William James, 'A Certain Blindness' and an Uncertain Pluralism

Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement 40:33-45 (1996)
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Abstract

‘Pluralism’ may be an ambiguous term. But it is not the multitude of the word's meanings but the multitude of sorts of thing that ‘pluralists’ might be claiming to be not-single-but-plural that generates unclarity about what any ‘pluralist’ position amounts to. Take ethics: a ‘pluralist’ might be maintaining, as against say an ethical hedonist of a Benthamite sort, that there is more than one sort of thing ‘good in itself. Another ‘pluralist’ might maintain that there is more than one sort of life that counts as a ‘good way of life’. Or that not all moral duties are forms of the duty to be truthful. Or that there is more than one framework in terms of which experiences, actions or lives can properly be assessed. There is a problem in understanding what it is that is supposed to be counted: one-or-many of what? While the value today of William James’s popular essays in what we might now call ‘value pluralism’ far exceeds their role in illustrating this difficulty, they do exemplify it. James of course described himself as a ‘pluralist’; he was on the flagship of that movement. But just to what extent and in what respects remains unclear

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