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>Reduced to Pragmatism


With an article like the following, there is always the conundrum of appearing legalistic or at least out-dated. But this topic is far too important to simply avoid, so I am going to try to audition for a role of respecting people but being elitist to ideas – traditional tolerance. Once again, we look at tolerance and the contemporary version perverting our epistemological position of reality.

Today’s conception of pluralism I believe generates its ideology from the contemporary definition of tolerance, all ideas are equal and given to the individual. I want to start with a more intellectually rich proposal of pluralism from a Veritas Forum¹ I heard, where Prof. Mark Lilla explain the idea of a Pluralistic society

“when I think of the term pluralism, I want to distinguish it in my mind from… Diversity and Multi-Culturalism… but rather as a stronger term having to do with a certain idea of what society is… two sort of competing general classes of ideas about society; (one) an idea of society that is whole and integrated and therefore to understand anything about that society or what is above that society or below that society would require full knowledge and integration with everything else we know about that society. (two) The pluralistic idea about society suggest social life isn’t like that, human life isn’t like that, intellectual life isn’t like that, there are different levels and different spheres, things that are inappropriate in one area and not in another and that’s not a bad thing.

…now as the discussion goes on tonight we might find ourselves talking about the struggle between these different conceptions of society where;    (one) everything has to connect to everything else and come under one single idea and (two) the other where it is plausible for us to conceive of different sphere’s of government, different groups of people according to different principle’s without feeling that somehow we have to reconcile them in one final coherent picture”

Reductionism is becoming more popular in American thought as both anti-intellectualism and post modernism are blindly claiming the heroics to America’s desired epistemology. Reductionism is an approach to understanding the nature of something complex (whatever the degree of complexity) by reducing it to simpler or more fundamental state.

In the above common description of pluralism, a form of reductionism is taking place. The wholeness and integration that a coherent ideology contributes is being reduced to the subjectivity of individual preferences or majority social desire. The complexity of unity that an exclusive ideology necessitates is being reduced to an impossibility and is replaced with pragmatic desires. The question now is, are the replaced pragmatic desires complex enough to bring unity to such a diverse society? Sometimes I think complexity is being confused with complicated; there must be a worldview that is exclusive, because to say that there is no exclusive worldview is to be an exclusive worldview. This reductionism is a form of avoidance because to have humanity come under one unifying ideology, at face value, seems restrictive and suppressive. We can see how the contemporary tolerance of equality of ideas is used as a value to support this kind of pluralism.

Here are two other reductive arguments I have constructed and refer to them as “Reductio ad Incertus” and “Reductio ad Indifferens”:

Reductio ad Incertus – Reducing to Uncertainty

It is suggested in the above “tolerable” description, that simply recognizing uncertainty is a tolerant disposition, therefore giving way to a healthier society – a pluralistic society. But if I am uncertain of something, then I cannot be sure how to tolerate what it is I do not know; all I know is that I don’t know. It does seem however that someone has to tolerate me while in that state of uncertainty, but that would require them to have an epistemic value of at-least some certainty, a sort of exclusive understanding.

Reductio ad Indifferens – Reducing to Indifference

What about the implication in the above “tolerable” description that recognizing indifference found in the” different levels and different spheres all according to different principle’s” as being “tolerable” to a society? America’s desire to be neutral and open-minded should not include close-minded. In our previous blog, I reasoned that tolerance is not a moral standard itself but to have to tolerate something presuppose there is a moral standard one is being tolerate of. Claiming to be tolerant of differences (accepting them as equal) is turning a blind eye to moral and immoral behavior; this of course is evident in the current argument that no one can impose a universal objective moral on humanity.

A social milieu reduced to pragmatism and methodologies because of a non-working tolerance will not bring strength or healing to a skeptical and diverse society. Only by rejecting that all ideas are equal, society can create a civil forum where voices can practice tolerance. Where the complexity of unity can be sought for, tensions can be unbound and progression is societies to embrace. To attempt to function with logical and illogical ideas as egalitarian has traditionally been referred to as “mad”.


  1. The Veritas Forum: Timothy J. Keller, Andrew Delbanco, Mark Lilla, Dale Hanson Bourke / Exclusive Religion in a Pluralistic Society: What are the tensions and how do we move forward? / December 31, 2008 at Columbia University



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