The fact that there are different cultures in the world is too obvious for words. Considering thus cultural differences in the light of the phenomenological concept of life-world may raise the following questions: Do we live in the same life-world regardless of such cultural differences? Or do we live in different life-worlds because of cultural differences? The first question presupposes a singular life-world, whereas the second question entails a plurality of life-worlds. In any case, how is the notion of cultural difference related to that of the life-world? Edmund Husserl (1859-1938), the founder of phenomenology seems to conceive the life-world as the bare ground of the natural sciences. The life-world therefore acquires a universal validity regardless of cultural differences. In contrast, for Alfred Schutz (1899-1959), who is more concerned with the foundation of human and social sciences than that of natural sciences, the life-world understood as field of praxis with social and cultural characteristics unavoidably assumes cultural differences.
Besides critically discussing these two radically diverging positions, the book also discusses what Bernhard Waldenfels sees as a common denominator: the idea of grounding (Grundlegungsidee). Both Husserl and Schutz develop in their own ways a foundationalist interpretation of the life-world. In whatever case, the book seeks to overcome any foundationalism whether in the form of universalism or culturalism by suggesting to refocus and inquire into the status of cultural objects. Universals are ill-suited for cultural matters. Correlatively, considering cultural objects from alien cultures requires acknowledging difference with a sense of humility that does not preclude the possibility of understanding.
Chung-Chi Yu is Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Institute of Philosophy, National Sun Yat-Sen University, Taiwan.