Literary Theory and the Claims of History: Postmodernism, Objectivity, Multicultural Politics

By Satya P. Mohanty | Go to book overview

7 IDENTITY, MULTICULTURALISM, JUSTICE

What would a realist account of social and cultural diversity look like? I have been claiming in a general way that a (realist) metatheoretical understanding of objectivity as a social achievement is necessary for a genuinely progressive social and cultural theory. In this chapter, I intend to substantiate that claim by showing how belief in objectivity can enable realists to develop a rich notion of cultural diversity as a social good and how it can help them ground their conception of ethics in a cogent theory of culture and society. It is in fact my account of the interdependence of moral and cultural processes that makes my realist version of multiculturalism stronger than the relativist or liberal versions I have examined. I understand multiculturalism as an aspect of a theory of social justice. This understanding draws upon specifically realist definitions of human agency, cultural identity, and moral knowledge--definitions that in principle leave room for objectivity as well as for error and mystification.

The thesis about agency and personhood I introduced in. Chapter 5 was that in cross-cultural inquiry we should recognize one crucial limit to relativist arguments. No matter how different cultural Others are, they are never so different that they are--as typical members of their culture--incapable of acting purposefully, of evaluating their actions in light of their ideas and previous experiences, and of being "rational" in this minimal way. Without the capacity for such rational agency, I suggested, they would not be capable of social existence, since they could not develop the kind of adaptive mechanism that enables them to learn and survive, to possess a "history."

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