Monday, July 24, 2006

Ramin Jahanbegloo and Rorty

3 Quarks Daily has a link to an interview with Ramin Jahanbegloo. Jahanbegloo is an Iranian philosopher (trained at the Sorbonne) who since April has been imprisoned in Tehran for political reasons. The interview, with Danny Postel, is from January and February of this year.

Jahanbegloo brought many American and European philosophers to Tehran and it is interesting to get his take on the kind of philosophy that resonates with young Iranians.

Jahanbegloo describes Richard Rorty's visit to Tehran in June 2004. Rorty argued that human rights don't require any sort of universal, philosophical foundation. This is part-and-parcel of Rorty's general anti-foundationalism and anti-universalism.

Jahanbegloo reponds to Rorty with a distinction between "soft" and "hard" universalism. As he says:

“Soft” universalism applies the universal right to reciprocity in a world of plural values in order to allow people with different values to accept one another.
I see “soft” universalism as the only hope for promoting democracy in non-democratic cultures.

If I understand him correctly (and this sounds vaguely Habermasian to me), Jahanbegloo posits a general, universal framework committed to "reciprocity", which is then the means for debating particular values. Here he doesn't say how this universal framework can be justified. But he does say this:

I think it would be extremely dangerous to have a dialogical exchange among cultures without a structure of shared universal values. In other words, I do not believe in international relations without an international ethics, especially in situations of power, violence and crisis. But going back to Rorty, I believe that his take on the desirability of human rights free of claims to their naturalness is an open-ended debate. But it certainly requires a long process of political and cultural argumentation and persuasion, one which many non-democratic societies, like ours, cannot afford for the time being. (emphasis added)
In short, Jahanbegloo concludes that universal foundations are necessary in situations of "power, violence and crisis" and in many "non-democratic societies."

I'm intrigued by that claim because it is, on its face, so pragmatic: an "international ethics" is justified by its success in dealing with dangerous situations.

This philosophical point is all the more poignant given Jahanbegloo's current imprisonment. How does one protest his imprisonment (which seems entirely trumped up): does one appeal to universal standards of justice, or does one appeal to the sort of pragmatic considerations Rorty (e.g.) favors?


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