On the Philosophical Foundations of Universalism: Reason, Task, Critique

SATS 13 (1):19-38 (2012)
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This article investigates the philosophical history of European universalism with the aim of differentiating between its two senses: the modern and the Ancient. Based on Edmund Husserl’s late interpretations on the unique character of Greek philosophy, this distinction is articulated in terms of “substantial” and “formal” accounts of universalism. Against the modern (substantial) idea of universalism, which took its point of departure especially from the natural law theories of the early modern period, Husserl conceived Greek universalism as an essentially formal notion, which relied on the critique of one’s cultural-historical situation on the basis of the shared faculty of reason. Instead of a ready-made position, this idea of universalism is best described in terms of a “task”, which has its peculiar temporal horizon in infinity. By discussing the political implications of philosophical universalism, the article aims at uncovering its latent cultural implications, that is, the ideas of self-critique and self-renewal nurturing the utopian motive of culture. Thus by broadening the philosophical scope of universalism, the article will insist on its relevance for contemporary debate on Eurocentrism.

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Timo Miettinen
University of Helsinki


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