Individualism in Eastern and Western Cultures
It seems that the concept of the “individual”, in its moral and political sense, represents a cultural and intellectual Western achievement for which it is hard to find an equivalent in Eastern cultures in general, and in Islamic culture in particular.
Beginning with the philosophy of Sophists and Epicureans through renaissance’s humanism and spiritualism up to the political and moral philosophy of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Western thinking has inscribed the reality of the individual as a fundamental entity into the metaphysical, physical, ethical and political realm.
Eastern culture, in both its Confucian and Islamic versions, has established the principle of the “community” or the “all” at the expense of the “individual”. In this perspective, the independence of the individual is of no value other than being a part of the total entity that is the community. Despite the fact that anti-enlightenment Western philosophies have also attempted to adopt the aforementioned principle, the notion of the individual´s primacy triumphed over the group’s primacy. And this is the concept on which the ideology of universal human rights and the demand for political democracy were based.
Does it make sense to demand human rights in Eastern societies? Is there hope for a cultural and religious reform that will establish a space for the concept of the “individual” at the heart of today’s ‘”community”-based Eastern, and particular Oriental, cultures ? And what are the historical conditions that have to come together for achieving this?
The following video is only available in Arabic language.
Discussion on the topic (in arabic only)
Dr. Mohamed Adel Mtimet
Dr. Mohamed Adel Mtimat is a professor of philosophy and intellectual history at the Higher Institute of Human Sciences at Gabes University. He earned his PhD in philosophy from the University of Paris VIII in 2007. His thesis was about the physical basis of modern political philosophy (Hobbes and Spinoza) “Les Fondements physiques de la philosophie politique moderne”. His area of research focuses on the history of political thought.
He has numerous publications in Arabic, French and German such as “Intelligent Dialogues. From the Cage of Faith to Common Universal Thought” (in German), an ِِِِArabic translation of “L’Erotisme” by the French author Georges Bataille (Dar Altanweer), “The Concept of State in the History of Political Philosophy” and “Totalitarianism” (in Arabic) , “Citizenship”, “The Tyranny and Despotism” and “Secularism and Tolerance” and “Umma and the paradoxal class” (in French).
Currently he is translating the 8th volume of “Le Systeme du monde , Histoire des doctrines cosmologiques de Platon a Copernic” by French historian Pierre Duhem. He is also a member of the Tunisian-German Research Group on Gender at the University of Lüneburg.