MIDWAY: Image in the mirror

Some of the delegates here at the World Congress of Philosophy in South Korea think that my reports to date have been too negative. “Sardonic” is how some of them put it. I find this a bit rich and do not think it worth arguing that they are wrong. Instead, I feel they have every right to think and believe what they think is right.

It seems the subject which prides itself on being skeptical and questioning doesn’t like it when it faces a few mildly skeptic questions itself.

The central question that has been bothering me is how much genuine learning and communication goes on when people who radically disagree come together. I have come

across situations when people disagree because they just don’t want to take a leap of faith or just don’t want an assault on their identity.

Take the various interfaith meetings that are set up. Everyone listens very respectfully, but no one is even interested in changing their minds.

It is as though all that is said is just a ritual, the aim of which is the sacrament of validating every party’s right to exist.

Even if that were all that was going on at such meetings it would still be worthwhile. But in any case, there is much more to meeting with people you share little in common with than the promise of reaching anything like agreement.

First, even if when you part you’re going to revert to your set ways, you can at least benefit from seeing yourself from the outside. Second, in almost every human pursuit there is something of merit. Even if you reject 99 per cent of the viewpoints you engage with, it could be that the 1 per cent you take away you would not have come across otherwise.

Third, intellectual pursuits and belief systems do not have sharp boundaries. From time to time, it is worth wandering around the fuzzy border regions of what you do, if only to remind yourself that no human activity is an island.

My suggestion is that the value of such exchanges has nothing to do with the scale of what is transacted. What we gain are, perhaps, one or two genuinely new ideas, but more than that, a more truthful look at ourselves and others.