“Pluralism is not an alternative to realism. It is simply realism without its chest puffed out, showing off. Pluralism is realism that recognises the multiple paths that any trajectory can follow and the beautiful plumage that can grace any mode of existence.” – Phillip, Circling SquaresRecently a series of posts have appeared among the usual philosophy blogger suspects chatting up the differences between and possible commensurability of 'realism' and 'pluralism' viz. the ontographic enterprise. First Jeremy Trombley offered some thoughts on the value of the ‘ontological turn’ in Anthropology (see here and here), to which Levi Bryant responded (see here, here and here), followed up by a plethora of posts by James Stanescu, Phillip, Matthew Segall, Terence Blake, David Roden (here) and now Bill at Critical Fantasies (here). Arran and I try to present a post-nihilist position on the issues here and here. All involved are providing interesting perspective on the topic and the comment sections on each blog bristle with insight. If you are into philosophy/theory and ontographic musings check out the scene. I recommend checking out the comprehensive list of the related posts compiled by James HERE. I’m sure this 'debate', now playfully dubbed the 'Pluralism Wars' by Stanescu, will continue to evolve so keep an eye out for developments and links at the host sites.
What follows are two brief points I want to make as a supplement to the debate rather than an intervention per se. The comments are brief and underdeveloped because I don't envision having much to offer simply because, as Arran James reminds us, critical pragmatics forecloses the possibility of saying "I am for or against pluralism". I think issues surrounding 'pluralism' are methodological issues not about the efficacy of ontological commitments. In many ways this debate is more about negotiating 'frameworks' or habits of thinking than it is about what ontography as a practice can do or might offer. And, as always, my interests have less to do with sifting and shifting particular theoretical stances than in fashioning conceptual 'tools' for coping-with and engaging the Real viz. the tactical and pragmatic reorganization of actually existing ecologies of matter-energy (which for me includes expressive activities, knowledges and practices). I have a more developed take on the relationship between realism, pluralism and politics posted over at Synthetic Zero (here) so go check that out if you want temporary brain damage.
Now for the babbling gibberish:
1. The only realism worthy its claims is a type of pluralism:
It can be argued that the all too human production of Truth is only ever about adequation: the tentative sorting and symbolic coding of associative experience via recursive cognition. Truth is fashioned by human cognizers thru an embodied, social, and ultimately limited cognitive-linguistic coping process. We accomodate our experiences with the linguistic and cognitive resources at hand. Truths are the artifacts and instruments of our accomodations.
This, of course, brings us close to the traditional pragmatist notion of truth as that which 'works' for us in a given situation. And the truth of what works for us is, therefore, relative to the situations or forms of life we inhabit. That truths are relative to the realities and forms of life we enact, and thus locally devised, should come as no suprise to contemporary theorists. Most researchers have come to appreciate the diversity of perspectives which contribute to the creation of all truth-claims about the Real. Perspective is multiple because reality and its modes contain multitudes. However, what requires strong emphasis here, in relation to realism, is that in the general ecology of materials and expressions human ‘truths’ are always in the mix with other non-linguistic realities and never on outside looking in. The process of semiotic and communicative coping-with always takes place in complex situations of diverse and autonomous non-discursive forces and assemblages. And if we are in the mix with a myriad of independently existing stratified and interwoven realities, as realists would naturalistically concede, then as beings trying to find our way in the world we will be moved to account for this complexity in some manner.
In this truncated sense, then, 'pluralism' of some sort is unavoidable if we want to take up a naturalist ontographic project. Multiple perpectives and ontic multiplicity necessitate complex forms of knowing and relating. Pluralism is thus primarily a methodological issue for the realist: in fashioning realistic models or narratives or discourses we have to be rigorous in addressing the actuality of multitudes - the varieties of materials and perspectives in play. To be clear, the most adept truth-seekers and inquirers among us are, almost by default, both realists and pluralists. A lack of adequation in this regard leads only to impoverished modes of ontography.
2. The only pluralism worthy of its claims is a type of realism:
The traumatic presence of the Real – as the disclosed thru interactions with entities and intensities of all sorts – is not an issue of argumentative persuasion but of confrontation and adaptation within a wilderness of consequential force and material assembly. Reality is raw and thick enough not to be explained away. The Real is that which must be coped-with 'beyond' and ‘below’ the level of explanation itself. The raw operations of corporeal necessity waits for no ideology, no matter how slickly composed and logical ordered. And so if pluralism is an attempt to take into account divergences in perspective and experience, as well as to articulate the different modes of existence and levels of complexity in the world, then it is also an attempt to fashion an adequate relationship to a ever-present reality that affords perspective and multiplicity in the first place (or in the last instance). It is an attempt at a kind of realism. Why maintain a pluralistic attitude or adopt pluralist practices if reality does not demand it? The wild diversity of the Real compels us to meet complexity with complexity.
“[T]he importance of the pluralist project, philosophically (and realistically) speaking: to compel attention to the specific ways in which different things must be addressed in order to be properly articulated in their own terms.” – Phillip, Circling SquaresBoth pluralism and realism make claims about the matrix of reality within which each discourse and set of methods emerges. To this extent they are commensurate discursive possibilities. The real does not need defending. It requires negotiation.
Comments and criticism are encouraged.