Photo courtesy of The Institute for Humanities Research.

The UC Santa Cruz philosophy department hosted a multicultural conference last Saturday entitled “Free to Universalize or Bound by Culture? Philosophy in a Multicultural Context.”

The event addressed a philosophical inquiry into cultural practice, and was held in the Humanities I building from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The conference featured 14 Californian philosophers who gathered before an audience of both students and faculty to engage in collective discourse.

In an interdisciplinary venue like UCSC, assistant professor of philosophy Rasmus G. Winther said he hopes to see multiculturalism in action. Winther organized the event with the support of the philosophy department and the Institute for Humanities Research, and said California has a special role to play in globalized discourse.

“I like the ethics of creativity and I think that’s something that [philosophers] should export,” Winther said. “California can export, not necessarily the idea per se, but more a methodology of negotiating and being creative with ideas.”

Winther said he hoped the conference would serve as a temporary venue for critical interaction where researchers and thinkers from the Bay Area could address issues surrounding multiculturalism in philosophy.

“I’m very passionate about communication and miscommunication and forms of what one might call … cross-cultural violence — both verbally and physically — and how we as thinkers and intellectuals can negotiate a better understanding, and ultimately a peace,” Winther said.

The conference also addressed the question of how philosophers should be responsible in both communicating and justifying their discourse in varying cultural contexts. Carlos Montemayor, assistant professor of philosophy at San Francisco State University said academic philosophers must take questions a step further.

“Take sciences, the basic metaphysical picture, and assume it to be the ultimate reality without any real critical inquiry,” Montemayor said. “A full account of justification can’t just be spelling out norms about proper, good observations or good reasoning.”

Amir Najimi, a statistician and search ads engineer from Google, said that multiculturalism will not withstand the “compartmentalization implied by tolerance,” and in order to get comfortable with our cultural closeness, academia needs “philosophies of engagement.”

“There’s no ‘outside’ anymore,” Najimi said. “It seems people’s ideas, values and cultural artifacts from all over the world are fated to bump into each other, either physically or virtually. In such a society, treading softly around divergent values or keeping respectfully aloof is no longer possible.”

Like many of the philosophers present at the conference, UCSC philosophy professor Daniel Guevara addressed this concern through a method of analytic philosophy.

“Analytic philosophy conceives of philosophy primarily as a form of logic,” Guevara said. “Logic is the most universal thing.”

Helen Longino, the event’s keynote speaker and feminist philosopher at Stanford University, argued for philosophers to abandon the a priori approach — the theoretical deduction approach — and their own subjectivities.

Longino said there is not one correct analysis of knowledge, because there can be no impartial approach to engaging a culture in critical discourse.

“There may be no way to integrate the plurality of approaches … we don’t require that these accounts be consistent one with the other,” Longino said. “So, the pluralist stance that we’re advocating keeps in the forefront the idea that scientific inquiry represents some aspects of the world, but often at the cost of obscuring and even distorting others.”

Winther said academic philosophy is often criticized for inhabiting an “ivory tower,” one he hopes can be broken down to provoke collective, philosophic thought rather than shielding it from public participation.

“This is particularly true for the dominant analytical tradition, which seems to forget that it is, after all, people who are philosophizing,” Winther said. “People are embedded in a body and culture, and live in a confused and rich tangle of feelings, desires, and dreams. Multiculturalism reminds us that all of this needs to be taken into account in philosophizing about the human condition. We must get out of the ivory tower, and perhaps invite others up into it.”