PLURALISM IS NOT RELATIVISM (3): Bruno Latour’s fallibilism of keys and modes

Latour’s pluralist ontology emphasises the fallibility of our beliefs and the need for objective tests. When he talks about “interpretive keys” characterising each mode of existence, this is not beautiful soul relativism proclaiming “to each his belief”. Applying the wrong interpretive key is a category mistake, i.e. an ontological error that results in false claims about the world. The key is a criterion that ensures that the claims and the practices can be put to the test of experience, and so to be validated or rejected as compatible or not with the ongoing engagement with reality that each mode embodies. Our ontological error is to attempt to think outside material networks and to ignore the need for the appropriate interpretative key. We tend to pay attention only to certain detached propositions and to reified products, and to forget the modes of existence and the material infrastructures. The keys and the networks are the criteria that ensure that it makes sense to try to get the world right, taking into account that our beliefs are not infallible, each in his or her own world, and that we ourselves are not reducible to our system of beliefs.

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