- Intimacy or Integrity: Philosophy and Cultural Difference
Back in the early days of cross-cultural inquiry, scholars gained some territory in the understanding of cultural difference by focusing their attention on the distinction between the individualistic and the collective. Asians, especially East Asians, were seen as motivated by collectivism, whereas Westerners were firmly rooted in individuality. This distinction afforded some comprehension of cultural difference and served a limited purpose in those early days of trying to understand Asia as a whole and the vast reach of difference among various Asian groups. However, we quickly outgrew our dependence on this distinction, although we continued to insist on making use of it. Thomas Kasulis offers us a new heuristic in his recent book Intimacy or Integrity: Philosophy and Cultural Difference, which is based on his 1998 Gilbert Ryle Lectures at Trent University.
The book begins with a series of anecdotes, which is most fitting for what the author has in mind. These seemingly simple stories of cultural misunderstanding actually point to profound differences between Asian and Western cultural perspectives. Kasulis, however, rightly extends the boundaries of his discussion to traverse not only Asian/Western differences but also variations between cultures and subcultures as well. The thesis of the book addresses the too simplistic notion that Asians are simply more collectivist than their Western counterparts, and this thesis applies as well to differences within the structure of any culture's grand narrative. Put directly, the thesis is that there are recursive cultural patterns that orient themselves in two basic ways: "intimacy" and "integrity." These patterns reiterate themselves into complex theoretical manifestations through understandings of fact/value, what is and what should be (p. 11).
Aware that he might easily fall into the old trap of a simplistic differentiating between "them and us," Kasulis is quick to point out that "it is unlikely that any culture is ever a perfect example of either an intimacy-dominant or integrity-dominant culture" (p. 11). In other words, "intimacy" and "integrity" (unlike collectivism and individualism) are both positive terms that continually, and recursively, foreground and background themselves in any given culture. For example, Americans, with their penchant for individuality and the benefits arising from it, such as the notion of rights, also value and understand intimacy as a feeling that is primary to one's being either a member of a family, a member of a group, or a citizen of a country. And to think that individuality has no value whatsoever in Asia or that there are no "individuals" in Asia is just being simpleminded. These two different ways of relating—intimacy and integrity—are explored in connection to the key relations of self/world, self/other, knower/known, thing/thing, and so forth (p. 13) throughout the book, as reflected in the chapter titles: "Cultural Orientations," "What Is Intimacy?" "What [End Page 603] Is Integrity?" "Intimacy and Integrity as Worldviews: Epistemology, Analysis and Argument, and Metaphysics," "The Normative Dimensions of Intimacy and Integrity: Aesthetics, Ethics, and Politics," and "Intercultural Conflict: When Intimacy and Integrity Collide."
An important concern of this book, and an issue that is often overlooked by philosophers, is that philosophy is both a product and a producer of culture. If culture even becomes a matter of philosophical discussion, it is often cast in terms of a "philosophy of culture," that is, a part of our understanding of the role that culture plays in the more universal context of human existence (p. 13). Kasulis reminds us, however, of another (and perhaps more important) dimension of the study of what he calls "cultural philosophy," and that is that "philosophy itself is a cultural enterprise" (p. 14). By viewing philosophy in this way philosophers are able to check their tendency to believe erroneously that philosophy is a discipline that can achieve an understanding of, or even attempt to search for, universal, eternal, and transcultural truths. Kasulis points out that this too is a "tendency . . . related to cultural conditions" (p. 14); hence, "philosophy and...