David Kolb

Universal and Particular Persons and Places

Paper delivered at the Philadelphia Philosophy Colloquium

What kind of cosmopolitan identity is possible in a world of assertive particular identities? This paper explores universalism by means of a contrast with the failed aspirations of modernist architects to create a style that was valid everywhere, above history. It argues that the real shared identity in all persons and places is the temporal process of negotiating particular history amid the spacing and reflection that makes any identity possible. Social norms and structures exist in experience over time, which requires an ongoing unity of actively maintained by processes of individual synthesis and social reproduction. There are no pure factual particular identities, nor any pure, universal place or universal “we”. The universal is not one identity among others; it is a component or moment within them. When that internal tension is socially recognized, there is more space for self-criticism, and for self-critical dialogue among different local identities. A cosmopolitan, then, takes into account more explicitly the universal component of the process of self-production within any identity.

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