Encyclopedia of World Problems - Archived Information

Status message

You are currently in UIA's online document archive. These pages are no longer maintained. To search the full archive click here.

The Encyclopedia is currently undergoing redevelopment !

3.1 Intent

1. Intent

The term "human development" points to a process which is of vital interest at a time when the organization and future of life on this planet is challenged by the consequences of past understandings of that same process. For it is human development, through its lack of restraint, which has given rise to a high proportion of the problems of the world. There is nevertheless much confusion concerning the significance of the term. And yet there is great need to harness the forces of human development to meet the challenge of the times more effectively.

It was therefore considered useful, both as a bridging exercise and as an experiment, to attempt to initiate an information clarification process with the following objectives:

(a) Identify the range of concepts that effectively define the meanings currently attached to "human development" in its different forms and disguises.

(b) Provide a context for concepts of human development that are used in essentially different and frequently non-interacting sectors of society, without emphasizing or de-emphasizing those concepts which are either mechanistic or religious.

(c) Draw attention to those concepts of human development which have hitherto been excluded from serious consideration within the international community (whether by the academic world or in their societal applications) but for which legitimating documents and reports are held to exist by some constituencies and traditions.

(d) Distinguish, by juxtaposition within the same context, those concepts which place importance on the psycho-social development of the individual as a unique human being, from those which effectively stress the development of the individual conceived merely as a socio-economic unit.

(e) Provide sufficient description of each concept, based on available documents that depend upon and advocate its use, in order to clarify the special importance attached to each such particular understanding of human development.

(f) Clarify the relationships and distinctions between different concepts labelled by terms which are synonyms or homonyms, particularly where the meaning of the terms used changes with the context.

(g) Provide information on the range of modes of awareness, as well as on the states of consciousness with which people identify during the process of human development, indicating where possible how these are perceived as interrelated stages.

2. Reservations and apologies

This endeavour, as an exercise in processing information from diverse cultures, languages and disciplines, can be considered totally questionable in the light of the current intellectual orthodoxy of the western academic disciplines of philosophy, anthropology, sociology, history of religion, and literary criticism. Insights from the sociology of knowledge, interpretations of the late Wittgenstein and the classical Quine, varieties of relativism in anthropological theory, Kuhn's incommensurability thesis and Feyerabend's case against method, and deconstructionist concerns about the readings of any text, all combine to create an intellectual climate in which it is problematic to imply any fruitful outcome from such an endeavour. In particular it is questionable whether insights (especially from the distant past) arising in other cultures and languages can be meaningfully expressed and understood through English in such a context as this.

Against such theoretical arguments may be set the fact that there is widespread and increasing interest in human development concerns and the experiential dimension. Many people, including academics of eminence, find meaning in domains considered void of meaning by certain disciplines. It is their experience that is honoured here, however ineffectually.

The editors recognize that in most traditions, whether spiritual or academic, there is a very strong belief that their insights should not be confused with those of other traditions. Clearly the whole procedure adopted here can be understood as doing violence to such insights, especially when information taken out of context is specifically intended to be understood only within some appropriate context (and possibly only with appropriate guidance). The treatment accorded particular insights may be thought to diminish their import and to degrade a vital cultural heritage. This is especially the case for those traditions from which little material could be obtained because their orientation is less explicitly concerned with human development and modes of awareness as articulated here. For some traditions, much that is articulated in detail in other traditions is encapsulated in a single central belief (such as "salvation") and it is not considered useful to articulate explicitly any related modes of experience or the stages of any spiritual journey.

Despite these valid concerns, the editors hold that sufficient material has now been produced in written form from many traditions (often by practitioners in those traditions), so that there is a case for placing their insights on human development together within a framework of this kind. One major reason for doing so is the tendency in many traditions towards obfuscation of key insights by layers of commentary which may do little to sharpen the central insight -- quite often burying it in inaccessible and essential unreadable material. The simplistic approach undertaken here endeavours to honour the existence of such insights, whatever their origin, and to offer users pointers to insights whose existence is virtually unknown, or conveniently ignored, in other traditions.

Although it may be virtually impossible to avoid causing offence by this approach, the editors wish to stress the sympathy with which they have endeavoured to respond to the variety of insights into human development. We should like to apologize for errors of omission and commission, whether or not they have caused offence.