Ali Paya- First Lecture

Freedom, Democracy, and Social Justice: The Role of Dialogue

The Problem:

Can dialogue make real impact on the state of affairs in

the real world? Can it help us to promote freedom, democracy and social justice in different parts of the world? The Cynic’s reply is a pessimistic NO. Whereas the reply of an overenthusiastic advocate of dialogue is a resounding YES. A third, more involved reply can also be considered. This reply is explicated in ten steps:

Step 1- Dialogue: What Does It Mean1? Dialogue, in the technical sense of the term used in this lecture, is different from Communication, Conversation, Negotiation and Discussion, although it may share something with each of these concepts. As an illustration the

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. David Bohm, On Dialogue, edited by Lee Nichol, London, Routledge, 1996. 1

difference between dialogue and discussion is depicted in the following table2:

Dialogue: Seeing the whole among the parts

Discussion: Breaking issues/problems into parts

Seeing the connections between the Seeing distinctions between the parts parts Inquiring into assumptions Learning through disclosure inquiry Justifying/defending assumptions and Persuading, selling, telling

Creating shared meaning among Gaining agreement on one meaning many

Step 2- Dialogue as a Social Construct3. The notion of ‘Social Construct’ can be explained in terms of intentionalities. Intentionalities are divided into cognitive and volitive intentionalities as well as individual and collective intentionalities. Social constructs are the product of the collective intentionalities. Step 3- How are the social constructs created4?
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. L. Ellinor & G. Gerard, Dialogue: Rediscover the transforming power of conversation, John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1998, p. 21. 3 . John Searle, Mind, Language, and Society, London, Phoenix, 1999, pp. 100-103; The Construction of Social reality, The Free press, London, 1995.
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. ibid.

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Each social construct, for example a bank, is made of a hierarchy of entities namely, natural facts, social facts and institutional facts. Social actors create social constructs by means of ‘status-functions’. They ascribe new status to familiar entities. For example a piece of paper is called bank note. The general formula for creation of institutional facts/social constructs is of the form of ‘X counts as Y in context C. A piece of paper is called a bank note in the context of particular community. In order to create the social facts, the collective intentionality of each individual must cohere with the collective intentionalities of the other. The concept of ‘coherence’ is borrowed from physics. As long as the collective intentionalities which have given rise to a number of social construct exist, we can talk of the ‘reality’ of those constructs5. Step 4 - Dialogue: Is It Possible6? Some writers, e.g., Samuel Huntington; and some of the Postmodern Philosophers, either explicitly or implicitly, deny the possibility of meaningful dialogue between various groups, cultures or civilizations. Step 5 - Against the ‘Impossibility Thesis’ Against the impossibility thesis it can be argued that ‘practical necessities’ provide a sort of practical refutation of the impossibility thesis. Moreover, it can be shown that appeal to theses such as Feyerabendian ‘Incommensurability’ or Quinian ‘Indeterminacy of Translation’ &
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. Bohm, op.cit. . Ali Paya, ‘Dialogue’ in a ‘real world’: quixotic pursuit or sine qua non?, International Journal of Applied Philosophy, Vol. 16, No. 2, 2002.
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‘Ontological Relativity’ or Whorfian views on radical differences between language systems cannot strengthen the position of the detractors of dialogue. Furthermore, the impossibility thesis has also an unwanted and undesirable consequence: it would degenerate into a debilitating relativism.

Step 6 - The Cynic Once Again The defeat of the arguments of the impossibility thesis has no bearing on the position of the cynic who does not deny the 'possibility' of dialogue but only its 'effectiveness'. To respond to the cynic an appeal to the notion of ‘Causal Power’ needs to be made. Social Institutions can be regarded as powerful ‘entities’ which do exert causal power invested in them through the collective intentionalities of those who have created them and sustain them. Step 7 Does ‘Dialogue’ Have Causal Power? ‘Dialogue’ as a social construct does have causal power. Such a power, invested in it by those who partake in dialogue, enables it to effect social changes. However, to gauge dialogue's causal power one may require to use 'closed systems' as opposed to the 'open systems'. The former are controlled environments like a laboratory, whereas the latter are systems operative in the real world.

Step 8 Over-enthusiast Advocate Revisited The over-enthusiast advocate of dialogue lists several benefits of a genuine ‘dialogue’ to substantiate his claim. Such a list emphasises that
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dialogue, among other things, opens us to deeper collective inquiry into our own thinking process and the nature of thought itself; Builds systemic perspectives and help us approach complex problems and dilemmas that before confounded us; Assists us in resolving conflicts at different levels, national, regional and international7. However, the above benefits will not be realised unless the conditions for a genuine dialogue are also spelled out. Some the necessary, though not sufficient, conditions are as follows: Awareness of the significance of silence and active listening; Respect for the ‘other’: each of the participants in a dialogue should regard ‘the other’ as equal in humanity and should have respect and tolerance for their views. To view ‘the other’ in this light means that one treats his or her interlocutor as a potential source of knowledge, as somebody who has a unique window on reality and is capable of offering views, opinions, and ideas which will be of value to one’s own understanding and well-being. Moreover, it is important to note that all institutional facts carry with them a deontic dimension. They can only exert their power if we create right for ‘the other’. If the system of status-function is not accepted as morally valid by the people, then the only way to maintain it will be by force. As for dialogue, its normative dimension boils down to what Kant had instructed

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Gemma Corradi Fiumara The Other Side of Language: Philosophy of Listening, Routledge, 1990.

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centuries ago: to regard humanity, either of oneself or the other, as an end in itself and not just as a means; In order to start of a successful dialogue, there is no need that all the participant share similar views, be in either full or even partial agreement with each other, or even entertain a set of basic assumptions or a common background. To impose such a demand on dialogue is to fall victim to what Popper calls the myth of the framework, i.e., the idea that only those who belong to a common framework of shared experience and knowledge can enter a meaningful dialogue with each other8. Such an attitude will breed a dangerous relativism which can lead to violence and brutality.

Step 9

‘Dialogue’: A Success Story?

Amongst all the social constructs dialogue is the only one which can use ‘bootstrapping’ to enhance its own effects. Dialogue is also closely tied to rationality: the more rational the social actor, the higher the likelihood of his/her appeals to dialogue as the instrument of choice in bringing about social changes. Step 10 A Lesson from a humble ‘dialogue box’ A 'dialogue box' is a computer icon. To activate it you must click ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Likewise for dialogue in a social context, unless social actors actively and comprehensively use dialogue in their interactions, none of the benefits of the dialogue would be realized.
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. Karl Popper, The Myth of the Framework: In Defence of Science and Rationality, Routledge, 1994.

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References: Bohm, David. On Dialogue, edited by Lee Nichol, London, Routledge, 1996. Corradi Fiumara, Gemma. The Other Side of Language: Philosophy of Listening, Routledge, 1990. Ellinor, L. & G. Gerard. Dialogue: Rediscover the transforming power of conversation, John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1998, p. 21. Paya, Ali. ‘Dialogue’ in a ‘real world’: quixotic pursuit or sine qua non?, International Journal of Applied Philosophy, Vol. 16, No. 2, 2002. Popper, Karl. The Myth of the Framework: In Defence of Science and Rationality, Routledge, 1994. Searle, John. The Construction of Social reality, The Free press, London, 1995. ---------------. Mind, Language, and Society, London, Phoenix, 1999,

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