Interculture Award 2011: Philosophy

Award ceremony in Munich

The Goethe-Institut’s first-time prize for young researchers in philosophy was awarded on 14 September 2011 to Dr. Sarhan Dhouib. This philosopher, who was born in 1974 in Tunisia, won over the jury with his contest contribution on the issue of the universal justifiability of human rights. The award ceremony took place in Munich, in the Ludwig Maximilan University’s Große Aula during the XII German Congress of Philosophy.Post-docs in academic philosophy from around the world were called upon to participate in the contest. They were invited to position themselves in the context of intercultural philosophy with respect to the question: “Universality vs. Relativity of Interpretations of Self and World – Contradiction, Difference or Unity?” Positions were to be formulated as responses to the question of whether and how philosophy can identify interfaces of approach and communication between the great diversity of value systems postulated as absolute, and the relativity of our scientific knowledge.

Submissions from 14 countries conveyed an impressive spectrum of contemporary creativity in intercultural philosophy. The three-member jury was made up of Claudia Bickmann, (University Cologne) and Rainer Enskat (University Halle) professors recognised as authorities in the field, and Christoph Bartmann, former head of the Goethe-Institut’s Department of Culture and Information in Munich. The jurors found themselves confronted with a very difficult decision, but as they stated in their joint declaration: “Sarhan Dhouib has taken on the issue of universalism versus particularism in a both innovative and at the same time comparative manner. In his contribution, he succeeds in delineating a mutual penetration of methodological and thematic approaches to the issue. In his analysis, he draws attention to an inner affinity between central passages in the Koran and various 17th-century European concepts of natural and human rights. He is thus in a position to formulate normative foundations for reforms based on natural and human rights in both western and eastern legal systems that are in need of reform.”

The prize was awarded by Andreas Ströhl, current head of the Department of Culture and Information. Jury member Prof. Dr. Claudia Bickmann held the congratulatory speech.

Anja Riedeberger,
Division  Science and Current Affairs

Topic of the original call for essays

Universality vs. Relativity of Interpretations of Self and World – Opposition, Difference or Unity?

The accelerated transformation of cultures and forms of knowledge is generating mutually opposing movements world-wide. Numerous renaissances of traditional value horizons and interpretations of the world in various non-European philosophies are pointing up an unresolved problem. While western modes of interpretation of self and world are losing their orientative function and are paying for advances in knowledge with a loss of orientation, the various non-European philosophies of Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism, as well as Hinduism and Islam, are claiming a renewed authoritativeness and definiteness of ultimate value horizons.

Concomitant with these developments, both tradition and breach with tradition count among the decisive challenges of a world in the process of accelerating coalescence. If both sides are to avoid persisting in unstable and potentially hostile antagonisms, transparency of premisses and respective delineation of the one side’s arguments and the other’s are necessary. At the same time, the current conflict between universal values and the concept of culturally relative value horizons can be reduced to fundamental questions concerning not only the relationship of cultures to each other, but also the cultures’ own, innermost cores. Tradition can turn dogmatic if it is believed that it may claim validity solely on the basis of its provenance. Breach with tradition can produce scepticism and relativism if it is believed that anything that eludes rational argumentation must be a priori suspect.

How can philosophy meet this challenge? Can it discover topoi of rapprochement or mediation between the relativity and scepticism of our scientific knowledge and the unquestionable authoritativeness of primary value horizons, between universality and relativity or particularity?

Clarification of these questions can be achieved only in philosophical contexts. And since universalistic and particularistic positions are to be found in equal measure in all world philosophies, this opposition per se is the issue to be investigated. What – the questions might run – are the potentials and limitations of both approaches? In what ways are both positions in fact internally linked and interrelated? How is rapprochement above and beyond the oppositions possible?

Prof. Dr. Claudia Bickmann,
Universität zu Köln,
December 2010

Related links

Interculture Award of the Goethe-Institut (in general)
Interculture Award 2012: Sociology
XXII. Deutscher Kongress für Philosophie München 2011