In an attempt to give some specific content to a debate on the relation between pluralism and realism that tends to go in circles, as one can put all sorts of contents under such generic terms. I try to distinguish pluralism from its relativist shadow, and to elaborate, both abstractly for its own sake, and in relation to a concrete example of a pluralist thinker, the concept of a realist pluralism. The concrete example is the pluralist metaphysics of Bruno Latour as it is expounded in his book AN INQUIRY INTO MODES OF EXISTENCE. I take Bruno Latour’s realist pluralism as it is articulated here and find that it does not correspond to Levi Bryant’s reductive stereotype of Latour as « relativist ».
Bruno Latour does not claim demonic possession is just one group’s name for epileptic seizure. Latour does not talk about particular groups, but about societies insofar as they are characterised by a plurality of modes of existence. Further, his pluralism (like Feyerabend’s and Deleuze’s and Guattari’s) has nothing to do with beliefs. Names and beliefs are irrelevant, what counts is modes of existence inscribed across material networks. Thus Latour does not hold that spirits have a supernatural (in the sense of non-material) existence at all. Spirits have the same mode of existence as emotions, the metamorphic mode. You could call this a de-jargonised, de-individualised psychoanalytic mode. The difference with psychoanalysis is not just one of vocabulary (less jargon, no translating into « Lacanese ») nor of personalism (the metamorphic beings are not ours, nor are they inside us), the difference is also cosmological, as the becoming other of the metamorphic mode is conceived by Latour to be wider than cultures, and to apply to the world. The argument of demonic possession being real for a pluralist and metaphorical for a naturalist is of the same ilk as Levi Bryant’s arguments, which refute only the sophomoric relativism that, as Feyerabend complained, can be « found in every university toilet ». The example has nothing to do with a real pluralist like Latour, as I have explained at length in my article (https://www.academia.edu/5861379/ON_THE_REALIST_PLURALISM_OF_BRUNO_LATOUR), and nothing to do with Feyerabend, or Deleuze, or William Connolly. So none of the pluralist philosophers advocate the crazy position that every belief is true in its own world. This is just a trumped up stereotype to avoid reading and engaging with the texts. I have no idea where some objectors get their picture of pluralism from, it seems to be just a phantasmatic abstraction used to categorise thinkers with simplistic labels. They can refute their own simplifications only because they have been constructed to be refuted. Latour’s project has been forty years in the making, he deserves better consideration than a facile « so you are saying the racist’s belief is right in his own world ». Latour’s pluralism HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH PEOPLE’S BELIEFS, it is a pluralism of modes of existence. Applied to people’s beliefs it argues that they are fallible, and gives ways of showing that many of them are wrong (including the climate change denier and the racist).
A minimal perusal of anthropology would show that the idea of ‘belief’ was questioned and mostly abandoned by the discipline decades ago: projection of belief onto other philosophical systems (ontologies if one must, though the term is woefully inaccurate and already skewed by western philosophy) is precisely the easy get-out for people who have no wish to spend their time and energy trying to understand very different philosophical traditions, whether these be Chinese, Australian aboriginal, Inuit, take your pick, hundreds or even thousands to choose from, and none derived from Plato. Just imagine! Even Latour, to be honest, provides little or no access to the depths of these traditions, but at least he vaguely recognizes their existence. François Jullien’s work really takes these questions to another level.
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