I’m working on an article right now relating to problems of incommensurability in communication and deliberative democracy. I just found this neat passage from the prolific anthropologist Clifford Geertz:
“To see others as sharing a nature with ourselves is the merest decency. But it is from the far more difficult achievement of seeing ourselves amongst others, as a local example of the forms human life has locally taken, a case among cases, a world among worlds, that the largeness of mind, without which objectivity is self-congratulation and tolerance a sham, comes.” (Geertz, Local Knowledge, 1983, p. 16).
Indirectly, I think Geertz is dealing with a fundamental crux of much work on public deliberation–asking us to maintain a “largeness of mind” that incorporates the vast diversities of our planet while still being able to produce unities, decisions, and other outcomes. Geertz’s quote leads me to ask: Are there fundamentally incommensurable forms of communication in our world? In other words, are there interpretive frameworks, linguistic understandings, or other forms of human symbol use that could never be brought together or reconciled, no matter how much communication was involved?