The Ethics of Deep Diversity in Multicultural Societies, Part I

The Ethics of Deep Diversity in Multicultural Societies, Part I

Each age is different, but each has the centre of its happiness within itself. . . . No one lives in his own period only; he builds on what has gone before and lays a foundation for what comes after. — Johann Gottfried Herder, Yet another History of Philosophy, F. M. Barnard trans. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969), p. 188.

The concept of deep diversity was introduced in the contemporary literature of social and political philosophy by Charles Taylor’s essay on Deep Diversity and the Future of Canada in 1997. In this work, diversity is considered deep because it involves ethno-cultural distinctiveness. Hence, it refers to the existing diversity in deeper layers of identity formation and social relations coordination in multicultural societies. The idea of deep diversity is also associated with politics of recognition, participatory democratization and multiculturalism.

The “ethics of deep diversity” refers to an ethical account that acknowledges and can effectively address the deep diversity in multicultural and multi-ethnic societies without urging distinct people – those who conceive of themselves as distinct identities – be abstracted from their own distinctiveness and specification. In this sense, the ethics of deep diversity embraces accommodation of identity difference within a political community without stressing superiority of one over different others. That is to say, the ethics of deep diversity extends beyond the scope of toleration and respect and/or acknowledgment of pluralism as the means of social integration in the polity. Rather, it engages a commitment to political recognition of the distinctiveness of ethno-culturally different others. The most devoting, and also challenging, promise of the ethics of deep diversity is that it admits a more participatory discourse of democratization and inclusion in liberal multicultural societies and, by implication, provides both theoretical insight and pragmatic opportunity to diagnose and curve possible social cleavages and political fragmentation.

Although I have been inspired by Taylor’s account of deep diversity and recognition of difference, in this paper my intention is to delve into the deeper intellectual roots of the conception of diversity in the history of philosophy, and my preferred figure is Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803). Charles Taylor has also taken leads from this architect of pluralism and expressivism1 and especially in a number of his later works on social policies and democratization has been influenced by Herder.2

The thematic plan of this paper pursues the following order: In the first section, I draw on the background picture in which Herder presents his account of diversity and highly influences Romantic thought on recognition of the importance of identity distinctiveness and belonging. In the second section, the interrelationship of the principle of Humanität and diversity will be discussed.



I move on in the third section to highlight what makes Herder’s account of diversity unique in the modern mode of accommodation and appreciation of identity and ethno-cultural differences. Based on these analyses, in the fourth section I define the ethics of deep diversity and its ties with the politics of multiculturalism. And, in conclusion, I characterize the ethics of deep diversity as a theoretical insight and practical medium for managing social cleavages and political fragmentation in multicultural societies. Throughout this paper, I also refer to Taylor to get confirmation of my argument. (The third and fourth sections are continued as Part II in the May 2013 issue of livebetter.)

I. Romantic Encounters

Herder is one of the leading harbingers of a new epoch when mainstream materialistic and utilitarian aspects of radical Enlightenment thoughts, which were embracing rationalism and scientific spirit, became questionable.3 In the wake of the scientific revolution in the 17th and 18th Centuries, which signalled the demise of the traditional structure of authority and replaced it with man’s subjectivity and power, two interwoven ethical traditions became prevalent in Modern Europe. One is the ethics of (scientific) belief in the discoverability of laws of nature by universal and timeless scientific rationality. The other is the utilitarian ethics of happiness appreciating people’s desire for (material) pleasure and happiness. The former leaves no room for non-universalist and insufficient evidences for truth.4 The latter denies any moral appeal beyond utility for happiness. These two together informed the intellectual thrust of the age and unlikely the mainstream Enlightenment that admitted the total sweeping away of obstacles to a universal and impartial promotion of well-being.5

By the radical Enlightenment, then, we may assume a radical subjectivity that gave way to a new epistemology and a consequential ontology of the self affirming concept of ordinary life based on a universalistic and secularist pursuit of happiness. Emphasizing the importance of consequences of action, especially utilitarianism, which accorded great value to man’s ability to understand how he may masterfully produce the greatest amounts of happiness and how this ability constitutes a new standard of a new ethical outlook, the radical Enlightenment ended at the supremacy of the ethics of belief. This ethics gives urgency to acceptance of scientific inquiry. “One ought not to believe what one has insufficient evidence for.”6 This approach suggests that self-love and virtue can neatly come into harmony with no need to discuss any engagement for conception of a good life provided happiness and well-being are the goal of life. Indeed, out of radical Enlightenment a new morality of pure self gratification emerges that is reluctant to confirm any virtue beyond the utilitarian ethics of belief. Standing at the centre of this morality is a self-responsible account of reason, which admits pursuit of happiness as the ultimate goal of life. In other words, this (instrumental) reason demands a sweeping away of the obstacles to a universal and impartial promotion of well-being. In light of these arguments, it is the physical nature of man that necessitates such pursuit of happiness. Man by its nature cries out loudly for the sensual fulfillment of life. This natural disposition constitutes the imperative behind the universal and impartial rationality and not the confusing moral reasoning of sorts. What constitutes the moral behaviour of man is indeed his attempt for (material) satisfaction, i.e., pleasure and happiness.

This becomes a recognizable feature of the whole class of modern positions which descends from the radical Enlightenment. Because their moral sources are unavowable, they are mainly invoked in polemic. Their principal words of power are denunciatory.7

Herder sets a strong challenge against this utilitarian spirit of his time and denounces the view of human beings whose life is merely fulfilled materially. “The human being is in his destiny a creature of the herd, of society,”8 hence why must this creature be depicted in terms of material satisfaction? The fact is that utilitarian accounts portray a picture of a human being, who is weak, needy, greedy and never satisfied. Utilitarian thinkers, Herder argues, indeed, ignore the truth that in terms of their nature, human beings possess the capacity to become an inwardly united whole 9 that consciously and reflectively creates social life in accordance with the cultural aspirations of the whole. In his reading of Herder, Taylor argues that the growth and development of man depends on this inward power by which man strives “to realize and maintain its own shape against those of surrounding world may impose”.10 That is to say, the realization of selfhood is not dependent on the fulfillment of a given idea or any fixed plan independent of the subject who realizes it. Rather, it involves dimensions of life that the subject can recognize as his own, as having unfolded from within him. Man, for Herder, indeed, is a being that “can seek for himself a sphere for self mirroring” and “can mirror himself within himself.”11 This inward power of man for growth and development, and by implication formation of the ideational world, is the epoch-making importance of Herder. Indeed, the inner power of man expressing his capability to form his own lifeworld is the original claim of Herder: “Now, let each person calculate.”12 Let man be the yardstick of his human essence and hence his own original way of being human. In The Importance of Herder, Taylor praises the innovative and originality of Herder’s philosophy and its tremendous impact on modern culture.

It has not quite all before it, since there are important segments of the contemporary thought which resist these insights, but even they have been transformed in ways that can be traced to the Herder revolution.13

II. Humanity and Diversity

What precisely are the fruits of this original discovery of man from within? Herder teaches us that man is not merely a passive respondent to natural impulses pursuing pleasure and avoiding pain. Nor is he motivated by drives of material need and satisfaction. Rather, human beings identify themselves with the good of the whole community.



They are “common citizens of the great city of God on earth.”14 Hence they must be regarded as historically mediated creatures. “Mankind is the aggregate of all human individuals, past, present and future, considered as real, tangible and physical.”15 Man might be affected by both utilitarian impulses and materialistic self-gratification. But, he is not determined by these impulses. That is to say, man instead informs his surrounding world and is informed and fashioned in distinct cultural contexts, geographical locations and historical periods. “Humans we are all, and, to that extent, we carry with us the quality of being human, or in other words, we are part of humankind.”16 This conception of being human is mediated by a self-unfolding capability, which, although seemingly subject-like, is beyond and bigger than any subject. In this sense, man is distinguished from animals in terms of his character, his nobility and his will, making him capable of governing the nature. The highest good for us is, then, to understand and recognize “our power and talents, our calling and our duty.”17

This conception of being human, as Taylor puts it, is a fuller model of subjective expression.18 When we discover our power and talents along with our duty, we come closer to the principle of humanität. This means to be aware of and to be committed to common values of human beings regardless of their differences. Although each of us may move toward attaining our sense of selfhood through our own original process of self-unfolding and express ourselves different from others, we should know that we are a member of the same community of humankind. We all enjoy the same sense of being human in the whole community of mankind; hence we must be committed to respecting and treating human beings in accordance with the principle of humanität as opposed to the inhuman behaviour of selfish oppressors. We must confirm that “no nations should be viewed and treated as if its members were animals.”19 Indeed, we must confirm that our capacity for reason and understanding should be cultivated toward true freedom and beauty, and our inclination toward love of humanity.

These two, i.e., the self-unfolding and self-expressivism, determine the thrust of selfhood as part of the humanität. It would be interesting to explore how this characterization reveals the unique and authentic selfhood of the self. “Man has been the same in all ages; only, he expressed himself in each case according to the conditions in which he lived.”20 Because people are unique in their selfhood, the equality of their moral values must be confirmed in accordance with the social context in which they attain their sense of selfhood. This equality is different from confirming the equal value of all without regard to their uniqueness. Accordingly, there must be a confirmation of humanity of people as something unique, not equivalent to others, and that this unique quality can only be revealed in their life themselves.21

Admittedly, being human as a being-in-relations forms the thrust of social life, when and where “all effects of good examples and models have to aimed at, namely to develop no one except ourselves, to ourselves, to make everyone that which he and no one other than he should be in the world.”22 Indeed, human beings must be the central tenet of all inquiries in social life. If we want to have our sense of being human develop, we must admit to and make the human being its center.23 But, this emphasis on the conception of human being as the engine of all social transactions does not mean the levelling of all human beings to one. The essence of humanity stems from the ability to come into diversity and difference. That is to say, although we are all the same human being, and we are equal, we do not stand at the same standard. Rather, “every human being . . . has his power, his measures of perfections and destiny in the world.”24



This diversity constitutes the historical truth about human beings – that our equal power for humanität defines ourselves in distinct historical settings differently. When we dedicate all our inquiries to humanity and humans in diversity, we learn how to manage our life in a humanist way.

This contention, i.e., humanity in diversity and the unique quality of man, is better comprehended within the language of people, especially because language coordinates an affirmation of the uniqueness of the selfhood of others’ distinct sense of themselves. Language is a mediatory means of coordination between the individuation and the imperative of communal life. Language differentiates communities, but at the same time, it holds societies together. In fact, language does not remove people from their own distinctiveness, rather it binds them tighter. Hence it is a powerful operative link between the generations of the volk. It is beyond even an instrument of self-expression; rather it is a means of the internal development of different people giving to them their own sense of distinct identity and particular cultural belonging. Through language people determine themselves in their own cultural settings and their volk-geist.

To put this contention differently, language is the means, form and content of human thought, reflection and identification. And, as Taylor puts it, “it is the necessary vehicle of a certain form of consciousness, which is characteristically human.”25 It forms the collective treasure of people reflecting their cultural living expressions and grows in accordance with locations, geography, ethics and manner of thought of people.26 Since thoughts, beliefs, living experiences, perception, and affective sensations vary in different periods of history, locations and places, languages also diverge. These variations express the changeable character of the age; hence, people living within this variable are changed by its alterable nature.

Language as the reflective medium in the innate attainment of the characteristics of people opens up a new dimension to Herder’s project of humanität. Through language we move from the primitive sense of the selfhood toward a higher actualization of our identity in social settings. In other words, different languages are mediums of the sense of being innately different. In other words, as Taylor argues, language involves our originality and sense of authentic belonging. He means by this originality not only to “the individual person among other persons but also to the cultural-bearing people among other peoples.”27

Herder is precise in the original argument that language comes to be an essential element in the attainment of human being as human being. By this contention he further advances his project of humanität. “In more than one language world and reason, concept and word, language and originating cause [Ursache] consequently also share one name, and this synonymy contains its whole genetic origin.”28 The term “one name” is referred to the purpose and end of life – the telos – by which we are identified as human beings. It is not the means by which we instrumentally express our thoughts in horizontally communicative frameworks; rather, it involves the vertical past roots in formation of our selfhood and identity. It is the form in which human thoughts are moulded and shaped, and it is thereby credited with constituting the very content of our consciousness. It is not voluntary, and it is not like an instrument in our control for the expression of our purposes. Rather, it has its roots in our soul. It is “as essential to the human being as – he is a human being,”29 thereby it is the determinant factor in the formation of the sense of who we are – our identity. Taking this last assertion draws our attention to the origin of language to a great extent as the origin and life of the volk: “It is the whole organization of all human forces, the whole domestic economy of his sensuous and cognizing, of his cognizing and willing, nature.”30 This is the historical account of language that informs the sense of belonging, and this sets in motion people’s different self-understanding in different contexts.

Since language varies from one society to another, the culture and identity of societies vary as well. Even within a society, the language and identity of people might be different.



This continuity and change are the points of social life and, consequently, they pave the way for people’s flourishing. Since people are capable of making conscious changes in their life, they can also direct the course of their society toward constant growth. Since individuals are diverse parts for the existence of the whole, they are inter-related and blended to facilitate the functional activity of the whole for growth. There is no doubt that individuals are different, but their very difference ties them together for social development and growth. “The crucial idea is that people can also bond not in spite of, but because of, difference,” Taylor argues.31 Accordingly, it is necessary to recognize that the culture and identity of a community form the constituting ingredients of that community, which, then, is far from being a uniform body. The culture of societies gradually brings differences harmoniously together in such a way that when we take a look at the “economy of the nature of human species”32 we see how different feelings, tastes, sentiments and identities endure eternally.