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The Humanization of Social Life: Change in Our Times

September 5 - November 10, 1990                                                       Washington, D.C.



If change is our natural condition why do we now find it so difficult? The Greek word for physical reality (physis) means change as a life process; the Latin root for "nature" expresses birth or progressive emergence. Following Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas considered such change to be the most obvious characteristic of reality. John Dewey cited the emphasis upon progress and innovation as the proper characteristic of the modern mind.

Yet, philosophers in Hungary note that though years of effort and experience have made clear where they must go as a society, the process of change--how to get there--is deeply enigmatic. With the sudden dawn of the post-Communist period, this experience is shared broadly throughout the so-called "Second World," from the Berlin Wall to the Pacific. The "Third World" has been struggling with this dilemma for decades under such terms as "development," "modernization" and "social realignment." In the "First World" the issue is in some ways more treacherous as the narcotic effect of relative material affluence has deadened people's awareness and weakened their resolve to reverse the riptides of decline in family and community solidarity and of growth in crime and addiction.

Could it be that the same reasons that now impose change also make it especially difficult? Could the very acuity of concepts, the rigor of structures and the concentration of powers which have made progress possible now have become impediments to humane adaptation. All three worlds appear to be experiencing the same problem: scientific and technical instrumentation--whether in the form of a so-called scientific philosophy of history, a promised industrialization or a new age of information and communication--have come variously to enslave, exploit and/or depersonalize the nations which have taken them up.

The efforts at change which now reecho throughout the world suggest that economic transformation is required, but cannot proceed without political reforms, and that both--as indeed all social progress--require a deeper sense of human dignity, personal transcendence and ultimate meaning. Resources exist on all these levels; they need to be identified. Perhaps even more, the modes of their interaction need to be envisaged in a creative manner if change is to give birth to progress.

Toward this end this seminar calls upon resources of various cultures and disciplines in order to analyze the present problematic of change, to identify the resources for its accomplishment, and above all to explore the modalities for undertaking this great adventure for the XXIst century.







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