Why a comparative model?

“IT MAKES NO DIFFERENCE TO THE MOUNTAIN ON WHICH SIDE YOU CLIMB IT.”

During the last half century, our little blue planet has become substantially smaller through heightened communication and mobility. Europe is no longer the center of the world and multiculturalism, like it or not, is from now on a universal situation. Our own population is becoming more and more multicultural, which makes learning, understanding and approaching other cultures on the basis of equality an essential, international objective. It is the task of comparative philosophy to lead people(s) to be world citizens, to widen their vision, and to offer them the necessary tools to independently find their way in this changed and changing world. Among other ways, this can be achieved through a general “think model” which must do the home culture as well as the other cultures complete justice. This article deals with just such a comparative instrument that shows precisely how cultures can relate to each other and how we can penetrate to their underlying philosophy.

It is, however, typical of every culture, and certainly of the western one, to take its own view as the point of departure and begin comparisons from there. In the worst instance, it holds its own view to be the highest, the only true one. For this reason, a model is a suitable instrument since it is not a philosophy itself – is therefore “paradigm-free” – and yet still presents the possibility of comparing cultures. Furthermore, we do not restrict ourselves to surface structures but try to discover their deep structure, the foundations on which they are based. The comparative philosopher is expected to step out of his “frog perspective” – that pool that forms the horizon of his own culture. In other words, he is expected to know his own limits and allow for them in the way he undertakes to compare. If he does not, the comparison remains shallow and incomplete, either looking only for similarities or foundering under incomparable differences.

Comparative philosophy starts with the standpoint that in every culture basic questions are posed concerning the border situations of life. Where do we come from? What is life, old age, death? What are we doing here, and where are we going?... Each culture gives, in its own way, an answer to these questions. Comparing cultures in their deep structure using a comparative model not only integrates the similarities but also gives room to the differences, the “ownness”. In the multitude of cultural forms of expression, comparative philosophy draws the map which makes orientation possible. The map is not the landscape, but it brings out its lines of force. The strongest contribution that comparative philosophy makes is that its point of departure for a life philosophy is the living human being. On the one hand, this brings an enormous creative diversity, since the life experience of each person is unique; but at the same time it is what binds all people together: they share the experience of being alive, in confrontation with the universal border situations of life.

Some examples of raising questions

How does science relate itself to the intimate experience of the mystery of life? Can knowledge of nature replace experiencing nature or are they complementary? How do the revealed truths of the Books (Torah, Bible, Quran…) relate to the meditative practices of the East? “Does the scent of the rose change as its name is changed”?

Comparative philosophy teaches us how we can recognize, acknowledge, and place these fields of tension, thus contributing to the formation of world citizens who, beyond everything that seemingly sets them apart, can live together in mutual respect.