ALTERITY AND REVERSIBILITY IN MERLEAU-PONTY: A DISCOURSE ON CULTURAL DIVERSITY AND MINORITY RIGHTS
Cultural diversity is increasingly becoming an inevitable feature of most modern states. This is because trade, tourism, international dialogue amongst scholars, scientists and artists and the movement of skilled labor as well as migration have ensured that few countries do not contain within them significant numbers of peoples from other cultures. A likely consequence of this diversity is clash of cultural interests, especially between minority and majority cultural groups, in response to which proponents of multiculturalism argue for minority rights and recognition for cultural minorities. But multiculturalism tends to over emphasize the “cultural self” at the expense of the “cultural other” culminating in cultural separatism. This thesis takes up, however, the argument that a healthy perception and understanding of ‘the other’ in our relationship with fellow human b eings is more fundamental to tackling the challenges of cultural diversity than multiculturalism. The aim of this work, therefore, is to employ Merleau-Ponty’s reversibility thesis (in which one’s world opens upon the other and vice-versa when people come in contact with one another) as an alternative model with which to better understand the ontological nature of the self’s relation to the other as the basis for intercultural reversal of perspectives for social harmony. Methodologically, the qualitative research design is used for this study. Data for the study are collected from books, journals articles, biographies, and interviews. Data from these sources are analyzed by the use of historical-hermeneutics and philosophical exposition/analysis. Historical-hermeneutics is employed to survey and understand previous conceptions of alterity and the self’s relation to alterity in the history of philosophy/thought. Philosophical exposition is used to highlight the relational ontology of the self to alterity in Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy of reversibility and also highlight the increasing reality of cultural diversity and minority rights claims. Philosophical/textual analysis is used to analyse Merlau-Ponty’s ontology of alterity and reversibility in order to apply it to the challenges of cultural diversity and multiculturalism, with social development in view.
1.2 Background to the Study
In our experiences, others seem so close; yet in our thinking, they remain remote…
-William Ralph Shroeder1
The experience of others becomes an issue of concern and interest for basically two reasons- cultural and intellectual. From the cultural perspective (which is of primary concern in this work), we are confronted with some facts. Personal relationships are troubled: divorces are increasing; families are breaking apart; cultural groups clash over conflicting interests and friendships exit under great strains. We oscillate between a desperate effort to commit ourselves completely and an insistence on remaining islands unto ourselves. Even for those who try hardest and care, most interpersonal relationships seem only to touch the surface; at best, they leave one unharmed; more often, they deliberate and disorient.2
Although interpersonal life promises a full-course meal, for many, it provides only a series of appetizers.
A related fact is the lowered expectations people have for relationships as a result of
Careers take precedence; relationships are sacrificed. Injunctions to be individual, authentic and concerned only about oneself are hawked from street corners by self-help proselytizers. One becomes convinced that one must continually oppose others if one is to remain oneself. One trusts very few; from the rest, one hopes for indifference rather than resistance. As our hopes diminish, our efforts to create radiant relationships are abandoned, and a cycle of entropy ensues.3
Intellectual issues are the second motivation, the question of which lie at the foundation of social sciences and ethics. One’s conception of the nature of others determines what can be observed and known about them and what procedures of inquiry can be most productive. One’s position on the nature of interpersonal relations determines what social entities should be investigated. In addition, the importance people give to ethics and politics depends on the adequacy with which they grasp the reality of others and the clarity with which they understand their relationship with others. If one does not or cannot experience the presence and person-hood of others, then ethical and political thought becomes merely academic. Therefore, if ethics is to discover realizable ideals and to seriously address the contemporary interpersonal situations, an incisive phenomenology of interpersonal experience will be indispensable.