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Pluralism in the Western Thought
Sam Ghandchi
1st Edition: December 9, 2003
2nd Edition: June 20, 2019


In a different paper I discussed about monism in Modern philosophy and especially the Marxist monism which has had more adherents in Iran.  In this paper, my subject of discussion is the opposite of monism, namely pluralism in the Western philosophy.  In my opinion, it is appropriate to do extensive study of pluralism in the popular philosophies of Iran as well.  Although here I have made references to that topic in my own writings including this paper, but the topic of this paper is basically the pluralist philosophical schools of the West.

The works that exist about modern thought in Iran today, are books such as those of Fereydoon Adamiat, where their research is essentially about the mashrootiat era (time of 1906 constitution movement of Iran), when the Western ideas had influenced Iranian thought. I hope to see new research about the pluralist ideas and study of their sources, not only from the Western influence, but also from the angle of philosophical thought in the whole of Iranian history.  Of course, the exchange of ideas with other civilizations would also be included in such study, but not limited by that influence.

As far as my conclusion at the global level, except for the historical presentation of the topic, which has been my goal in this paper, my analysis of the practical results of this discussion for our times is important, and I recommend the study of the works of following authors for various areas of knowledge:

In the area of politics, the book of John Kenneth Galbraith entitled Anatomy of Power. In the realm of economics, input-output model of Nobel Laureate Wassily Leontief, and Daniel Bell’s the Coming of Post-Industrial Society.  In the field of philosophy, the works of Popper, Quine, and others that I have noted in this paper.  In sociology and culture, the works of Daniel Bell and Daniel Yankelovich.  In the area of social justice and law, the works of John Rawls.  And in management the works of Peter Drucker.  And finally, in the arena of global development, the works of Tofflers and John Naisbitt.

I should note that in the area of social decision-making new structures have been formed in the Western democracy, such as the Ballot Initiatives in California, which has been studied by Tofflers and Naisbitt, and I have written about it elsewhere.   These social changes themselves affect the form of social pluralism of our times. Of other new social structures of our times, one can mention the scientific, environmental organizations or United nations. In fact, issues such as checks and balances, which have been discussed in the Western political thought since John Locke, with the development of post-industrial society, are finding new dimensions.  And this the more pluralist form of post-industrial democracy, that I have discussed in my paper "Dancing in the Air".

In the area of mass communications and their importance in the post-industrial democracy, Galbraith has offered very interesting ideas that I have discussed elsewhere. And with regards to John Locke's theory of three branches of government, one of the founders of Modern Futurism, Bertrand de Jouvenel,  at the end of his life, did very interesting research, where he had noted the *pursuit of happiness* in the U.S. constitution which is absent in Europe and where he discusses  new models of democracy for the post-industrial society. And in the area of social justice, new thinking is needed as I have noted elsewhere.

With regards to the topics of history of philosophy that have been noted in this paper, please refer to the extensive book called A History of Philosophy by Frederick Copleston. Although he is a Jesuit Father, his book is an exceptional book on history of philosophy, along with Bertrand Russell's A History of Western Philosophy, which has been written from a non-religious view, and they both are worthwhile and contain important historical information.


(In the following quote, the spelling of words is as they are in the original text in Old English)

"Men that inhere upon nature only, are far from thinking, that there is anything singular in this world, as they scarce think that this world it selfe is singular, but that every Planet, and every Star, is another world like this.  They find reason to conceive not only a pluralitie in every Species in the World, but pluralitie   of Worlds.  God, and Nature and Reason concurr against it."  
(John Donne) 

[The above passage was quoted from page 49 of Steven J. Dick's book, PLURALITY OF WORLDS (1982)]

The history of pluralism begins with "common sense".  After thousands of years of religious and philosophical thought, the common sense of ordinary people impartial to religious or philosophical preconceptions is still pluralistic; that is, a disinterested cognition of nature and society perceives the world as an agglomeration of diversity and uniqueness of individual entities.  The mental activity does not stop at this basic cognition and searches for ways to ensure the procurement of basic needs from accidental adversities.  Preventing unwanted events requires an ability to predict the future course of different processes.  This ability is developed by discerning regularities in the world's diversity of events.  The primitive form of this mental activity is impregnated in the behavior of intelligent animals as 'instincts', transferred genetically.  Likewise, the first endeavors for knowledge are made possible by neglecting details and curtailing irregularities to reach regularities.

Heraclitus summarized this intellectual effort as the search for "what is common to all."  In philosophy, monism superseded pluralism as the search for regularities and commonalties effected all-embracing principles such as Parmenidean plenum or Heraclitean contradictions.  In religion, the first deities were pluralistic because they were closer to the common sense thinking of ordinary people and not the abstract philosophical thinking and it was a long time until polytheism was replaced by monotheism which united the common factors of the gods in one God.  The development of civilization and sciences concurrent with the growth of human thought from common-sense pluralism to monism, and except for brief interludes, pluralism has always been defeated. 

It has not been until the recent times that scientific developments have favored indeterminism and pluralism over their opposites (i.e. determinism and monism), for predictions of natural and social processes.  Modern day pluralism is not limited to analytic philosophers such as Nelson Goodman (author of Many Ways of World Making).  It is promoted by diverse scientists and philosophers ranging from David Bohm, Karl Popper, and Morris Berman to W.V. Quine and Nelson Goodman.

Ancient Times

In ancient Greece Empedocles was the first important philosopher who propagated pluralism.  He accepted a mixture of all four Greek elements (earth, air, fire, and water) as fundamental.  Contrary to Heraclitus, who only believed in strife, Empedocles viewed Love and Strife as explanations for unity and separation of phenomena.  His praise for Love as the representation of original unity showed his desire for monism, although it never occurred to him to believe in such wishes, which he regarded as contrary to existing reality.  His logic was not deterministic and for him, change happened by both Chance and Necessity.  In ethics, he upheld Pythagorean mysticism and divulged his original sin and subsequent metamorphosis in the tradition of Orphic religion (a pre-civilization Greek religion).  He was original in two important aspects of pluralism, that is, the defense of indeterminism and democracy.  Being mostly a poetic writer, his political writings never matched the scholastic integrity of later monistic treatises of politics (e.g. as compared to Plato's works in later centuries).  Nonetheless, Empedocles's democratic practice and poetry demonstrated the inclination of pluralists towards democracy from the very beginning of the Western civilization.

Leucippus and Democritus tried to reach a compromise between monism and pluralism.  Their model of the world was atomism.  Atoms were different and infinitely many (i.e. a pluralistic orientation), but they were also assumed to be indestructible substances related to each other by deterministic causal laws (i.e. a monistic orientation).  This model survived for two thousand years, as a metaphysical theory about the structure of the world, until modern science extensively used it after the Renaissance.  The Leucippus and Democritus's assumption of infinite atoms is the predecessor of almost all pluralistic models of the world, from Leibniz's monadology to Rutherford's atomic model to Bertrand Russell's Logical atomism.  Also, although determinists, their politics was consistent with pluralism in advocating democracy.  In their cosmology, they supported the idea of plurality of worlds which was later defended by Epicurus, augmented with indeterminism, and was rejected by Aristotle through Aristotle's idea of a *single world*. [It is interesting to note that around 9th century A.D., the Epicurean theory of chance, was even accepted over the Aristotelian theory of four causes by Mutazilites, i.e. followers of Hassan al-Basri, in Islamic theology].

The development of Greek civilization strengthened Parmenidean monism.  Plato systematically opposed the pluralism of Empedocles and the atomists.  Aristotle, although mostly a pluralist, retained a lot of Platonic monism in his thought.  For him *the order of sense* was pluralistic and *the order of explanation* was monistic.  In other words, when going from senses to theory, the plurality is the starting point, whereas when explaining the world, we start from a monistic explanatory theory and arrive at the experienced reality.  [See Aristotle's excellent presentation of this view in his book METAPHYSICS (Book III)].

Fall of Greek Civilization

It was not until the downfall of Greek civilization that pluralism was revived again.  From the third century B.C. to third century A.D. when Christianity conquered the Roman Empire, pluralism grew temporarily among the pessimistic philosophies of Cynics, Sceptics, Epicureans, and Stoics.  Nevertheless, there was little originality in these schools and especially their estrangement towards science was more a retrogression than a progress for pluralism.

THE CYNICS rejected all the achievements of civilization such as government, private property, marriage, and established religion.  In fact, they can be regarded as the predecessors of modern anarchists, which I have discussed elsewhere.  They did not try to correct the social ills by any reform, nor did they advocate any alternative society to be reached by revolution, their only alternative to the existing social order was a 'return to nature' and living like animals.  One of the most prominent figures, Diogenes, even believed in brotherhood of human race and animals.  In short, their rejection of established order was a blow to monism, but their doctrine was detrimental to intellectual activity as a whole.

SCEPTICISM with its doubting everything obliterated the difference between knowledge and ignorance, nevertheless, it also cast doubt on some principles of monism.  Carneads (d. 69 B.C.) was a Sceptic who reached the idea of using probability as a guide to practice.  This was the first attempt to formulate a conjectural theory in accordance with indeterminism.  Unfortunately, his ideas were not followed by later Sceptics who were not interested in an alternative to monistic explanation of truth and were only interested in doubting everything of the past and delighted in discrediting the achievements of science and philosophy.

EPICURUS, the founder of Epicurean school, was mostly concerned with ethics.  He praised pleasure from a mystical viewpoint, but contrary to the Stoics, believed only in this life.   His defense of free will was the pluralistic aspect of his ethics.   After Leucippus and Democritus, Epicurus was the first prominent pluralist philosopher in natural philosophy.  Although he did not have an interest in science, his advocating of atomism with an emphasis on chance and indeterminism was a pluralistic model of the world.  Nonetheless, before him, Aristotle had made a special effort to repudiate the Democritean notion of the plurality of worlds and had defended the principle of the existence of a *single world*.  Aristotelian model of a single world not only during the Middle Ages, but even till today, is still with us.

THE STOICS with their praise for individual virtue and the equality of humans, leaned more towards pluralism.  Their pluralism more resembles the pluralism in religion than in philosophy.  Zeno, the founder of this school of thought, considered God not separate from the world and to be within us.  This was pantheism, which had its root in Oriental religions.  Pantheism was developed by the Stoics and through them influenced Christian monasticism and Islamic mysticism.  This view has been pluralist, with regards to God's manifestations, but it is also monistic in respect to the notion of God's unity.  This philosophy by transcending individuals to godlike characters (through self-cultivation) has been mostly appealing to disappointed nations or individuals, who cannot hope for advancement by their self-activity in the real world.  Nonetheless, its emphasis on individuals has always strengthened pluralism in the respective outlooks of its proponents.

Middle Ages

CHRISTIANITY swept away all the gods of other religions and thus most pluralistic religions were overcome by monotheism in Europe.  For more than a thousand years, philosophy was limited to scholasticism.  Everything from Heaven to Earth was completely ruled by the Almighty who determined everything from the life of the smallest grains to the development of largest stars.  Pluralism in its strictest sense of the term, was never tolerated in the Middle Ages, but elements of this outlook survived even in the Dark Ages, mostly through the influence of the Islamic world.

The first three centuries of Islam (that is 6th to 9th century A.D.) did not produce much more than scholasticism in Islamic world either.  Islamic theocracy of Ommayeds and Abbassids was as despotic as the Catholic Church.  Only some astronomical research was promoted by Islamic theocracy due to the special astronomical basis of prayer rituals in Islam.  It was actually after the decline of the Arab Empire in the Eastern flank (Iran) and Northern flank (Spain) of Islamic empire, that the influence of the central Caliphate reduced and the Islamic 'reformation' and 'renaissance' blossomed.  During this period, scientific and philosophical works flourished.  Avicenna, Omar Khayyam, Al-Farabi, Biruni, Razi were among the prominent philosopher/scientists of this era in Iran, who especially influenced the thought of Roger Bacon and Spinoza in later centuries.  It is neither feasible nor practical to discuss Near Eastern philosophy here, a broad subject in itself.  However, a look at pantheism, which was essentially developed in the Near East, and strongly influenced pluralism in European thought, would not be out of place.

Islamic Pantheism in the East

PANTHEISM, as a form of mysticism, was a continuation of stoicism, which developed among the intellectuals of Near East, especially after the surrendering to the Mongolian Invasion.  It was an agglomeration of Oriental and Greek philosophy as well as Christian and Islamic thought.  Its advocates were called 'Sufi' meaning ragman, because of their Stoic indifference to material life.  They opposed sacerdotalism, respected all religions equally, and considered their own faith as a cosmopolitan religion similar to pre-Islamic Manichaeanism.  They despised traditional religions and propagated the idea of seeking God in heart rather than in shrine.  Fearing religious persecution of Islamic authorities, most of their ideas were presented in the allegorical poems.  Their poems are examples of beautiful poetical expression of pantheism.  The prominent Sufi poet of Iran J. Rumi, very respectfully makes frequent references to Greek philosophers of different schools of thought including the atomists.  In many of his poems, he resembles God to sunlight which is reflected in the prism of human thought as different religious orders.  This allegory is probably the best illustration of pantheism which regards God as One and at the same time believes in His multiple representations in the world.  Although pantheism was not a thoroughgoing pluralism, its advocacy of a pluralistic notion of God's representation, gave rise to a pluralistic tendency in religious and philosophical thought of the Mediaeval Times in the Islamic world, and pantheism even influenced prominent thinkers of Modern Times such as Leibniz and Spinoza.

Pluralist Thinkers of Middle Ages

In Europe, Franciscan scholar Roger Bacon (1214-1292)) used empiricism and defended the principle of individuation meaning distinctive things to have different qualities.  Thus, although he was a monist, and against the notion of plurality of worlds, his philosophy showed some influence of pluralism. 

The most notable philosopher of the Middle Ages, who had pluralistic outlook was William of Ockhams (c. 1280-1347), excommunicated from the Franciscan Order and the Church.  He justified the idea of plurality of worlds as the evidence of God's power.  His most important contribution to philosophy of logic is 'OCKHAM'S RAZOR.   [See Karl Popper’s extensive research on Ockham for further details].

Ockham's Razor was expressed by him in the following way: "It is vain to do with more what can be done with fewer", is a useful logical method for pluralism, that is, using probability theory and Ockham's Razor, one can use as many elements as NEEDED for any specific analysis.  Thus, instead of apriori reducing the multiplicity to a singularity, one will have a tool to deal with multitude.  Thus, the huge task of using a multiplicity of factors for analysis would no longer cause a despairing refuge in monism, which simply ignores multiplicity of equal influences to arrive at simplicity.  This way numerous elements are used according to their significance for any specific analysis. 

Besides logic, Ockham showed inclination towards pluralism in social problems of his time.  He desired a democratic church to replace the hierarchical church order.

Modern Times

The end of the Middle Ages was concurrent with the emergence of Reformation and Renaissance.   Renaissance as noted in my paper about monism was more inclined to dynamic monism. But reformation and emergence of Protestantism helped the pluralist view. Due to Protestant's appeal to individual judgment, new ways opened towards pluralistic outlook even in a monistic religion of Christianity.  Religious schism and competition continued for years and after the Thirty-Year War in Germany, it became increasingly evident that neither Protestantism, nor Catholicism, nor any other religious doctrine could attain complete supremacy.  This caused the formation of religious toleration on one side and the emancipation of science and philosophy from religious preconceptions on the other.  Once there were multitudes of religious truth, the science and philosophy no longer looked at religious judgment as the criteria of the truth for their theories and they started to look elsewhere to substantiate the truth in their respective fields.  Thus, religious toleration strengthened democracy in religious matters and the separation of science and philosophy from religion, freed the mind of scientists and philosophers from Christian doctrine and effected rationalism in intellectual thought.  This situation at the dawn of Modern times was best illustrated by Francis Bacon (1561-1626) who believed: 

Philosophy should be kept separate from theology.  Theology is known by faith but philosophy should depend only upon reason.  

This rationale has been, more or less, the initial point of most philosophical schools in the Modern Times and has prevailed the outcome of science in philosophy. 

It is noteworthy to point out that philosophy for Aristotle was SEARCH FOR TRUTH.  For Mediaeval thinkers, it was search for Divine Truth or GOD'S WILL.  But philosophy for rationalists was REASON itself or simply put, it was interpreting the world.  But only philosophers of the end of rationalist period, such as Nietzsche and Marx, considered philosophy as REASON to be futile, and advocated a philosophy, which would be an INSTRUMENT for change, but thus would no longer be philosophy as understood by its rationalist connotation.  This is why Marx called for the end of philosophy he said: Philosophers have interpreted the world, whereas the point was to change it.  Please see my article MARXIST THOUGHT AND MONISM for more details on this topic.

The Modern science before 20th century, mostly favored dynamic monism (for example the Newtonian Model of the world), rather than pluralism.  Nonetheless, the development of Modern science and the growth of individualism in European society were appropriate antecedents for a resurgence of pluralism in the Modern Times.

An example of the scope of pluralism at the end of the sixteenth century can be demonstrated by the appraisal of the plurality of the worlds controversy by John Donne.  He was a British literary figure who sympathized with the idea of the plurality of worlds.  He expressed the relationship of this controversy to other pluralistic consequences as I had quoted it in the beginning of this essay.  Here are his words again: "Men that inhere upon nature only, are far from thinking, that there is anything singular in this world, as they scarce thinke that this world it selfe is singular, but that every Planet, and every Star, is another world like this.  They find reason to conceive not only a pluralitie in every Species in the World, but pluralitie of Worlds.  God, and Nature and Reason concurr against it." By John Donne, quoted in Steven J. Dick's book, PLURALITY OF WORLDS (1982), page 49.

The truth of the above appraisal can be perceived in the subsequent pluralistic philosophies in the later centuries in Europe.

Rationalists and Natural Sciences

DESCARTES initiated a movement in philosophy which led to pluralism by some of his followers.  His Cognito ergo sum principle "I think, therefore I am" was not just a prelude for subjectivism.  Actually, the Cartesian doubt was a good reason to allow the simultaneous acceptance of different ways of thought.  His philosophy favored essentialism rather than conjectural explanation of problems.  His deterministic comprehension of natural laws in physics made his philosophy incompatible with free will.  But his model of the world was less monistic than later thinkers such as Newton.  Descartes’ dualism of mind and matter opened way for mechanical materialism as well as subjective idealism.  The pluralist elements of his thought were developed by Spinoza and Leibniz.

SPINOZA was primarily concerned with ethics.  On questions of science he upheld Cartesian determinism.  He tried to develop a rationalistic ethics.  He believed that knowledge of good can prevent evil.  Love and happiness in life were his ethical principles.  His pantheistic God was represented in everything in the world.  He had learned much from pantheism of different religions and his pantheism is evident by his equal treatment of all religions.  His pluralism was reconcilable with monotheism but could not serve the hierarchical established theology of the Catholic Church.  In his philosophy, God was only One and everything was united in Him.  Spinoza's pluralism was very limited and his love for unity of God and the world is apparent in every line of his works.  However, this did not stop the Catholic Church from condemning his works.

LEIBNIZ was the first philosopher of the Modern Times who despite being a rationalist and inclining towards natural sciences, strongly favored pluralism.  His model of the world is monadology.  The world is made of an infinite family of mindlike entities called monads.  They are simple substances which are not divisible and are windowless; meaning that there is no interpenetration possible between them.  The monads are individually defined and have free will, but the initial state of each monad involves once and for all everything that may ever happen to it.  (see Monadology translated to English by P.H. Hedge).  Leibniz was a firm rationalist and employed *contradictions* and *sufficient reason* as the basic principles of his logic.  By using his logical method, his pluralism ended up with his own kind of determinism embracing all the changes of monads, which is summed up in his doctrine of pre-established harmony.

Leibniz's approach to the question of God's unity demonstrates his similarity as well as his difference with Spinoza.   He says "God alone is the primitive Unity, or the simple original substance of which all the created or derived Monads are the products".  So contrary to Spinoza, the monads are not just attributes of the Divine nature but are its products as well.  Unity is expressed when he writes: "there must be in the simple substance a plurality of affections and relations, although there are no parts".  That is like Spinoza who said "the divine nature possesses absolutely infinite attributes, each one of which expresses infinite essences in *sue genre*."  Thus, his monads, are not physically pluralistic in themselves (i.e. monistic tendency), but psychologically they are pluralistic assuming them as souls with perceptions and desires.  Despite the pantheistic image of monads in their relation to God, Leibniz's God is not a single spirit and has a psychological plurality of perceptions, affections, etc.

Leibniz ended the Cartesian dualism of mind and body by referring to his discovery of conservation of momentum in physics (BTW, he was also the founder of mathematical logic).  In contrast to conservation of matter, this new law, provided explanation for interaction of mind and body.  Matter was denied and a pan psychic model of the world embraced material and immaterial world as well.  Leibniz's system seems very fantastical to a Modern reader, but if, for example, we change the word soul by the word electricity, then his views would not seem too strange anymore.  Even though his model is not satisfactory as it is, but Leibniz's model enriched by quantum physics has been the source of inspiration for many modern scientists in the twentieth century.   [Please see Boston University’s Series on Philosophy of Science for major works of the field]. 

Unfortunately, it took more than two centuries until philosophers paid attention to Leibniz's philosophical models.  Whatever the shortcomings of monadology, it was the first reformulation of a pluralistic model of the world since the Greek atomists.  Especially his theory of parallel universes is just being discussed by thinkers of our times.

Leibniz had a long controversy with Newton.  Newton's gravitational theory substituted Cartesian vortex theory and depicted a new harmony in the world.  Despite Newton's conjectural approach to theoretical speculations, his system was a prima facie monism.  [Please see the REENCHANTMENT OF THE WORLD by Morris Berman for a good review of Newton].  For Newton, everything was revolving around the center of attraction.  Laplacian determinism was the natural consequence of this theory, claiming a demon who could predict of all future motions once knowing the initial conditions and the Newtonian Laws.  This system was completed by a new God, similar to the Aristotelian unmoved mover.  This mechanistic model was the basis for dynamic monism in the Modern Times.

Leibniz attacked Newtonian system as contrary to religious harmony.  In Leibniz's opinion, the Newtonian system did not need the God once the world was created.  This was truly the importance of Newton, who discarded Occasionalism of Cartesians when every separate motion was started by God.  However, Leibniz believed that his own philosophy was more pious due to needing God everywhere.

Among the scientists of the 17th century, we cannot find any major pluralist scientist besides Leibniz.  Among other scientists, who were inclined towards pluralism, in some areas of their thought, we can mention C. Huygens.

C. HUYGENS had an empirical approach towards astronomy and physics.  The place of probability theory in his philosophical thought is very extraordinary for his time.  In 1698 he writes:

"I can't pretend to assert anything as positively true (for that would be madness) but only to advance a probable guess, the truth of which everyone is at his own liberty to examine.  If anyone   therefore shall gravely tell me, that I have spent my time idly in a vain and fruitless enquiry after what by my own acknowledgment I  can never come to be sure of; the answer is, that at this rate he would put down all Natural Philosophy as far as it concerns itself in searching into the Nature of things: In such noble and sublime Studies as these, 'tis a Glory to arrive at Probability, and the search itself rewards the pain."
(Steven J. Dick, Plurality of Worlds, Cambridge University Press, 1982, P. 176).

Except limited pluralistic traits in KANT's evolutionary theory of universe in the eighteenth century, and Darwin's evolutionary theory of natural selection in the nineteenth century, most of the scientific theories and philosophical models of the natural sciences did not contribute much to pluralism until the dawn of the 20th century.

Empiricists and Social Sciences

Although in Twentieth Century pluralism has been proposed in natural sciences such as modern physics, but in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries this was not the case and as noted before, these sciences favored dynamic monism.  The first blows to monism were actually not by rationalist or mechanical materialists.  It was rather the EMPIRICISTS who focused more on social and political sciences.

Before Descartes, it was FRANCIS BACON who defended observation in epistemology and it was him who in his logic opposed syllogism and deduction and opened the way for induction.  This could have been a good start for pluralism.  But although Descartes and his followers preferred reason to faith in science, but they were far from empiricism in their philosophy and followed rationalism and were mostly concerned with creating a single theory for natural sciences.

Apart from philosophies of science (natural philosophy), political philosopher JOHN LOCKE was the first important philosopher after the Middle Ages, who laid down the basis for a pluralistic approach to society.  In the eyes of monistic logicians, John Locke seemed much more inconsistent than he really was.  He did not have a clear-cut system like the monists, which would allow everything to “follow” from a single principle.  Thus, it was not hard for his opponents to attack his philosophy as a chaotic thought.  Also, for his followers, it was not difficult to include anything in his philosophy as extensions of his ideas.  Locke's philosophy is a good example of the emergence of a new school of thought with all the misrepresentations of pros and cons.

JOHN LOCKE was an empiricist.  The most interesting aspect of his logic is the application of probability concepts, which were also responsible for his philosophical liberalism.  Although Leibniz rejected Aristotelian logic in his unpublished works, he had a strong logical consistency which even approached mathematical logic.  On the contrary, Locke's only logical principle was probability concept, which was not a worked-out theory at that time and caused inconsistency in Locke' s philosophy.  But his logic was an important part of his non-dogmatic approach towards politics where he showed rejection of absolutism and the love for DEMOCRACY.

Locke was primarily concerned with ethics, politics, and law.  The relations of private and public interests, separation of power and foundation of democratic principles were his main interests.  HIS DEMOCRATIC OUTLOOK CAUSED HIS OPPOSITION TO HEREDITARY PRINCIPLE WITH REGARDS TO POLITICAL POWER.  His endeavors to analyze the political and economical problems in the context of a democratic government were the first attempts of a serious systematic pluralism to explain the political and social aspects of the society.  If Leibniz's efforts are the first important systematic appraisal of nature in a pluralistic approach, Locke's merit is the same for society.  His theory of separation of power to three branches legislative, executive, and judicial and his theory of checks and balances are the result of his pluralistic approach to social issues.

In epistemology, Locke valued experience in supreme and opposed the abstract ideas of Plato, Descartes, and Leibniz.  This was the first divorce of empiricists from rationalist.  Francis Bacon had reached empiricism by rationalism.  But Locke, in order to maintain empiricist, left rationalism.  This was due to the absolutist character of traditional logic.  New logical theories such as probabilistic logic, nonmonotonic logic, and other logical systems had not yet been born and Locke's rejection of "abstract ideas" is therefore no surprise.

Locke's submission to experience was followed by BERKELEY and HUME to its extreme subjectivism and agnosticism as well as by Marx and William James to different types of instrumentalism.  Only the Utilitarians such as Jeremy Bentham and J.S. Mill remained close to Locke's original ideas.  They changed Locke's law, which for affirmation of its principles still depended on Holy Book, to happiness, as the basis for accepting their laws.

Berkeley's solipsism was a strange monistic version of Locke's empirical pluralism and it harmed the original attempts of empiricists.  Although today a variation of Berkeley's ideas ha support among some quantum physicists as an explanatory theory.  He denied the objective reality of everything except God.  Hume did not hesitate to extend Berkeley's principles to God too.  So contrary to the intentions of the originator of empiricism, Francis Bacon, Hume's agnosticism reached a 'double truth'.  God was accepted by *faith* and the empirical entities were accepted by *experience*.  So once again faith returned to philosophy and ironical enough, faith returned to philosophy by the empiricists themselves.

The above tendency was further developed by KANT.  Kantian subjectivism claimed the impossibility of empirical knowledge for 'apriori' concepts and the 'thing-in-itself'.  After more than two centuries 'apriori' concepts are understood by genetic heredities and artificial intelligence [see theory-impregnated sense perception theories of Popper in THE SELF AND ITS BRAIN and also see AARON SLOMAN's PHILOSOPHY OF ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE].  But in Kant's time, his claims weakened empiricism and his intuitionism was further developed into Hegelian idealist monism which was on the opposite side of the liberal empiricism.

Kant was the main theoretician of progress in enlightenment. And he thought in Germany through reforms he could arrive at his ideals of individual freedom and he has discussed this view in his political writings.  But Frederick William II, the successor of Frederick the Great, banned him from writing about religion after Kant's 1793 book entitled “Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone", and Kant did not publish any books about religion as long as Frederick William II was alive.

For Kant, progress and development, human rights, and individual freedoms were important, and his efforts for reform were to achieve these goals, and when the French Revolution chose the progressive goals of individual freedoms, Kant defended the Revolution, not because he was revolutionary, which he was not, but because he saw the goals of that Revolution to be progressive, and since then for two centuries revolution and progress became synonymous, whereas Kant himself, was a reformist, but for him the goal, was progress and individual freedoms.  Therefore, in his view, both revolution and reform could be synonymous with progress or retrogression, and individual freedoms were the criteria. This social view of Kant in defense of individual freedoms helped the growth of pluralism in the Modern Times, and it is interesting that the thoughts of John Locke and Kant, later found a special position in the American democracy.

Pluralism was defeated by HEGELIAN monism in the forms of Marxism or Nietzscheanism subsequently.  Locke's pluralism was equalized with Berkeley's subjectivism or Humean agnosticism.  Locke's legacy only survived among the capitalist political philosophers and they emphasized his defense of the private property, rather than his approach to individual rights, political democracy, and pluralism.  Locke's works were not enhanced by Utilitarians and they gave away his all-sided philosophical contemplation and pursued a limited legal and economic discourse with their adversaries.  Their opposition to socialists moved them further towards a narrow vision of liberalism and of becoming the theoreticians of English law.  On the other hand, the socialists moved towards Hegelianism.

The only socialist trend which retained pluralism was Proudonism.  PROUDON disassociated himself from the Hegelian monism and sided with pluralism.  But his pluralism was less systematic than Locke's.  The individuals had no relation to each other and all relations (such as government, marriage, private property, religion, etc.) were considered as compulsory.  Proudon did not just resent the ills of the society, he could be named the prophet of society-less individuals, resenting *established* society and not just its shortcomings.  He became the father of ANARCHISM, a schools of thought which was subsequently developed by the Russian revolutionary Bakunin.

Besides politics, Locke's tradition originated other works.  Helvetius and Condorcet in France applied his principles to ethics and education and attempted to develop these disciplines to positive sciences similar to the natural sciences.  VOLTAIRE in his literary work criticized the Catholic Church from the standpoint of democracy and pluralism.

Locke escaped to Scandinavian countries from his home country England, because of the political persecution because of his ideas.  Locke's doctrine influenced judicial and political system of the United States more than any other country, where his model of separation of three branches of government was implemented the most.  But philosophers did not return to him and did not try to transcend his doctrine until the twentieth century.

It is wrongly believed that Locke was the theoretician of capitalism.  True that he defended private property as the basis of democracy.  But Locke's distinction is his thoroughgoing democratic thought.  Whenever capitalist countries were in favor of democracy and peace, they upheld his principles and if they did not, they simply rejected them.  Locke's democracy and pluralism in political theory should not be viewed as limited to capitalism, same as Empedocles's democratic and pluralist ideas which were not limited to slave society.  A slave society or a capitalist society could as well not be democratic or pluralist.  It is similar to the achievements of the socialist movement, such as unemployment benefits, that are not bound by socialist or capitalist society and are more rights in the today's world.

Recent Times

The real growth of pluralism has occurred at the turn of the 20th century, but not in strictly speaking schools of philosophy, rather mostly in the philosophies of scientists.  The analytic philosophy which was pluralistic in its approach at the turn of the century has become less and less a philosophy and it is more like linguistic theory in the works of later post-Wittgenstein analytic philosophers.  In contrast scientists and philosophers of science such as David Bohm or Ilya Prigogine have been more titled towards philosophical thought and pluralism.

But the 20th century philosophy has not been all pluralism.  On the contrary, strictly speaking philosophy, one of the major trends of 20th century philosophy is very monistic, that is existentialism.  Existentialism, both in its Heideggerian and Sartrian variations, is a lot titled towards monism than pluralism.  Kirkegaard to Jaspers, Heidegger to Merleau-Ponty, and Sartre, the existentialists, with their emphasis on BEING, are more resembling Parmenides searching for a plenum and Aristotle searching for a single world than exemplifying a pluralistic outlook.  But admittedly, their monism is more with a pantheistic pluralist flavor than a Platonic hierarchical monism.

There were many efforts to found a pluralistic system in this century.  The notable examples are William James, Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and later Ludwig von Bertalanffy, Ervin Lazlo and others.  Among the socialists, there were Gramsci, Althusser, Stojanovic, and others who tilted towards pluralism. 

Bertrand Russell described the above quest very well when he wrote: 

"To frame a philosophy capable of coping with men intoxicated with the prospect of most unlimited power and also with the apathy of the powerless is the most pressing task of our time." 
(Bertrand Russell, A History of Western Philosophy, 1945, p. 729.)

Nevertheless, none of the above attempts were fully "successful" in formulating a pluralistic system.  Whether we call it cybernetic system, or plain old system, it seems like the search for a pluralistic system is futile.  Perhaps a "pluralistic system" is a contradiction in terms and pluralism can at best be described in a loose way that one describes things like Zen, more by what it is not:-) than what it is, maybe!  By Koans than by philosophical writing.

It is not a surprise that this goal which was alive when Bertrand Russell postulated his Philosophy of Logical Atomism, was virtually abandoned in philosophy and the heir of analytic philosophy moved towards logical positivism, panpsychism, language parallelism, and other doctrines which have actually turned away from the original goal.  Even a new understanding of 'system' in cybernetic theory did not make any headways.

The attempts of these thinkers to address the contrast of monism and pluralism was very fruitful.  William James's critic of Hegel in particular is a noteworthy example.


WILLIAM JAMES was the first one in modern philosophy to discard the question of primacy of mind and matter from philosophy.  I am not concerned with what William James offered himself, my interest is his dropping this trinity-like dogma from Modern thought.  In my opinion, this was the most important achievement of philosophy after the Middle Ages.  The philosophers of Modern Times never liberated themselves of this pseudo-problem of Mediaeval philosophy.  It had become a rule in all philosophical schools to determine their stand on this question prior to any other discourse.  It had the status similar to question of Trinity (taslees) in the Mediaeval thought.

This is how materialists and idealists were distinguished and philosophers like Kant, who could not be classified as such, were still classified on the basis of this question and were considered as partial to one side of the controversy, depending on whom was interpreting Kant.

William James's denouncement of this principle in his essay "Does 'Consciousness' Exist? (1904)", was a radical break with all philosophical traditions since the Middle Ages.  This break with fundamentalism reinforced pluralism in his philosophy and in many subsequent philosophies of the 20th century.  Actually, James's pragmatism has been mostly known about his philosophical contributions.  But I believe, James's contribution to pluralism is really worth an extensive research.  In his lectures in 1907 entitled "A PLURALISTIC UNIVERSE", WILLIAM JAMES gives a good demonstration of his pluralism as follows:

"Pragmatically interpreted, pluralism or the doctrine that it is many means only that sundry parts of reality *may be externally related*.   Everything you can think of, however vast or inclusive, has on the pluralistic view a genuinely 'external' environment of some sort or amount.  Things are 'with' one another in many ways, but nothing includes everything, or dominates over everything.  The word 'and' trails along after every sentence.  Something always escapes. "Even not quite" has to be said of the best attempts made anywhere in the universe at attaining all-inclusiveness.  The pluralistic world is thus more like a federal republic than like an empire or a kingdom.  However, much may be collected, however, much may report itself as present at any effective center of consciousness or action, something else is self-governed and absent and unreduced to unity.

"Monism, on the other hand, insists that when you come down to reality as such, to the reality of realities, everything is present to *everything* else in one vast instantaneous co-implicated complete-ness-nothing can in any sense, functional or substantial, be really absent from anything else, all things interpenetrate and telescope together in the great total conflux."
(William James, PLURALISTIC UNIVERSE, Harvard Edition, Page 45, 1977 print)

Despite James's strong demonstration of pluralism as an outlook, he always considered himself as opposed to rationalism.  In this respect, he was similar to John Locke.  He did not try to make a new rationalism, which could comply with his outlook and probably this was the reason for his incapability of formulating a pluralistic system which he frequently notes in his correspondence.

Finally, it is odd that William James admired BERGSON's philosophy.  It is noteworthy to mention BERGSON's opposition to science and rationalism.  Bergson did not have any logical theory except for dialectics which he hardly understood, but his distorted Hegelian thought was presented as the theory of struggle of life and matter.  I never understood James's admiration of Bergson.


BERTRAND RUSSELL, as noted before, also proposed a theory of logical atomism for a while.  It resembled Leibniz's monadology but the atoms were linguistic-logical than soul-like.  Russell's work was continued by Wittgenstein in his first philosophical phase when doing Tractates and the result was more linguistics than philosophy.  Wittgenstein, at the end of his life, wrote the Blue Book and the Brown Book where he fully separated from the analytic philosophy and joined Phenomenology and in those writings, he suggested to read them and then throw them out.

Pluralism was not developed more than James in the next half-century of analytic philosophy, except for the development of probabilistic logic, non-monotonic logic, and various types of mathematical logic and linguistic theories.  Sciences of sub-atomic particles such as Quantum physics, and achievements of genetics, communications and the discoveries of astronomy and space travel are reinforcing pluralism among scientists.  In fact, scientist philosophers such as David Bohm have done greater philosophical contributions than the strictly speaking philosophers.

In my opinion, David Bohm's book SCIENCE, ORDER, AND CREATIVITY (1989) is one of the best presentations of a pluralistic philosophy in our times.  Among the more analytic works, Nelson Goodman's WAYS OF WORLD-MAKING is also a worthwhile reading.

Also, less known works like Architectonics of Meaning, Foundations of the New Pluralism by Walter Watson are efforts to understand the foundation of pluralist philosophy.  In my opinion, Iranian intellectuals can benefit from the philosophical achievements that are being done from pluralist viewpoint in our times. Some of them like John Rawls have worked in philosophy and social sciences and others like Quine have contributed more in ontology, logic and mathematics.

The achievements of pluralism are just beginning to flourish in the post-industrial society which I have explained in my paper "Dancing in the Air". In the recent times that the world nations are in Realtime interactions on the Internet, diversity in the world is better understood.  In fact, as I mentioned in my paper "Impact of Intelligent Tools on Human Life and the World”, society is just finding the means to meet individual needs without reducing the individuals to a pre-conceived uniformity and individuality is the social basis of pluralism.  Post-industrial new thinking is paving the way for pluralist thought, which is forming in different parts of the world.

Hoping for a democratic and secular futurist republic in Iran,

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