What is Pluralism (Brief)?


Pluralism, rather unsurprisingly, is used in a variety of ways in philosophy. Generally speaking, however, it is used to denote that there two or more substances or principles according to which our world view should be based.

When speaking of substances, Pluralism is contrasted to Monism and Dualism. Monism holds the view that there is ultimately only one kind of substance in the world (usually either a physical substance, such as water or fire for the Ancients, or a non-physical substance such as the mind). Dualism holds the view that there are ultimately only two kinds of substances in the world, usually these are considered to be the mind and the body. The discussion on substances is usually based on Rene Descartes‘ initiation and are still of relevance to Philosophy of Mind (though of course with very few contemporary philosophers who are still in agreement with Descartes).

Pluralism is also the name given to an unrelated school of philosophy in Pre-Socratic Greece, including Anaxagoras and Empedocles.

Types of Pluralism

  • In Metaphysics, pluralism is the view that reality consists of more that two substances.
  • In Philosophy of Mind, just as in metaphysics, pluralism is the view that there is a plurality of substances that are relevant to the discussion of the mind, and not just a single substance of which the body and mind are made of individually.
  • In Epistemology, pluralism is the view that despite their conflicting nature, more than one description of the world can be true. In other words, it is the view that there cannot be a single theoretical position that explains all of reality and all of the world. Of particular concern in this is that phenomena present themselves differently to different aspects of knowledge and are therefore not reducible to a singular theoretical explanation.
  • In Ethics, pluralism is the view that moral phenomena present themselves through numerous independent sources and can therefore not be reduced to a single moral truth. This is different from relativism that holds a lack of moral objectivity, while ethical pluralism may only go so far as to say that there are a number of ethical truths without falling pray to a relativist position.
  • In Political Philosophy, pluralism is the view that political groups form through a variety of competing interests. Members of political groups thus hold numerous views and associate with a particular group for different reasons. In other words, groups cannot be reduced to a singular interest through which it can be defined.

Further Reading

Colborn, M. (2011). Pluralism and the Mind, Upton Pyne, Imprint Academic.

Coliva, A. & Pedersen, N. J. L. L. (eds), (2017). Epistemic Pluralism, Palgrave Macmillan.

Lynch, M. P. (2001). Truth in Context: An Essay on Pluralism and Objectivity, Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Watson, W. (1993). The Architectonics of Meaning: Foundations of the New Pluralism, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

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