In my view, one of the most important, and often unrecognized, distinctions philosophy is between compromise and synthesis. A compromise merely finds a middle ground between two other positions; it can easily be a bad middle ground, one that takes the worst from each of the two extremes. But a synthesis, by definition, takes the best. I’d like to take the next couple weeks clarifying how synthesis is possible.
Compromise is not necessarily bad. It is essential in practical politics – in attempting to achieve positive outcomes when genuine agreement is not possible. But, I would argue, it has no role to play in philosophy, where the goal is truth.
By contrast, I find synthesis crucial to the work of cross-cultural philosophy. There are countless philosophical positions that have been taken, and contrary to perennialist views, they do not all agree. There are many perennial questions that recur throughout the history of human thought. But not only do humans continue to produce different answers to them, those different answers each get revered and enshrined. The immortal soul so essential to Christianity is denied by the Buddhists. I have always been struck by the truths to be found in radically different traditions.
But truth cannot contradict truth. If there is truth to be found everywhere – a controversial premise, I admit – then I submit that some sort of synthesis is necessary. And how may we go about finding it? Continue reading