Richard Marshall interviews Jonardon Ganeri in 3:AM Magazine [h/t: Yogesh Chandrani]:
3:AM: Your new book, due out this year, ‘Identity as Reasoned Choice: A South Asian Perspective’ foregrounds multi-cultural, multi-religious and multi-racial characteristics of identity in the contemporary world. You argue that identity is a matter of reasoned choice and draw on a theory retrieved from India. You discuss the role of consensus, of what you call an ‘adaptive model according to which exemplary cases provide local standards of evaluation’, the importance of dissent, historical conceptions of identity and reason from within Indian philosophy and finally how past cultures of reasoning and identity-formation may be used in a contemporary setting. Can you say something about this project?
JG: I want to move away from the notion that there is any one answer to the question of who one is, by which I mean the idea that there are fixed determiners of one’s individual identity, the sort of person one takes oneself to be, the values one endorses, the character that one has. That idea is especially dangerous in a new age of religious intolerance, when, for example, immigration officials engage in racial profiling and make inferences about a person’s values from the clothes they wear.
So I took seriously a thought in the work of Amartya Sen, Akeel Bilgrami, and others that reason goes “all the way down” as it were, meaning that there are always reasoned choices to be made about the weight someone attaches to each of the various sources of value and identity everyone has available to them. Religion is one of the most powerful sources of identity, and I see no difficulty in someone choosing to found their sense of self in their religious faith, as long as they recognise that this is a choice, and that other choices can be equally legitimate.
But I wanted to take this thought a step further, and to ask how, in the ideal conversation envisaged by a deliberative democracy, individuals can call on their various identities in making collective decisions or agreeing on common goods. My idea is that cultural inheritances supply what I called “resources of reason”, normative ways of thinking, and I think that it is important to see that each such such way of thinking provides its own techniques for acknowledging the rights and legitimacies of other ways of thinking.
So someone can come to the table as, for instance, a Jew or a Muslim, and still with a full range of ways of understanding the demands of public reason and of the deliberative practices and values of the other participants in the conversation. Drawing on my own field of expertise, I try to show how this works in the case of Indian intellectual cultures in particular, but I think exactly the same is true for East Asian, African or western sources of significance.