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  • Reply to Joshua Anderson
  • Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse


We are pleased to find that our 2005 paper “Why Pragmatists Cannot Be Pluralists” (Talisse and Aikin) continues to draw critical attention. It seems to us that despite the many responses to our paper, its central challenge has not been met. That challenge is for pragmatists to articulate a genuine pluralism that is consistent with their broader commitments. Unfortunately, much of the wrangling over our paper has aimed to capture the word “pluralism” for pragmatist deployment; little has been done to clarify what that term means when pragmatists use it. This is pragmatically unacceptable. Hence there is work to be done, and we are happy to revisit the issues.

We accept the central conclusion of Joshua Anderson’s article in the Spring 2015 issue of the Pluralist. As we argue in a forthcoming essay, “Pragmatism and Pluralism Revisited,” we now hold that there indeed is a genuine pluralism that is consistent with at least one version of pragmatism. We will close this reply by sketching this pluralism. Accordingly, we concede that our 2005 paper failed to “[exhaust] the great variety” of pluralism (Anderson 107). Nonetheless, we maintain that Anderson’s critical argument fails.

In what follows, we will review our core argument that pragmatists cannot be pluralists, and then spend some time on Anderson’s challenge to our case. We will show, with some detail, why his challenge fails, and then pause for what we think are some meta-philosophical lessons for pragmatists in this area. Finally, we will turn to our reconsidered view and present what we are calling Modest Epistemic Pluralism as the sole place for commerce between pluralism and pragmatism. [End Page 335]


The core argument of our essay “Why Pragmatists Cannot Be Pluralists” is as follows:

  1. (1). Pluralism is broadly motivated by

    1. (a). the conflict of values, and

    2. (b). the view that the regularity and seeming permanence of this conflict is not a consequence of the failure of human intellect.

  2. (2). Three basic forms of pluralism emerge as explanations and prescriptions:

    1. (a). Deep Pluralism is an ontological explanation for conflict—namely that the values themselves are at odds, and so these conflicts are rationally impenetrable and permanent.

    2. (b). Modus Vivendi Pluralism is the base prescription of noninterference against the background of rationally irresolvable conflict.

    3. (c). Shallow Pluralism is a strictly epistemic approach that requires that tolerance should prevail in these disagreements, with the hopes that dialogue may make some progress.

  3. (3). Pragmatisms come in two varieties:

    1. (a). Meaning Pragmatism is devoted to resolving philosophical and axiological questions against a background of clarifying what the issues are.

    2. (b). Inquiry Pragmatism is devoted to resolving axiological problems by reconstructing them so that some research program may reasonably be held to answer the question either now or in the future.

  4. (4). Neither form of pragmatism is compatible with deep or modus vivendi pluralism, as deep pluralism denies both clarification and inquiry, and modus vivendi pluralism is unstable.

  5. (5). Inquiry pragmatism is consistent with and compatible with shallow pluralism, as both require tolerance and ongoing dialogue.

  6. (6). Shallow pluralism is clearly consistent with inquiry pragmatism.

  7. (7). However, shallow pluralism is consistent with many other non-pluralist viewpoints.

  8. (8). Shallow pluralism, then, is pluralism in name only.

  9. (9). Pragmatists cannot be pluralists in any substantive sense.

Let us begin with a view we think should be uncontroversial about pragmatist value theory. Pragmatism is about solving problems. So if pragmatists were to adopt a theory of value that would, as a matter of principle, commit them to hold that the problems are unsolvable, then that would make them [End Page 336] what we call bizarro pragmatists. Pragmatists hold that theories are tools, and in this case, adopting pluralism as a theory of value renders one incapable of addressing moral conflict as resolvable. Only a bizzaro pragmatist, one who tries to not solve problems, would intentionally use that tool. Non-bizzarro pragmatists, on the other hand, should be anti-pluralists. That is the core of our consistency challenge.

Anderson has made two substantive challenges to our argument. The first is that “Talisse and Aikin have presupposed their conclusion in how...


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