Cultural Pluralism

Pluralism200 Bhikhu Parekh in The Philosopher's Magazine:

Western thought has long been dominated by the view that while error is plural, truth is singular. We can be wrong in many different ways but can be right in only one way. According to this view, which we might call monism or singularism, there is only one correct way of understanding the world, only one true system of morality, only one true way of leading the good life, only one true religion, only one correct way of organising society, and so on. We are supposed to arrive at truth, be it cognitive, moral or religious, by means of reason, which is understood as a transcendental and quasi-divine faculty rising above the psychological, social, cultural and other constraints. This view has had both good and bad consequences. It has inspired most rigorous intellectual inquiries, rules of rational debate, and a determination to expose and fight errors. It has also however led to arrogance, intolerance, failure to appreciate differences, tendency to equate diversity with deviation, and much violence.

Cultural pluralism challenges this view of truth and goodness. It sees reason as a human rather than a quasi-divine or transcendental with all that it implies. Since it takes the view that human beings are culturally embedded, it argues that reason is shaped and structured by culture. This does not mean that they cannot criticise and revise their culture, but rather that they cannot transcend all its subtle and deepest influences and view it from a nonexistent Archimedean standpoint. They may replace one culture with another but cannot stand outside the realm of culture altogether. For cultural pluralism the world can be understood in several different ways depending on our conceptual apparatus, language, interests, purposes, the questions we ask and the kind of knowledge we seek and value. Like truth in general, moral truth or good too is also plural. Human capacities and moral values conflict and cannot all be integrated into a harmonious system without loss. Different cultural communities organise themselves on the basis of different visions of the good life, and foster different human capacities, dispositions and virtues. Every cultural community represents a particular form of human excellence with all its characteristic strengths and limitations. No culture is perfect or exhaustively embodies goodness, and none is wholly devoid of at least some degree of goodness.