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Human societies are experiencing a period of change which is unprecedented in its speed. Artificial intelligence, biotechnology and Big Data are just some of the major developments of our time; political and trade disputes, cultural misunderstandings and ecological crises assume ever more complex dimensions. In this context, the question of the very meaning of ‘humanity’ as a collective concept emerges in a new light. The nature of the challenge is such that no single human civilization can hope to address it on its own; each civilization must assume the responsibilities of dialogue and share the best of its cultural resources with the rest of the world. This is the only long-term recipe for a sustainable and prosperous human future.

On the dimension of cultural criticism, the human future depends heavily on the ability of the Axial civilizations to engage in critical reflection on their own legacies: such self-criticismis a necessary condition for overcomng arrogance, ignorance and conflict. Luckily, this spirit permeates all the Axial traditions at their best, and can be considered an integral part of their common gift to humanity. Nevertheless, dialogue is also required to ensure that the universal insights of specific traditions are translated into languages the rest of the world can understand.

On the dimension of cultural identity, an abstract universalism which fails to leave room for specific manifestations of beauty is destined to collapse into polite irrelevance. On the other hand, an overemphasis on the politics of identity may lead to forms of incuriosity and intolerance which culminate in unnecessary conflict. Human beings need to explore creative means of integrating critical reflection and cultural identity via intercivilizational dialogue and mutual learning, in order to enlarge their sense of themselves via contact with others. Such a dialogical model of civilization offers a horizon of sustainability for a common human future.

The relation between conscience and rationality is a significant discourse here. Without conscience, human beings cannot realise themselves; without rationality, they cannot survive. Despite an apparent divorce between conscience and rationality in modern thought, the two ultimately belong together: conscience gives rationality direction, and prevents it from degenerating into empty instrumentalism; rationality gives conscience options, and prevents it from languishing in effete uselessness. If we hope to escape the self-harm and potential self-destruction of the present and survive into a more fully human future, a culture of organic interaction between conscience and rationality must emerge to global prominence.