How the Values of Modernity Contribute to Cultural Mediation

تجد/ين هنا النسخة العربية لهذا النص.

Azelarabe Lahkim Bennani (Philosophy, Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah University, Morocco)

Azelarabe Lahkim Bennani. Photo: private.

This paper aims to address how to invest the capacity of the university to shape dialogue between cultures in an era of multiculturalism and civilizational conflict. As we know, a vast number of civil society groups and international organizations are earnestly addressing this kind of dialogue. However, the cultural dialogue undertaken by rights and cultural associations mostly lacks a good understanding of the normative and moral concepts that would enable a fuller understanding of the meaning of the terms used in intercultural dialogue. When young people around the world demand freedom, we all know that the world’s youth invoke common factors that form the meaning of freedom, even if different cultural framings impart particular features to the concept of freedom which are not found in other framings. Hence, without denying the existence of national specificities that inflect the concept of freedom according to their cultural frame of reference, there exists a minimum shared understanding of the concept of freedom across nations.

The Priority of the Right over the Good

Among the difficulties facing the rationalist philosophy that has emerged in modern thought is the problem of reconciling thinking that flows from the individual with postmodern thinking that invokes the collective cultural and intellectual inheritance. The philosophers who adopted modernism and the values of individualism and political liberalism (Jürgen Habermas and John Rawls) tried to justify the legitimacy of taking the individual as the starting point with the view that there was nothing that prevented respect for the cultural legacy.[1] This philosophical doctrine held that giving priority to abstract moral norms (over collective interests) allowed respect for the individual without minimizing the importance of the collective culture. Based on the problem of the tension between the individual and the group, some have tried to oppose political liberalism and given priority to collective identity.

Provisional Truth and Permanent Truth

The goal of philosophical investigation is to reach ‘the truth’ and distance oneself from the cultural conflicts that stray from the values of impartiality, integrity and objectivity. If we possess theoretical principles to facilitate reaching knowledge, we also possess moral principles that help to foster the values of impartiality and objectivity. The truths we reach are provisional truths, which we cooperate with other to rebut and disprove in order to reach new truths. Here we are speaking of ‘scientific truth’ as provisional truth because it endorses Rudolph Carnap’s principle of verification or Karl Popper’s principle of falsification. We can never be certain to what extent a proposition is true or false, but we usually believe that propositions are meaningful as long as they are capable of being true or false. When we talk about what truth means, it includes the possibility of conformity with reality and the possibility of “the claim that one is saying something that conforms to reality and the claim that others are able to help us determine how closely the statement conforms to reality”.[2]

By contrast, we also talk of sociological truths (using Mohammed Arkoun’s term) or ideological truths when we view them as ultimate knowledge within the group, but this is judged on their historical action (Wirkung) and not their epistemological content.

Deferring Discussion of Questions of the Good

When researchers belonging to disparate cultural universes communicate with each other, they consider that the best means to avoid cultural conflicts is for us to accept provisional truth, even if we believe or assume the existence of ultimate truths that transcend science from the perspective of the religious believer or moralist. We prefer to use the Cartesian method, that works by choosing an initial truth over which minds have no dispute, rather than adopting endless opinions, whose correctness we do not know. The method for acquiring ‘truths’ gives importance to the provisional solution and puts permanent solutions to one side. In a similar fashion, we can justify the existence of ‘the right’ by seeking the values that are shared by rational beings, while ‘the good’ applies to the interests that different cultural groups believe in, since collective doctrines consider that defense of ‘the good’ has priority over the search for ‘the right.’ If we do not want to enter a conflict of priorities between the right and the good and we want to adopt provisional solutions, we will accept the liberal solution that focuses on the rights shared by all human groups and which can develop through consensus over new rights. By contrast, a focus on the good before the right from the outset opens the door to disputes between groups because of people’s differences in their conception of individual and collective interests. Therefore, it is preferrable to exclude discussion of moral issues connected with the good until the foundations for such a debate have been laid thanks to the accumulated results of the discussion of rights.

Why We Prefer the Right to the Good and to Interests

We adopt a dual position: a special perspective on cultural and group identity, on one hand, and care to respect the value of objective – even if provisional – truth, on the other. This ambivalence may create a split personality and clinging to cultural identity as absolute truth may lead to indifference to the right and fuel violence and social conflicts. When philosophers start from relativism, they have no shame in saying that the history of truth is nothing but the history of Weltanschauungen (world views). They do not experience any ambivalence and anything becomes permissible. By contrast, philosophers who believe in the existence of epistemological or moral criteria of universal validity experience this divide, but without falling victim to schizophrenia since they adopt a method to reach provisional truth to assist in creating an intersection between different visions of the world and the avoidance of closure within intolerant cultural identity.

A greater interest in collective identity led to the development of postcolonial studies and the highlighting of the danger of imperialism and hegemony for the cultural identities of subaltern peoples. In turn, this has led to the critique of liberal schools of thought without developing an equivalent critical sense regarding totalitarian schools of thought.[3]

In contrast to this conception, we hold that the provisional truths that provide provisional solutions, as well as standards of justice and fairness (Habermas and Rawls), represent means of mediation and points of intersection between cultures. These compromise solutions, if only we can formulate them, might enjoy the acceptance of all cultural parties.

Why Do We Accept Dialogue, Negotiation and Mediation?

We would rather reach provisional solutions in every process of cultural mediation than no solution at all. We then try to shift from mediation between people to cultures, so that it does not remain solely a mechanism for managing disputes between individuals. What encourages the search for cultural mediation is that knowledge has always played a mediating role between cultural parties in conflict, through the search for an ethics of knowledge and ethical means to manage disputes. We set down normative priorities in a new way: we choose peace and nonviolence rather than conflict and we believe in the rationality of the other and the need for coexistence by parenthesizing our subjective views or collective doctrines.[4]

Mediation between Traditional and Modern Values

Once all societies became obliged to assimilate into the international community, it became necessary to ask how we would preserve the values that facilitated the operation of mediation in societies that have completely or partially abandoned traditional values? This means that we need a mutual understanding of moral principles that offers a reasonable formulation for mediation. New legal doctrines have appeared in the context of some conceptions of mediation.[5]

Mediation between cultures has become a normative framework that includes concessions and compromises in order to find a moral justification for the existence of compromise.

Intellectuals hold fundamental convictions concerning the cultural history of the group they belong to, and we hold fundamental convictions in our Arab countries concerning the groups or cultures to which we do not belong, which we view as being in competition with us or about which we hold preconceived judgements, just as they have other judgements about us. When international cultural conflicts became a topic for postcolonial studies, the concepts of French postmodernism found in Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida and Jean-François Lyotard were adopted. Such studies try to liberate subaltern countries from the cultural sediment of colonialism in the context of the completion of decolonialization and exhortations to resist cultural and political invasion. These studies, however, do not set down a clear normative framework to mitigate cultural conflicts or find shared values among nations before starting to talk about differences. In the next two sections, therefore, I will clarify the meaning of mediation and its role in making moral compromises.

Moral Compromises

When we talk about ‘making compromises,’ we are talking about an ethical proposition, since we can talk about moral compromises that are capable of offering to mediate between morality and the challenges present in time and space.[6] Negotiations mostly fail when they are based on an asymmetry between the negotiating parties or a claim that some parties have a better understanding of the common interest than the other parties or of alternatives that ought not to be accepted, since “No negotiation confronts parties on the basis of purely material interests and utility preferences derived from them. On the contrary, normative standards, particularly fairness and reciprocity create normative guidelines and shape expectations of the outcomes of negotiations on all sides of the negotiating group”.[7]

The Ethics of Compromise

Given that we cannot impose our main convictions onto other people or other groups and nations, we accept alternatives that satisfy at least most parties (like hurrying to accept the principles of the right, despite difference over the good, interests and benefits) on the basis that these are the best solutions in the circumstances.

Acceptance of the second alternative (the right) does not mean that the parties have given up their main convictions (concerning the good, cultural identity and collective values). These main convictions are found despite one being required to accept the second choice, namely, the acceptance of compromises, tolerance and respect for the feelings and views of the other. This means that subjective convictions remain in place and do not change easily, even when we are required to parenthesize them when we choose a less convincing alternative.

Hence there is a difference between the original belief concerning the good and the new belief concerning agreement over a set of common rights. We may be split between the two beliefs if we do not combine them well. However, preserving the original belief while accepting the second solution is currently preferrable so as to avoid the use of violence. The choice of alternatives coincides with feelings of regret and failure resulting from the temporary abandonment of our collective convictions.

Is Compromise a Retreat from Moral Values?

The expression moral ‘compromise’ has a negative ring to it in Arabic which it lacks in French, for a distinction is made in French between the ‘moral compromise’ (compromis moral), which is acceptable albeit grudgingly, and a morally unacceptable compromise (compromission). The lack of this distinction in Arabic has, I think, made any compromise over collective values a compromise over moral values, which has not encouraged the spread of a culture of negotiation. Equally, we do not know whether it is possible in some circumstances to compromise in order to achieve societal peace.[8] Nonetheless, we can create the ground for agreement between conflicting parties through the mediation of the values of knowledge and the effort to tolerate and renounce violence, as Habermas states: “The religious side must accept the authority of ‘natural’ reason as the fallible results of the institutionalized sciences and the basic principles of universalistic egalitarianism in law and morality. Conversely, secular reason may not set itself up as the judge concerning truths of faith, even though in the end it can accept as reasonable only what it can translate into its own, in principle universally accessible, discourses”.[9]


If all solutions are provisional and relative regarding the mechanisms for reaching the truth, then we must respect multiculturalism.[10] Moral standards and human values have an epistemological character. Therefore, the task of academic philosophy in the 21st century is to highlight that these standards, such as equality, dignity and freedom, intersect with each other around the world from an academic perspective, but are affected by cultural difference in their social function. Hence, the specialisms of academic philosophy highlight the lower shared bonds between normative concepts without ignoring cultural differences. In this way, these academic specialisms become an instrument of rational mediation between cultures and provide civil society organizations with the academic material needed to achieve cultural intercommunication.

Translated from Arabic by Raphael Cohen.


[1] Stuart Jeffries, Grand Hotel Abyss: The Lives of the Frankfurt School, London/New York: Verso, 2016, 366.

[2] Jacques Bouveresse, Le philosophe et le réel: Entretiens avec Jean-Jacques Rosat, Paris: Hachette Littératures, 1998, 137.

[3] Caroline Fourest, Génération offensée: De la police de la culture à la police de la pensée, Paris: Editions Grasset, 2020, 69.

[4] Véronique Zanetti, “Toleranz und Kompromissbereitschaft: Eine begriffliche Unterscheidung”, in: Sarhan Dhouib (ed.), Toleranz in transkultureller Perspektive, Weilerswist: Velbrück Wissenschaft, 2020, 73–96, 90–92.

[5] Anja Schmidt, Strafe und Versöhnung, Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 2012, 22.

[6] Franz Josef Illhardt, “Der Kompromiss: Ethik-Beratung gegen moralischen Rigorismus”, Ethik in der Medizin 11, 1999, 262–273, DOI:10.1007/s004810050083.

[7] Harald Müller, “Grenzen der Logiken und Logik der Grenzen: Kommunikationsformen in internationalen Verhandlungen und die Legitimität von global governance”, Zeitschrift für Internationale Beziehungen 24/1, 2017, 170–188, 172.

[8] Avishai Margalit raises a problem concerning the priority of peace and justice when a conflict arises between them. See the Introduction to his book, On Compromise and Rotten Compromise, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010, 9.

[9] Jürgen Habermas, “Ein Bewusstsein von dem, was geht”, quoted in Jeffries, Grand Hotel Abyss, 380.

[10] Odo Marquard, Philosophie des Stattdessen, Stuttgart: Reclam, 2000, 43.

Azelarabe Lahkim Bennani (عزالعرب لحكيم بنّاني) obtained his doctorate on Austrian philosophy from the Sorbonne, Paris 1, in 1988, and his Habilitation in 1996. He is a full Professor at the Department of Philosophy at the Faculty of Arts and Human Sciences, University Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah in Fez, Morocco, and former Head of the Department of Philosophy, and vice-director of the Philosophy, Law, and Society Research Laboratory. He has published numerous articles and books in Arabic and German on issues of the philosophy of language, philosophy of religion and human rights, including the monograph Phenomenology and Philosophy of Language: Franz Brentano and Anton Marti (Casablanca, 2003; in Arabic), a collection of essays under the title Herméneutique, esthétique et théologie (University of Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah, 2007) and The Culture of Protest Between Philosophy and Law (Fez, 2017; in Arabic). He has also translated a number of philosophical books into Arabic, most recently Jean Greisch’s The Burning Bush and the Lights of Reason (2020) and Martha Nussbaum’s The Fragility of Goodness (2020).

This project is part of the activities of the Arab-German Young Academy of Sciences and Humanities (AGYA). AGYA is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). The introduction to this blog series by Nuha Alshaar, Beate La Sala, Jenny Oesterle and Barbara Winckler can be found here.

Further articles in this series:

Bashshar Haydar, The Humanities’ Constant Need for Self-Justification, 25.03.2021

Julia Hauser, Out of the Ivory Tower: Broadening Global History in Germany, 01.04.2021

Christian Junge, Why Non-European Languages Matter to European Humanities: Area Studies and Postcolonial Philology, 08.04.2021

Amro Ali, Bringing Philosophy and Sociology to the Egyptian Public, 15.04.2021

Andrea Geier, Challenges in Literary Studies and Gender Studies or Why I Began to Talk Publicly about Relevance, 22.04.2021

Shereen Abouelnaga, The Urgency of Relocating Gender Studies Politically, 29.04.2021

Antje Flüchter, History: An Important but Potentially Dangerous Part of the Humanities, 06.05.2021

Aisha Deemas, Sharjah Museums: A Case Study on the Transfer of Knowledge in Society, 12.05.2021

Daniel Weidner, Pluralities, Transfers, Memories: Some Reflections on the Humanities Today, 20.05.2021

Haidar Lashkry, The Political Redefinitioin of Memory: The Problem of Studying History in Contemporary Iraq, 27.05.2021

Sabine Schülting, Shakespeare, History, and ‘Cancel Culture’, 03.06.2021

Nadia Bahra, Archaeology in Algeria: Challenges of Multidisciplinary Research and the Identity Question, 10.06.2021

Roman Singendonk, The Museum for Islamic Art in Berlin and Its Quest for Socio-Political Relevance: The Example of the TAMAM Project, 24.06.2021

Amani Albedah, The Humanities in the Age of Digital Information Exchange, 01.07.2021

Abdulhadi Alajmi, History without Debate: A Reading of the Crisis in Arab Historiography, 15.07.2021

Hala Auji, Outside Looking in: On Teaching Art History from the ‘Margins’, 22.07.2021

Marko Demantowsky, “Innovationitis” and Humanities, 23.09.2021

Elizabeth Suzanne Kassab, On Contemporary Arab Philosophy as a Field of Study, 7.10.2021

Citation: Azelarabe Lahkim Bennani, How the Values of Modernity Contribute to Cultural Mediation, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research,, 14.10.2021

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