The Other and Ourselves: Is Multi-culturalism Inherently Relativist?

Understanding "the other" will pose the 21 st century's greatest social challenge. The days are over when "Westerners" could consider their experience and culture as the norm and other cultures merely as earlier stages in the West's development. Nowadays, most of the West senses the arrogant presumption at the heart of that old belief.

Sadly, this newfound modesty, so necessary for understanding other cultures and traditions, threatens to veer into relativism and a questioning of the very idea of truth in human affairs. For it may seem impossible to combine objectivity with the recognition of fundamental conceptual differences between cultures. So cultural openness poses the risk that we debase the currency of our values.

To grapple with this dilemma, we must understand culture's place in human life. Culture, self-understanding, and language mediate whatever we identify as fundamental to a common human nature. Across human history, always and everywhere, these basic faculties have demonstrated endless extraordinary innovation.

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