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One of the major debates underlying philosophical investigations is the epistemic conflict between reason on the one hand and identity on the other, and their role in qualifying human actions as right and/or wrong. For many decades, political philosophers and theorists have attempted to resolve this issue, by appropriating either the compatibility of these two concepts or the never commensurable nature of theirs. In an attempt to problematically understand and address this debate Bhikhu Parekh, Professor of Political Philosophy at the University of Westminster delivered a lecture on “Reason and Identity” under the Occasional Lecture Program of the Forum on Contemporary Theory on September 3, 2008 at the Centre for Contemporary Theory and General Semantics, Baroda. The session was chaired by Dr. V. V.
Modi, Member of Trust of the Forum, and moderated by Dr. Lajwanti Chatani, Incharge Director of the Centre and Convener of the Forum on Contemporary Theory. Dr. Parekh’s talk was a modified version of his Presidential Lecture delivered at the British Academy. According to Dr. Parekh, there remain many issues in moral and political philosophy that ought to be more adequately addressed. According to him, reason and identity are two of such issues, and perhaps the more important of them. Referring to the Rationalist Tradition’s central concern of reason, Dr. Parekh argued that this tradition connotes various dimensions rather than one; the major being the primacy of cognitive character. On the other hand, identity is more about community and cultural affiliation and the concern with enchantment. In the history of philosophy, one certainly finds a marginalization and prioritization of one over the other at different stages. Prioritizing the transcendental, impersonal, consistent, and ideal categories, rationalists have shown the predominance of reason where one can accomplish the resolution of all differences in the universal form so that “what is valid for me is valid for all.” What happens here, as Dr. Parekh suggests, is that the very subject who reasons is neglected for a mere nostalgia for ‘impersonal’ principles. Ignoring identity means ignoring cultural and personal differences, and making diversity among cultures and identities as mere inconsequential. Bhikhu Parekh reflected on the fact that there are certain things present in one culture which may not be seen in another culture. Cultural meanings are one such aspect. He
offered the example of ‘self-respect’, bringing out its different meanings in Rawls’s political philosophy where it is a primary good and its spiritual aspect in Buddhist philosophy. The interesting question he raises is what if identity itself becomes reason. This indeed is an important question because one can not firmly discount that reason and identity do not meet at any point of argument or existence. One way in which the reason-identity compatibility can be thought of, according to Dr. Parekh is to subject identity-related reasons to some form of rational argument. Though they are subject to rational argument, there is no entailment of universal principles; but some sense of generality is nonetheless necessary. Then, the compelling question here would be how can we create a moral space for identity related reasons? Dr. Parekh also opined that despite a high preference for ‘identity related reasons’ it is difficult to perceive a total resolution of the conflict between the relative weight of related reasons and impersonal reason. For him, identity related reasons can only be possible when weighed differently for different issues in different situations. What it signifies is that identity related reasons can permit generality that need not have overlapping meanings with ‘impersonal reason.’ Finally, Dr. Parekh remarked that the relation between reason and identity remains complex, so that to have the validation of identity related reasons, certain trade-offs on both the sides are needed. The lecture by Bhikhu Parekh was well attended by scholars from different disciplines and generated substantive discussion and interaction.
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