TRANS Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 17. Nr. Juni 2010

Sektion 8.20. Rationality, Ethical Incommensurability and Existential Communication
Sektionsleiter | Section Chair: T. Brian Mooney (Singapore Management University)

Dokumentation | Documentation | Documentation

Section report 8.20.

Rationality, Ethical Incommensurability and Existential Communication

T. Brian Mooney (Singapore Management University) [BIO]



This section of the conference addressed a series of interdisciplinary themes on the issues of rational incommensurability, ethical perspectives and strategies for existential communication.  Rather than attempting to answer a set of specific questions presenters were asked to provide a series of meditations (contemplationes) on the three themes.  Seven presenters provided deeply interesting and varied perspectives on the topics and their inter-relations from multi-disciplinary perspectives.  There was considerable time given over to discussion and this proved especially fruitful and enlightening.

Bernard Cullen began the proceedings with a penetrating (and sometimes harrowing) account of the ways in which deeply rooted psychological dimensions of persons and groups contribute to violence in society.  Drawing on Freudian psychology and the work on trauma by Wilfrid Bion and Otto Kernberg he presented a compelling argument on the sources of individual and group trauma that emerge in various forms of neuroses and even psychosis.

Daniel Baillet again took up the theme of psychological forces in respect to ethical questions.  His paper provided empirically grounded analyses of social dilemmas particularly as they relate to cooperation.  He argued that self-control processes are intimately related to the regulation of social values and their impact on cooperation and ended by discussing the implication of these observations, focusing on two proximate causes of immoral (non-cooperative) behavior, reduced concern for others and a focus on immediate gratification.

Kirpal Singh addressed issues of rationality from a cross-cultural and multi-cultural perspective.  By using examples from both real and imagined contexts he tried to demonstrate through real-life and literary examples just how important it is for us to try as best as possible to know what the "limits" might be when we assume that engagements across cultures are okay so long as these are based on what we presume to be "reasonable".

Duane Lacey addressed the issue not so much of what justifies war but whether there are a set of common canons that could ground the nature of a theory of the battlefield.  His concerns were focused on meta-issues in an attempt to determine some basic principles for its possible universal study that address the elements of strategy and tactics in a direct, pragmatic manner.

Mark Nowacki drawing upon the work of Mary Douglas and Cultural Theory argued that the five ways of life identified by Cultural Theorists are themselves correlated with distinct “forms of rationality,” i.e., coherent yet incommensurable schemes for understanding the world. Adherents of a particular form of rationality will generally behave in accordance with their rational interpretation of the world, and as such they will develop specific virtues to support the successful performance of those actions that are in keeping with their way of life.  He supplements these perspectives with an account of virtue ethics and argues that this can aid efforts to promote ethical understanding both among the distinct ways of life found within a single society and among the various ways of life located across diverse societies.

John Williams argued that our deepest intuitions and reasons for punishment are brought into sharp relief when we look at futuristic scenarios.  Drawing inspiration fro the Hollywood blockbuster Minority Report he presented a compelling argument that our reasons for punishing are incommensurable and perhaps even incoherent when viewed from the perspective of Minority Report.

T. Brian Mooney argued that one of the fundamental features of contemporary debates is that they have no terminus.  The problem he suggests is not lack of rationality but too many competing rationalities that issue also in widely divergent grounding reasons for ethics.  He went on to argue that the impasse is only likely to be resolved, not at the level of meta-theories of reason but in existential forms of communication.  He advocated “story-telling” and forms of emotional connectedness as strategies to overcome incommensurability.

8.20. Rationality, Ethical Incommensurability and Existential Communication

Sektionsgruppen | Section Groups | Groupes de sections

TRANS   Inhalt | Table of Contents | Contenu  17 Nr.

For quotation purposes:
T. Brian Mooney: Section report 8.20.: Rationality, Ethical Incommensurability and Existential Communication - In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 17/2008. WWW:

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