MONISM VERSUS PLURALISM
The usual criticism against
objectivism is that there is no test for
value, that there are no ways to establish or prove that a certain
action is right or wrong.
Subjectivists are eager to point out that what is lacking in
moral disputes is 'the acceptance of a common method' (such as the
experimental method in empirical science) and 'the willingness
of both sides to accept the judgment of disinterested observers
after they have examined the evidence'. The question is then,
first of all, The acceptance of a common method by whom?
An experimental scientific method, for instance, may be accepted by
all scientists, or all people adhering to the same scientific
paradigm, yet it is definitely not accepted by supernaturalists.
(This is not to preclude the psychosocial possibility that one and the
same person may adopt the air of a scientist in the lab and the air of a
supernaturalist in the temple.)
Why should it be required that a
normative method be accepted by all
people while no scientific method has ever been adopted by all people in
all places or circumstances?
Another part of the criticism against nonfactualistic objectivism
focuses on experiments and on observers who examine evidence,
but this is a requirement which can logically only be made with
Yet, as follows from our analysis in The normativeness of 'purely
(3.2.3), the criticism itself objectively
establishes a number of values, namely
truth (or falsity as a disvalue),
relevance (or irrelevance as a disvalue),
one or more
focuses of relevancy and some
principle of conceptual and axiomatic austerity.
As soon as a subjectivist claims that
there is no test for value and expects this to be not a merely
factual, personal utterance, but a valid criticism of objectivism,
'e implicitly takes it that both
a subjectivist and an objectivist must (or ought to) agree that tests
themselves have value. Why would they have value? To make sure that the
normative judgments are at least not false or irrelevant! The
subjectivist's criticism thus contains an intersubjective or
objective, normative core itself, namely that truth and relevance
are fundamental values, and that tests have an instrumental
value because they serve to establish what judgments are
plausible in the light of truth and relevance.
No normative theory is adequate which does not somehow have
truth and relevance as explicit or implicit principles. But we
will now take a brief look at the role of austerity or
simplicity. All science is governed by some principle of
simplicity. When comparing scientific with normative, disciplinary
thought one can therefore not forgo the question what such a
principle entails when governing a normative doctrine, not only
with respect to its concepts but particularly with respect to
ground-world principle or
Of two theories which are, or could, both be true, and which
have the same substantive scope, the one is more simple than the
other if it makes fewer distinctions, that is, fewer irrelevant
distinctions. To aim at disciplinary simplicity is therefore to
aim at an undifferentiated oneness without encroaching upon
truth and relevance, and without diminishing the informative
content of the theory. (If informative content did not matter, the
simplest theory possible would be something like Truth is.)
The attitude underlying the principle of simplicity is the same as
that underlying the so-called 'principle of the uniformity of
nature' in empirical science, which reads that 'the course
of nature continues always uniformly the same' and that 'instances
of which we have had no experience resemble those of which we
have had experience'. It cannot be proved that this principle is
true; it functions as a universal hypothesis in inductive
science, and it furnishes the more specific hypotheses in more
specific theories. Once the specialistic scientific theories have
been developed with their own specialistic principles there is
bound to arise a need to search for the lost unity. It is then
that scientists may start looking upon different types of
physical forces as all representing one archetype. They may
accomplish unification directly in that they manage to describe
the various forces under one heading in one theory; or indirectly
in that they still must be dealt with in several theories,
but with complete analogies between these theories or their
The ideal of a unitary field in science, or in certain
departments of science, is a factual type of monism
The meaning of this monism
is different in philosophical and
religious metaphysics, where it refers to the view that there is
merely one kind of ultimate substance in the universe. This kind
of substance may be called "matter", "mind" or "the abstract";
it may be called "the ultimate, undefinable reality which is
beyond all concepts and cannot be comprehended by the intellect
or adequately described in words"; it may also be 'one truly
substantial thing' in the whole universe such as nature or a
'supreme soul without beginning or end'. A form of normative
monism in ideology is normative authoritarianism
While the prime example of authoritarian
e may be
political, the prime example of authoritarian theory (and perhaps practise
as well) is orthodox monotheism.
It teaches that the moral code is an objective and infallible guide to
correct behavior which is the expression of the will of a supreme being
of the previous chapter).
If Mono had proscribed and prescribed the very opposites of what he is
believed to have proscribed and prescribed, the former proscriptions
and prescriptions would have been considered the morally correct ones.
Of course, something is not true (or false) because a person, or
personified being, has said or commanded it (while disregarding all the
contradictions in that being's professions).
But however fallacious or fascistoid monotheist (or for that matter
non-monotheist) authoritarianism may be, it certainly is
'Monistic'; and its sole principle is: Whatever Mono has said,
says and will say is true
. (Note that where polytheist
religion is also monistic, yet not authoritarian, its monism is
of the metaphysical type.)
Authoritarianism is the worst and most counterscientific form not only of
normative but also of factual and
modal monism in disciplinary thought.
Hence, it is time to look at normative monism in a more sensible shape.
It is, then, to be contrasted with normative pluralism.
The easiest way to compare the two is in terms of 'values', but one may
also read "values, rights and/or duties": a normative doctrine which is
monistic recognizes only one ultimate value; one which is pluralistic
recognizes two or more values which —it suggests— cannot be
reduced to each other, or to a common origin.
If, for example, two values really cannot be reduced to each other,
or both to a third value, it suffices to examine whether the values in
question engender plausible should-statements.
But, perhaps, the pluralists in question do not realize that all the
separate values they believe in can be reduced to one, even
tho each of these values
engenders plausible should-statements on its own.
Theoretical simplicity then requires us to opt for the monistic variant
instead of the pluralist one, in spite of the latter being equally true.
To put it more generally: in disciplinary thought which is
scientific, or which evinces the same quality of argumentation
in the nonscientific sphere, monism is an ideal in itself.
To a certain extent, every degree of theoretical pluralism is an admission
of intellectual failure.
(When it is advocated that the members of diverse groups in a society
should be allowed to maintain an autonomous participation in and
development of their own subcultures or special interests, such societal
pluralism is or can be based on people's rights or on respect for
persons — an entirely different subject altogether.)
Granted that every
comprehensive normative doctrine will
have to acknowledge at least truth and relevance as principles, and
at least one focus of relevancy, no normative doctrine can be
monistic in the strict sense. And this does not only follow
from the values of truth and relevance, but also from
the hierarchy of propositional levels which
corresponds to a great variety of types of norms (and als of types of
From the perspective of our ontology monism will only
make sense with respect to a particular type of norm or
principle, that is, one principle governing nonpropositional
reality, one governing first-level propositional reality, one
governing the correspondence between nonpropositional and
first-level propositional reality, and so on. Coherence is, then,
clearly a principle applying to the first and all higher levels
of propositional reality. Truth is clearly a principle applying
to the correspondence between a first- or higher-level propositional
reality and the lower levels of propositional or nonpropositional
reality. The status of a principle of relevance is
not so clear as that of coherence and truth, but such a
principle requires at least one focus, that is, a value, in
If it can be shown that there is merely one such value in nonpropositional
reality, the normative doctrine is as little pluralistic as it can be, and
—excepting a principle of relevance— even monistic with regard
to the ground-world.
The question of monism versus pluralism is still much more
complicated than sketched so far. When we continue our discussion
of normative-philosophical issues and are going to develop our own
normative doctrine, we will be confronted with two other
fundamental questions which have an important bearing on its
being monistic or pluralistic. Our rule shall remain tho, that
every distinction to be made in the typology of values, or in
the addition of a new value, right or duty, must be a
justifiable one. On the whole we will have to take a few steps
away from the most absolute form of monism in order to arrive at
the proper point, but we will do so by justifying every deviation
from such an absolute form.
This approach is the diametrical opposite of the one taken by those who
prepare themselves some hotchpotch of solid or soft values, savory or
unsavory duties and sweet or sour rights, and who will care about their
underlying unity or lack of it later, if ever.