Rosenthal on Ontology, Pluralism and Pragmatism

Rosenthal, Sandra B. (2005) ‘The Ontological Grounding of Diversity: A Pragmatic Overview’ in The Journal of Speculative Philosophy:

The uprootedness of experience from its ontological embeddedness in a natural world is at the core of much contemporary philosophy, which, like pragmatism, aims to reject foundationalism in all its forms: positions that all hold, in varying ways, that there is a bedrock basis on which to build an edifice of knowledge, something objective that justifies rational arguments concerning what is the single best position for making available or picturing the structure of reality as it exists independently of our various contextually set inquiries. There can be no nonperspectival framework within which differences—social, moral, scientific, etc., can be evaluated and resolved. These positions may, like pragmatism, focus on the pluralistic, contextualistic ways of dealing with life, on the role of novelty and diversity, on a turn away from abstract reason to imagination, feeling, and practice, and on the need to solve the concrete problems of political, social, and moral life. However, pragmatism, in rejecting foundationalism and its respective philosophic baggage, does not embrace the alternative of antifoundationalism or its equivalent dressed up in new linguistic garb. Rather, it rethinks the nature of foundations, standing the tradition on its head, so to speak, and this rethinking incorporates the ontological grounding of diversity.

This rethinking, which incorporates the essentially perspectival nature of experience and knowledge, goes hand in hand with pragmatism’s radical rejection of the spectator theory of knowledge. All knowledge and experience are infused with interpretive aspects, funded with past experience. And all interpretation stems from a perspective, a point of view. Knowledge is not a copy of anything pregiven, but involves a creative organization of experience that directs the way we focus on experience and is tested by its workability in directing the ongoing course of future activities. In this way, experience and knowledge are at once experimental and perspectival in providing a workable organization of problematical or potentially problematical situations. Not only are perspectives real within our environment, but without them there is no environment.

Further, our worldly environment incorporates a perspectival pluralism, for diverse groups or diverse individuals bring diverse perspectives in the organization of experience. The universe exists independent of our intentional activity, but our worldly environment is inseparable from our meaning or intending it in certain ways, and these ways are inherently pluralistic. However, such pluralism, when properly understood, should not lead to the view that varying groups are enclosed within self-contained, myopic, limiting frameworks or points of view, cutting off the possibility of rational dialogue, for two reasons. First, perspectives by their very nature are not self-enclosed, but open onto a community perspective, and second, perspectival pluralism provides the very matrix for rational dialogue and ongoing development. And it is within the core of human selfhood that the primordial ontological embeddedness of diversity within the very nature of, indeed as constitutive of, human experience can be found.

For pragmatism, mind, thinking, and selfhood are emergent levels of activity of ontologically “thick” organisms within nature. Meaning emerges in the interactions among conscious organisms, in the adjustments and coordinations needed for cooperative action in the social context. In communicative interaction, individuals take the perspective of the other in the development of their conduct, and in this way there develops the common content that provides community of meaning and the social matrix for the emergence of self-consciousness. In incorporating the perspective of the other, the self comes to incorporate the standards and authority of the group; there is a passive dimension to the self Mead calls the “me.” Yet, the individual responds as a unique center of activity; there is a creative dimension to the self, the “I” (Rosenthal 2005:107).

4 responses to “Rosenthal on Ontology, Pluralism and Pragmatism

  1. My answer to the crucial question of finding an adequate philosophical praxis lies somewhere between radical phenomenological practice and post-formal constructive logic – or, rather, in their collision. We must start from our animal experience and then extrapolate the contours of an immanent, impinging and impending ecology, context or wilderness of Being, upon which the drama of our phantasies must be written. The clamor of human and nonhuman agents, actants and assemblages must then be dealt with pragmatically and in earnest lest we fail to adapt and perish.

    Just in case anyone missed me saying this a thousand times and in a thousand ways that is…

    • yeah I’m finding there are real limits to “saying” (both in the doing and perhaps more importantly in the reception/uptake) so trying to think of (or just find) new ways of showing…

  2. just found this gem from William James over @fnt2plato (thanks matt):
    “Materialism holds the foreign in things to be more primary and lasting, it sends us to a lonely corner with our intimacy. The brutal aspects overlap and outwear; refinement has the feebler and more ephemeral hold on reality”
    yes indeed, now how to come to terms with such realities, how must we discipline ourselves to adapt, how to be an bear being an alienist in the midst of the anthropocene?

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