Beyond Physicalism and Dualism? Putnam's Pragmatic Pluralism and the Philosophy of Mind

Ludwig, David; Calcaterra, Rosa M.; Frega, Roberto; Maddalena, Giovanni
December 2011
European Journal of Pragmatism & American Philosophy;2011, Vol. 3 Issue 2, p245
Academic Journal
Although Hilary Putnam has played a significant role in shaping contemporary philosophy of mind, he has more recently criticised its metaphysical foundations as fundamentally flawed. According to Putnam, the standard positions in the philosophy of mind rest on dubious ontological assumptions which are challenged by his "pragmatic pluralism" and the idea that we can always describe reality in different but equally fundamental ways. Putnam considers this pluralism about conceptual resources as an alternative to both physicalism and dualism. Contrary to physicalism, Putnam's pluralism rejects the ontological priority of physical concepts. Contrary to dualism, pragmatic pluralism denies that equally fundamental conceptual systems refer to ontologically distinct realms of reality. The aim of this paper is to discuss and clarify the implications of Putnam's pragmatic pluralism for the philosophy of mind. The first section introduces Putnam's concept of conceptual relativity and his rejection of an absolute ontology. In the second section, I argue that conceptual relativity leads to a pragmatic pluralism which undermines the common ontological framework of physicalism and dualism. The third section explains how pragmatic pluralists can reject identity claims without being committed to dualism. The last section discusses the implications of Putnam's pragmatic pluralism for the mind-body problem by focussing on phenomenal consciousness and mental causation.


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