- The Eighth East-West Philosophers' Conference, "Technology and Cultural Values: On the Edge of the Third Millennium"
This special issue of Philosophy East and West commemorates the Eighth East-West Philosophers' Conference, jointly sponsored by the East-West Center and the Department of Philosophy of the University of Hawai'i and convened on January 9-23, 2000. Representative papers selected from among those presented are published in this issue. In addition, following the tradition of the conference series, a volume of nearly forty of the presentations has been edited for publication by the University of Hawai'i Press.
Not long ago a human being could live and die in a world that remained relatively constant and familiar. But no more. Humanity has arrived at the edge of the third millennium. The past century has witnessed a veritable explosion in the growth of technologies affecting every aspect of the human experience—education, health, economics, environment, communication, politics, and security. And none of the world's cultures has remained unchallenged as the half-life of these technologies grows shorter and their capacity to penetrate and shape our lives compounds itself. And the pace just gets faster.
These technologies are an empowering achievement, enabling us to live our lives and carry out the business of the day with an efficiency and productivity never before imagined. But they are never innocent; in fact, they are formative. In many ways, for better and for worse, they create their own culture and often change the world in ways unanticipated by their erstwhile masters. As we, with excitement, try to look into and take command of our immediate future, the horizon is hazy, and the visibility is not good.
The collective and overruling responsibility of humanity has been to sustain the world for the children yet unborn. In our historical moment, more than ever before, this prime directive means that technological power must be accompanied by a considered wisdom. We need to sustain a global conversation that enables us, with deliberation, to see where we are going and why.
Since 1939, with some regularity, the East-West Philosophers' Conferences at the University of Hawai'i have convened a congress of some of the world's leading intellectuals to reflect on issues affecting the course of global development. In recent [End Page 301] years these meetings have considered the relationship between the course of modernity and the preservation of cultural values, and have looked at alternative models of justice and democracy that are consistent with the aspirations of world cultures.
In January 2000, the eighth such conference was convened to inquire into the changes induced by applied technologies and their effect on cultural values. Together, over 180 scholars from more than thirty countries came as representatives of different cultures, and, with alternative conceptions of human realization, they explored themes at the intersection between technological development and the values we would choose to promote.
Members of the Philosophy Department at the University of Hawai'i articulated central themes for the conference and organized plenary sessions around them.
Biomedical Technologies and Cultural Values
In general, Western medicine has come to conceive its knowledge base and clinical techniques as scientifically validated, its patients as autonomous agents who can withhold or withdraw consent to treatment, and its internal purposes as the prevention and treatment of disease. And yet ours is a world in which healing arts and ideals of human well-being are conceived in radically different ways. Western doctors have an impact on the practices of other healers who share the same clientele and on the lives of patients with alternative conceptions of health.
Technology and Human Rights
The expression "no rights without remedy" is often taken to mean that a judiciary and enforceable laws are necessary conditions for a viable framework of human rights. There are, however, cultures that do not rely on the rule of law. For example, Japan has achieved high human-rights standards for at least its majority population, with an inordinate emphasis on the formal side of "remedy" that precludes an appreciation of the importance of informal mechanism—significantly, shame—in promoting and sustaining a regimen of human rights.