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Decolonizing the lifeworld

Husserl’s idealizing teleological narrative concerning Europe is not merely a historical curiosity. In the face of the contrary evidence from diverse lifeworlds and philosophical traditions, Husserl’s thesis that Europe (in the infinity and universality of its idea) alone is genuinely infinite and universal continues to function as a presupposition of institutionalized academic philosophy and has found contemporary advocates and defenders.96 A decolonized phenomenology and hermeneutics is needed in response to this situation; a phenomenology of the lifeworld that would recognize the intrinsic plurality of lifeworlds, of the overlapping intersection and diversity of home and alien worlds, and universal aspirations that are perceived as possibilities in a plurality of human cultures and lifeworld rather than being exclusively identified with the European ideal. The provincialization of the European lifeworld and European rationality, insofar as one can even speak of one reason at all, would release Europe and the West from its burden of representing all of humanity in the infinity of its tasks and aspirations and Europe would thereby retain its own uniqueness as one local structurally and intersubjectively changing configuration among others.

While “Europe” represents the universal, and thereby ethnocentrically signifies what transcends ethnocentric particularity, the word “China” represents the foreign, the strange, and the mysterious particularity in Husserl’s corpus. “China” is frequently deployed in Husserl’s examples as a cipher for what is “alien” and “other” to the European, belying its supposed universality. Given a plurality of distinctive forms of life, how can different forms of historical intersubjectivity enter into communication with and understand one another? Husserl had difficulty answering this question even with his ideal of humanity embodied in Europe. But there are indications of more appropriate answers, and a route to contesting Husserl’s ethnocentric moments and articulating a more adequate intercultural hermeneutics, in reconsidering Husserl’s thinking of horizons and his analyses of the lifeworld as a plurality of overlapping yet irreducible selfworld/otherworld or homeworld/alienworld.97

The problem of interpreting a distant other removed across time and space would be the most extreme case of interpreting the other who one meets in ordinary life. Cairns mentioned in his conversations with Husserl this problem in the following way: “Through coming in contact with another historical intersubjectivity, as when, e.g. two races with no past connections (perhaps— though probably not exactly—Europe and China?) come together making a common intersubjectivity with two separate pasts.”98 Husserl is closer to

Driesch’s position examined in Chapter 2 on this matter in this passage, namely that interaction leads to the formation of a new intersubjectivity in which the participants retain distinct pasts and life-histories in communicating with one another.

The concept of the formation of new intersubjectivities indicates how Husserl’s works can have Eurocentric elements in the presentation of his cosmopolitan humanist vision while being opposed to nationalist, racialist, and other forms of particularist ideology. There is no difference in essence or kind between cultures and lifeworlds that would prevent individuals and groups from forming new communities and associations. The development of new intersubjective relationships happen all the time with the formation of new associations, friendships, and romances in which there are inevitably asymmetries, miscommunications, and misinterpretations between members of different lifeworlds or—as many of us have no doubt experienced—even participants in the “same” lifeworld or social-historical form of life.

Husserl recognized the communicative structure of rationality in the lifeworld. It is the condition of the emergence of philosophy in the ancient Greek case when he stated that the philosophical “movement proceeds from the beginning in a communicative way, awakens a new style of personal existence in one’s sphere of life, a correspondingly new becoming through communicative understanding.”99 However, as Misch demonstrated, movements of communication, reflection, and personal determinations and styles of existence are found throughout a variety of cultures and are not limited to one lineage stemming from classical Greece.

Thinking through the consequences of Husserl’s plural conception of lifeworlds in relation to Misch’s pluralistic conception of philosophy, which allows for multiple origins, indicates ways of decentering, opening up, and pluralizing Husserl’s Grecocentric definition of philosophy. To introduce a more Habermasian interpretation of the lifeworld at this juncture, these tendencies toward reflection and critique can appear and be taken up in any lifeworld or cultural milieu insofar as they are possibilities of the communicative structure of a lifeworld as such.100 That is to say, by rejecting Husserl’s idolization of Europe as the exclusive standard of reason, it becomes evident that no lifeworld qua lifeworld is too “primitive” or “other” to not encompass its own forms of communicative understanding and interpretation that have their own intrinsic capacities and potential for self-reflection and self-transformation.

There is no satisfactory justification for projecting an abyss or unbridgeable gap between diverse humans, exoticizing other persons as wholly and incomprehensibly other. There is likewise no legitimate rationale for the monistic reduction of the diversity of forms of social-historical life and communication to the uniformity and unity of one cultural horizon manifest in the discourse about Europe in Husserl and classical phenomenology.

Husserl himself rejected an overinflated misguided conception of reason, noting: “I too am certain that the European crisis has its roots in a misguided rationalism. But we must not take this to mean that rationality as such is evil or that it is of only subordinate significance for humanity’s existence as a whole.”101 Husserl’s inflationary interpretation of reason in history and its intrinsically Greek-European character is part of this misguided rationalism. Husserl’s philosophy or origins conceals and excludes, more than it discloses, the rationalities operative in each historical form of life and communication by overemphasizing the Greek origin of philosophy and the role of the theoretical attitude. The alternative, articulated by Misch and others, need not entail the irrationalism or skepticism feared by Husserl; there can be minimalistic conceptions of philosophy and rationality elucidated from the asymmetrical and reciprocal dynamics of intersubjective communication and dialogue.

The Crisis is in one sense Husserl’s worst and best work. It develops his notion of lifeworld and his analysis of the priority to the lifeworld in the formation and ongoing practical orientation ofreflective and theoretical discourses. However, the primacy of the lifeworld is problematically linked with an unphenomenological and questionable developmental-teleological and Eurocentric conception of history. If the phenomenological analysis of the lifeworld and the speculative philosophy of history and culture can be decoupled, a more adequate conception of intercultural philosophy and hermeneutics can be articulated in relation to Husserl’s philosophical project.

The phenomenological tradition offers a significant perspective missing in the more interculturally oriented thinkers of the 1920s, who were discussed in Chapter 2, despite its undeniable ethnocentric dimensions. While the democratic Driesch and the aristocratic Keyserling, among others, both emphasized and thereby limited the achievement of common cosmopolitan humanity and new fusions of forms of life through the intercultural communication between cultural and intellectual elites, Husserl—and later Habermas—demonstrate how rationality is intrinsically constitutive of the lifeworld through the dynamics of mutual understanding (Husserl) and communicative interaction (Habermas). The way in which Husserl and Habermas go astray in comparison with the more directly intercultural thinking of Driesch and Keyserling is in binding the lifeworld to a Eurocentric conception of rationality and the history of reason, which Habermas does through his reliance on Weber’s account of modernization as bureaucratization and instrumental rationalization.

Habermas articulated in The Theory of Communicative Action his analysis of “decolonizing the lifeworld" and its communicative reproduction through processes of intersubjective interaction, from the systematic media of power and wealth that distort it by hindering free communicative interaction and the formation of participatory public spheres.102 Habermas did not proceed far enough in his analysis by not liberating the concept of the lifeworld itself from the primacy of the paradigm of the modern rationalized European form of life. Habermas does not perceive the potential, discussed in Chapter 2 in relation to the works of Zhang Junmai ШШШ, of multiple Enlightenments and multiple modernities. For the sake of a more adequate conception and practice of interpretation and philosophy, the lifeworld needs to be liberated from a developmental-teleological account of Western rationality, which is part of a fateful Hegelian and Weberian legacy that still shapes how discourses exclude non-Western forms of life and philosophies, and the lifeworld and its rationalities decolonized in an intercultural philosophical discourse of modernity.103

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