Unifying Metaphysical Pluralism
Unifying … what exactly? – Here’s a short description of what this NWO-funded, individual, 3½-year VENI research project (2017-2021) was about.
Ever since the rise of what one might call ‘modern science’ there has been a tendency to formulate comprehensive, metaphysical world views on the basis of one particular form of understanding. The two most conspicuous examples here are the mathematical-mechanistic form of understanding which found a first culmination in Newtonian physics, and the evolutionary form of understanding that Darwin made popular. (A contemporary example would be ‘dataism’.) – In short, this is a tendency aimed at a unified world picture.
On the other hand, there has always been resistance to this tendency towards unification. The reason for such resistance is that the unification inevitably takes the shape of a reductionism: every form of understanding that appears to be different from the favoured one (be it a mechanistic form of understanding, or an evolutionary, or something else) must be either assimilated to the latter, or excluded. Thus, explanation of actions in terms of reasons, or explanation of biological phenomena in teleological terms, is routinely taken as somehow derivative from, reducible to, more basic forms of understanding – or they are taken to be ‘merely instrumental’, or even dispensable. Now, this is perceived to be a distortion: we should, so the argument goes, allow for a plurality of forms of understanding, mirroring the evident diversity of the natural world.
My research project attempts to combine the insights of both camps, while discarding the deficiencies. It embraces the pluralism, yet doesn’t stop with a mere plurality – the evident diversity of things is, after all, still at home within a single reality. It is not as if physics was dealing with different things than biology – what physics has to say applies to living beings as well as to inanimate ones. And similarly, say, for biology versus psychology. So the main aim of the project is to come to an understanding of how the plurality hangs together: unifying metaphysical pluralism.
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