Being and Cultural Difference: (mis)understanding otherness in early modernity
As a precursor to the Enlightenment, early modern European conceptions of being and human alterity formed a critical part of both the birth of modernity and the reception of divergent cultural forms lying beyond the horizon of Western knowledge. The extension of occidental power beyond its familiar shores not only resulted in the coercion and subjugation of countless New World natives but also compelled the Western mind to account for the seemingly radical alterity of `savage' life forms in civilizations hitherto unknown to Europeans. This exacting philosophical demand evidently precluded a recognition initially of cultural difference, largely as a result of a predominantly hierarchical conception of being which, following Lovejoy, we understand as the great Chain of Being. The epistemological, axiological and praxeological dimensions of this essentially metaphysical and hierarchical conception of natural and human alterity are examined to delineate our relation to the other of modernity: the Savage. The latter category of humanity manifests the theoretical difficulty of attempting to explain the nature or being of the `other' human within an exemplary world-historical case of civilizational encounters.
Copyright 2000 Sage Publications. Reproduced in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher. First published in Thesis Eleven. This journal is available online: http://the.sagepub.com/content/vol62/issue1/