I have been interested in pluralist ideas for some time, though have never attempted to develop them in a systematic way, nor do I have any immediate plans to do so. But, in anticipation of the 2013 publication of the English translation of Latour’s An Inquiry Into Modes of Existence (I can't read French), I DO intend to devote more casual effort to the matter. Latour brought the subject to my attention through his use of the term “pluriverse” in Politics of Nature, a term he attributed to William James. Then, only a week or two ago when Terence Blake introduced me to some papers by Paul Feyerabend, papers that seemed very Latourian to me.
This post, however, does not propose any arguments. I just lay out some material. First I list some excerpts from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
As Latour had referenced William James, I begin with excerpts from the William James article. I follow with excerpts form the articles on Pluralist Theories of Truth and concluding with the article on The Unity of Science. The SEP also had articles on Value Pluralism and Religious Diversity, but they didn’t seem to bear very directly on the metaphysical issues that capture my attention. In the last section I list the abstracts of two of my papers from the 1990s. While neither paper uses the term “pluralism,” but the abstracts should give a useful indication of my own intellectual commitments on the matter.
Retuning to the SEP, I note that when I searched the SEP on pluralism it returned 211 articles. I assume that most of them were for articles that simply used the word rather than having significant focal discussion of pluralism in some form or another. Still, 211 struck me as a healthy number. So healthy that I considered suggesting that the publication of An Inquiry Into Modes of Being would make Latour the philosopher of the decade. Instead, I searched on several other terms as follows:
Pluralism (211) falls between aesthetics (183) and dialectic (220).being - 1653mind - 1287language - 1201logic - 1067metaphysics - 908ethics - 797ontology - 781Aristotle - 703
realism - 474analytic - 430idealism - 229dialectic - 220aesthetics - 183ecology - 66deconstruction - 40vitalism - 23Latour - 12
Of course, it’s hard to know what to make of these counts. At beat it’s a crude index of what’s of philosophical interest, much less of intellectual value, and I rather suspect that the SEP is biased toward the analytic tradition. Still, if the pluralism count were to rise from 211 to, say, 500 by the end of the decade and the SEP would have a full article devoted to Latour (it doesn't have one now)...
Stanford Encyclopedia of Science. Final paragraph of the introduction:
James made some of his most important philosophical contributions in the last decade of his life. In a burst of writing in 1904–5 (collected in Essays in Radical Empiricism (1912)) he set out the metaphysical view most commonly known as “neutral monism,” according to which there is one fundamental “stuff” that is neither material nor mental. In “A Pluralistic Universe” he defends the mystical and anti-pragmatic view that concepts distort rather than reveal reality, and in his influential Pragmatism (1907), he presents systematically a set of views about truth, knowledge, reality, religion, and philosophy that permeate his writings from the late 1870s onwards.
From the section, A Pluralistic Universe (1909):
James passes from critical discussions of Josiah Royce's idealism and the “vicious intellectualism” of Hegel to philosophers whose visions he admires: Gustav Fechner and Henri Bergson. He praises Fechner for holding that “the whole universe in its different spans and wave-lengths, exclusions and developments, is everywhere alive and conscious” (PU, 70), and he seeks to refine and justify Fechner's idea that separate human, animal and vegetable consciousnesses meet or merge in a “consciousness of still wider scope” (72). James employs Henri Bergson's critique of “intellectualism” to argue that the “concrete pulses of experience appear pent in by no such definite limits as our conceptual substitutes are confined by. They run into one another continuously and seem to interpenetrate” (PU 127). James concludes by embracing a position that he had more tentatively set forth in The Varieties of Religious Experience: that religious experiences “point with reasonable probability to the continuity of our consciousness with a wider spiritual environment from which the ordinary prudential man (who is the only man that scientific psychology, so called, takes cognizance of) is shut off” (PU, 135). Whereas in Pragmatism James subsumes the religious within the pragmatic (as yet another way of successfully making one's way through the world), in A Pluralistic Universe he suggests that the religious offers a superior relation to the universe.
Stanford Encyclopedia of Science. The opening paragraph:
The plausibility of theories of truth has often been observed to vary, sometimes extensively, across different domains or regions of discourse. Because of this variance, the problems internal to each such theory become salient as they overgeneralize. A natural suggestion is therefore that not all (declarative) sentences in all domains are true in exactly the same way. Sentences in mathematics, morals, comedy, chemistry, politics, and gastronomy may be true in different ways, if and when they are ever true. ‘Pluralism about truth’ names the thesis that there is more than one way of being true.
Stanford Encyclopedia of Science. The opening paragraph:
The topic of the unity of science includes the following questions: Is there one privileged, most basic kind of stuff, and if not, how are the different kinds of material in the universe related? Can the various physical sciences (physics, astronomy, chemistry, biology) be unified into a single overarching theory, and can theories within a single science (e.g., general relativity and quantum theory in physics) be unified? Does the unification of these parts of science involve only matters of fact or are matters of value involved as well? Moreover, what kinds of unity in the sciences are there: is unification a relation between concepts or terms (i.e., a matter of semantics), or about theories they make up? And is the relation one of reduction, translation, explanation, or logical inference?
From section 1.5 Unity and reduction in logical empiricism in America: Postwar orthodoxy in philosophy of science:
Philosophy of science consolidated itself in the 1950s around a positivist orthodoxy roughly characterized as follows: a syntactic formal approach to theories, logical deductions and axiomatic systems, with distinction between theoretical and observational vocabularies, and empirical generalizations. Unity and reduction may be introduced in terms of the following distinctions: epistemological and ontological, synchronic and diachronic. The specific elements of the dominating accounts will stand and fall with the attitudes towards the elements of the orthodoxy mentioned above.
From section 2.1 Antireductionism in the 1960s:
Feyerabend, for instance, promptly rebelled and rejected the adequacy of the conditions for Nagelian reductionism. In particular, he challenged the demand of extensional equivalence as an inadequate demand of ‘meaning invariance’ and approximation, and with it the possibility of deductive connections. Mocking the positivist legacy of progress through unity, empiricism and anti-dogmatism, he decried these constraints famously as intellectually dogmatic, conceptually weak and methodologically overly restrictive. He extolled, instead, the merits of the new theses of incommensurability and methodological pluralism.Shaffner argued that the deductive connection would be guaranteed provided that the old, reduced theory was “corrected” beforehand (Shaffner 1964). The evolution and the structure of scientific knowledge could be neatly captured, using Schaffner's expression, by “layer-cake reduction.”But the likes of Feyerabend were not persuaded. The terms ‘length’ and ‘mass’—or the symbols l and m—,for instance, may be the same in Newtonian and Relativistic mechanics, or the term ‘electron’ the same in classical physics and quantum mechanics, or the term ‘atom’ the same in quantum mechanics and in chemistry, or ‘gene’ in Mendelian genetics and molecular genetics. But the corresponding concepts, they argued, are not. Concepts or words are to be understood as getting their content or meaning within a holistic or organic structure, even if the organized wholes are the theories that include them. From this point of view, different wholes, whether theories or Kuhnian paradigms, manifest conceptual incommensurability. Therefore, the derived, reducing theories typically are not the allegedly reduced, old ones; and their derivation sheds no relevant insight into the relation between the original old one and the new (Feyerabend 1964; Sklar 1967).
Complexity and Fecundity
William Benzon and David G. Hays. Why Natural Selection Leads to Complexity. Journal of Social and Biological Structures 13: 33-40, 1990. http://ssrn.com/abstract=1591788
Abstract: While science has accepted biological evolution through natural selection, there is no generally agreed explanation for why evolution leads to ever more complex organisms. Evolution yields organismic complexity because the universe is, in its very fabric, inherently complex, as suggested by Ilya Prigogine's work on dissipative structures. Because the universe is complex, increments in organismic complexity yield survival benefits: (1) more efficient extraction of energy and matter, (2) more flexible response to vicissitudes, (3) more effective search. J.J. Gibson's ecological psychology provides a clue to the advantages of sophisticated information processing while the lore of computational theory suggests that a complex computer is needed efficiently to perform complex computations (i.e. sophisticated information processing).
William Benzon. Pursued by Knowledge in a Fecund Universe. Journal of Social and Evolutionary Systems 20(1): 93-100, 1997. http://ssrn.com/abstract=1938347
Abstract: In The End of Science John Horgan, himself a devotee of science, argues that the stock of fundamental scientific truths is limited and that we have discovered most of them. What has come to an end, I argue, is a certain view of the world which sees reality as reducible to simple laws about simple systems underpinning the superficial complexity of phenomenal experience. On the contrary, reality is fundamentally complex and reductionism is doomed. The universe is fecund in that it has evolved multiple Realms of Being, with the later ones being implemented in the former.