Linguistic and Philosophical Resources for Intercultural Dialogue on Compromise: A Cross-Cultural Encounter of Japan and Europe

Linguistic and Philosophical Resources for Intercultural Dialogue on Compromise: A Cross-Cultural Encounter of Japan and Europe

Laure Gillot-Assayag (EHESS, France)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7585-6.ch006


This chapter proposes to examine compromise in its linguistic dimension, in other words, its epistemic rewording based on language resources, and in its cultural dimension (i.e., as it is culturally defined and, as such, historically variable). To do so, this research shall focus on cross-cultural encounters between European and Japanese philosophy, and more specifically on the works of Kyoto School's philosophers and the French philosopher Paul Ricoeur. The aim of this chapter is to demonstrate the need to establish an intercultural dialogue on the notion of compromise and to take into account cross-fertilization between cultures in order to open new paths of inquiry and a new understanding of cultural differences.
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This paper examines the concept of compromise through its epistemic rewording, or as a term which is culturally and philosophically defined. This means that norms and values are not considered to be derived from a Kantian absolute and a priori perspective, but instead as products of a specific historical conditions and circumstances. Consequently, the analysis is set out to demonstrate how the idea of compromise is both not free from conflict and not universal. Its meaning varies according to particular time periods and refers to a variety of linguistic resources within a society, as well as signifying intercultural exchanges that shape and modify the meaning of the word. In order to prove this hypothesis, the chapter investigates how lexical terms in Japanese differ from their counterparts in several European languages, and, secondly, how these linguistic differences on compromise impact the way in which the relationship between Japanese and European philosophies are conceived.

This chapter aims to compensate for the relative absence of two major issues in the relevant literature: first, compromise is scaled down in mainstream European political philosophy, especially in the context of theories of conflict. This is probably due to the seemingly conciliatory and placating connotations of the word, despite of its validity and practicality in socio-political discourse. Second, the cultural dimension of compromise is systematically ignored in the academic conversation, as authors are interested in the term mostly as a normative concept rather than as an historical or cultural practice. Eventually, the literature on compromise revolves around three central themes: 1. The definition of various types of compromise, 2. Comparative studies with other related concepts, such as consensus, modus vivendi, or sacrificing principles, 3. Compromise as a strategy of conflict resolution and the extent of its legitimacy in that capacit

This chapter breaks away from the traditional approaches by concentrating on the cultural interpretation of compromise rooted in the linguistic branch of philosophical inquiries. As such, the main guiding question is: to what extent linguistic resources modulate the notion of compromise in Japan and Europe as reflected in philosophical cross-cultural encounters? The comparative study is helpful to underline the cultural sources of how the meaning of an abstract term is formed, cultivated and utilized. As mentioned above, this contrast is vividly captured in the central concept of compromise: While it is generally depreciated and not perceived as an efficient way of resolving conflicts in Europe, it I s valued in Japan due to the virtue and the particular linguistic and historical meaning bestowed on it.

The first part of the study observes how compromise is depicted in the Japanese language and what positive or negative meanings it conveys. It will be compared with how it is used in the French, German, and English languages as representing the European side of the equation. Occupying the “European spot” does not mean though, that these languages have identical understandings of compromise. They do not. While it conveys a pejorative meaning in French, in German, the preference is given to compromise as consensus, as it is expressed, for example, through the body of work of renowned German philosopher and sociologist Jurgen Habermas. In English, the tendency is to conflate “compromise” with “compromise of principles”. These differences in emphasis further augment the assumption of distinct linguistic meanings of compromise and the need for a transnational mapping of its use.

The juxtaposition between Japanese and European attitudes and understandings of compromise yields intriguing suppositions about historical and cultural circumstances that brought these differences about. One such explanation might be linked to the centrality of blandness or the suppression of strong emotions in Chinese and Japanese cultures but hardly exists in the Anglo-American and European demeanor (Jullien, 2012). In Japan, blandness is blessed and respected; it is not considered as feebleness and indecision, but as an encouragement to be open and tolerant. With regard to solving conflicts, it means to be flexible rather than adopting rigid positions and biases. While European philosophies enhance the affirmation of self and one's own positions, the opposite applies to Japan--the more aggressive and forceful the style of arguing, the more it is likely to offend the conversation partners, obstruct the listening mode and impair prospects of reaching an agreement. Overall, this approach indicates a fundamental weakness on behalf of the interlocutors.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Hegemony: Social or cultural predominance or ascendency from one society, one individual over another.

Westernization: A process through which societies are influenced or adopt Western cultures in specific areas (lifestyle, clothing, values, language).

Cosmopolite: The idea that everyone is a member of a global community, humanity, rather than a citizen of a political nation or place. Being cosmopolitan means transcending political borders and acting as a global citizen.

Shintoism: A traditional religion of Japan, devoted to the worship of multiple spirits and essences ( kami ), public shrines.

Kyoto School: A Japanese philosophical movement beginning in the 1910s that assimilated Western philosophy and used it to reformulate ideas unique to the East Asian tradition.

Cultural Appropriation: The act of taking elements from another culture, often a minority culture, and transfer them into a dominant culture. Cultural appropriation can be seen as a form of colonialism: it differs from cultural exchange, in the sense that cultural elements are distorted, reduced to exotic items, and overall appropriated in a disrespectful way.

Kyosei: The Japanese concept of “Kyosei” means living and working together for the common good and mutual prosperity in a fair and healthy competition.

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