Friday, September 17, 2010

Fred Dallmayr - Integral Pluralism: Beyond Culture Wars

Michael McLean at Zero Integral has already commented on how strange it is to see this book from Fred Dallmayr - Integral Pluralism: Beyond Culture Wars, University of Kentucky Press - that seems to make no mention of Ken Wilber (I checked the index to be sure). As Michael points out, it seems strange that he could have written this book without stumbling over Wilber's 'Integral Methodological Pluralism' someplace along the way.

On the other hand, I have yet to meet a "serious" philosopher who takes Wilber seriously. he is still seen primary as a New Age guru. Hanging out with and endorsing people like Andrew Cohen, Marc Gafni, and so many other less than academic "teachers" (using that word loosely) certainly does nothing to change that perception.

Anyway, Dallmayr mentions Jurgen Habermas and William James, as well as John Dewey, Charles Taylor, and others, all deserving of discussion (especially James, whose A Pluralistic Universe may have been the first real look at pluralism, and Taylor, who Dallmayr seems to dismiss (along with Maurice Merleau-Ponty and other embodied intersubjectivists) as "solely ... allies against "hegemony, exploitation, and oppression" (122)." I think this is wrong - and I saw no mention of Ken Gergen in this review, who must be included.

The review from University of Notre Dame Press is good and comprehensive.

Fred Dallmayr: Integral Pluralism: Beyond Culture Wars

Fred Dallmayr, Integral Pluralism: Beyond Culture Wars, University of Kentucky Press, 2010, 231pp., $40.00 (hbk), ISBN 9780813125718.

Reviewed by Kenneth W. Stikkers, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale

In his most recent volume, Integral Pluralism: Beyond Culture Wars, Fred Dallmayr again demonstrates, as he has throughout his distinguished career, his passionate commitment to making ours a more just and peaceful world. His central concern in this work is that, with postmodernism's steady move toward pluralism and emphatic rejection of totalizing monisms of every sort, there is a danger of cosmic incoherence whereby "individual lives likewise become incoherent and unintelligible" (1) and rendered incapable of effective engagement in the world. Dallmayr warns us:

Pluralism harbors a danger that curiously approximates it again to the monistic temptation. Carried to the extreme of radical fragmentation or dispersal, pluralism -- despite its protestations -- shades over into an assembly of fixed and self-enclosed monadic units exhibiting the same monadic units exhibiting the same static quality as its counterpart (8-9).

Such fragmentation, he further suggests, is a major source for today's "culture wars."

As an antidote to radical, atomizing pluralism, and as a middle position between it and tyrannizing monism, Dallmayr offers "integral pluralism," which he finds well exemplified already by classical pragmatists such as John Dewey, but especially by William James in A Pluralistic Universe. Integral pluralism entails "mutual embroilment, interpenetration, and contestation . . . differential entwinement without fusion or segregation" (9). The universe is taken as incomplete, but its pieces maintain real, although sometimes antagonistic, relations to one another. Other, non-Western thinkers whom Dallmayr offers as exemplars of integral pluralism are the philosopher of religion, Raimon Panikkar, whom Dallmayr discusses throughout this volume (and with whom this reviewer was privileged to study), Mahatma Gandhi, who receives a full chapter (Chapter 7), and two other, recently deceased Indian thinkers, little known in the West, Daya Krishna and Ramchandra Gandhi (a grandson of Mahatma Gandhi), who are the central subjects of the concluding chapter (Chapter 8). This reviewer is very appreciative of being made aware of these last two thinkers, and Dallmayr's interesting account of them has prompted him to read them first-hand.

Moreover, each of the above figures, including Dewey, is used to demonstrate the importance of religion for integrative pluralism. The Indian thinkers are especially exemplary because they articulate religious sensibilities that are integrated with the secular, in contrast to Western tendencies toward dualism, and thus steer between the dangers stemming from such dualism, namely, the politicizing of religion on the one hand (e.g., America's religious right and Islamic and Zionist extremisms), and the privatizing of religion and withdrawal into the solitude of religious consciousness, on the other.

Dallmayr offers brief references to Lyotard and Rorty to illustrate his concern about the danger of radical pluralisms, but they seem insufficient in persuasively demonstrating that his concern is a real rather than merely an imagined one or that he is attacking anything other than a strawman. Where do we actually see pluralism devolving into such atomism and causing the dire consequences he fears? "Pluralism" enjoys such a variety of meanings presently: a more nuanced discussion of its varieties at the start might have aided Dallmayr's analysis. In some contexts "pluralism" is merely descriptive of the fact that inquiry is concretely situated in the world, that we all think from somewhere, rather than from nowhere, that we are not placeless cogitos, that the starting points for inquiry are as numerous as thinkers, and that although we might usefully, but cautiously and provisionally, cluster such starting points, in terms such as race, gender, and class, there ultimately is no singular, privileged or God's-eye view from which inquiry begins. Pluralism understood descriptively in this way is thus the opponent of any sort of apriorism that imperialistically aims to secure a proper or "objective" perspective in advance of inquiry.

"Pluralism," however, also has normative meanings: normative pluralism, or what I have termed "cultivated pluralism,"[1] argues for the need to preserve plurality. Classical pragmatists, such as Peirce, James, and Dewey, are at least descriptive pluralists, but they also see the plurality of perspectives from which inquiry begins as a primary source of "irritation" (Peirce) and one of the factors that generates socially "problematic situations" (Dewey). The aim of inquiry, then, is to arrive at "truth" and thereby forge a common perspective as the alternative to violence. As Peirce describes, inquiry aims to "grind off" individuality and plurality. New perspectives, however, continuously emerge, and thus plurality remains an ineradicable feature of our world, despite even the most violent efforts toward uniformity. There are, however, at least for Dewey but especially for Alain Locke, good reasons to preserve and even cultivate plurality in the face of inquiry's tendency toward monism. For Dewey, the reasons are largely aesthetic: variety is the spice of life. For Locke, cultivated pluralism deepens the quality of inquiry by serving as a safeguard against a consensus that comes too quickly and easily. Locke's cosmopolitanism derives mainly from his study under Josiah Royce and his participation in the Baha'i faith, and I strongly recommend him as an important resource for Dallmayr and those interested in his project.

Dallmayr equivocates between descriptive and normative meanings of "pluralism," and it is not evident that he is a pluralist in the normative sense: he offers no clear arguments for the active preservation, cultivation, and celebration of plurality but only for its tolerance and against imperialistic monisms. "Integral pluralism" thus appears to be more a program for peaceful, democratic consensus-forming -- a noble goal, to be sure -- than it is one for the cultivation and celebration of difference. With James, Dallmayr holds that (descriptively) there is likely never to be an "all-form" to encase the whole of life, but it is not evident that such an ontological fact is a good thing for him. Indeed, like Carl Schmitt, whom he discusses extensively and critically (especially in Chapters 2 and 3), Dallmayr seems more impressed by society's need for decision-making than he is by the need for and goodness of plurality.
Read the whole review.

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