferred to Athens and ancient Greece - over a small number of centuries fromsixth, fifth, fourth, third century bc - they were not looking at the Goths andVisigoths and Ostrogoths. Because in the context of the debate on democracy in America in thelate 18th or early 19th century, the relevant reference is Athenian democracy.Ostrogoths, Vikings, and in a different way, intolerant masters of theInquisition are no less - "European" than ancient Greeks.Nevertheless, one could say if you're looking for representative Europe, it ain't like that.


Looking back on our history, it is not surprising thatGandhi or Nehru would emphasize those parts of the Indian tradition of publicreasoning that were particularly relevant for modern India - the first poorcountry which chose to be an uncompromisingly democratic, multi-party state. Idon't think any of them claimed that their focus was the only tradition thatexisted in India.


This point is worth mentioning because there is a tendencyin the West to think of something of which they approve as being a Westernthought. Describing Iranian dissidents as - "ambassadors of European thought"is to add insult to injury because there is also a history in Iran ofdemocracy going back to the third century bc. And to be told that no, no, no,you are actually implants of John Stuart Mill, misdescribes the nature ofIranian dissidence.

这一点应该说明,因为在西方,有一种趋势,认为他们所承认的东西,才是西方思想。将伊朗的持异议者,说成“欧洲思想的大使”,是让受害者增加了耻辱,因为在伊朗,它的民主传统,可以回溯到公元前三世纪。要说的是:非也,非也,非也!你真是John Stuart Mill的传人,误会了伊朗异议者的实质。


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