I am interested in the lives of certain ideas, in their adventures as Whitehead put it (Whitehead 1933). One of these ideas is pragmatism, which lives in a tradition of largely but not entirely American thought, in which Hilary Putnam has a stellar place. Another is pluralism, an allied tradition of thought, or what can be seen as an alternative version of the same tradition. My thesis here is that Putnam has a place in this tradition as well. Philosophical pluralism was first canonized in a book published in 1920 by a young Frenchman, Jean Wahl, who went on to become a professor at the Sorbonne, the teacher of Jean-Paul Sartre, and the author in the 1930s of influential books on Hegel and Kierkegaard. Wahl’s book on pluralism, entitled Les philosophies pluralistes d’Angleterre et d’Amérique, was published in an English version by Routledge in 1925 as Pluralist Philosophies of England and America. In Wahl’s lineup of pluralist thinkers, William James occupies the central

place, not least for his book A Pluralistic Universe (1909). Wahl discusses James’s philosophy as a whole from a pluralist perspective, focusing on his “cult of the particular,” “polytheism,” “temporalism,” and “criticism of the idea of totality.”He also includes many other writers in his pluralist panorama: Gustav Fechner, Hermann Lötze, Wilhelm Wundt, Charles Renouvier, John Stuart Mill (to whom James dedicated Pragmatism), John Dewey, Horace Kallen, George Santayana, Ferdinand Canning Scott Schiller – even George Holmes Howison of Berkeley, said to be a “pluralist idealist” of the “Californian School,” and Bertrand Russell and G. E. Moore, said to be aligned with pluralism because of their views about temporality. What then does Wahl mean by pluralism? He offers no one definition

but rather a plurality of them, a plurality of pluralisms, and he acknowledges that Arthur Lovejoy might easily follow up his already classic paper

“The Thirteen Pragmatisms” with a similar paper on the many pluralisms. Wahl beats him to it, however, by distinguishing among noetic or epistemological, metaphysical, aesthetic, moral, religious, and logical pluralisms. Following James, for example, he states that noetic pluralism is the view that “the facts and worths of life need many cognizers to take them in. There is no point of view absolutely public and universal” (Wahl 1925: 155). Speaking more generally, he writes that “pluralism is a philosophy which insists by preference on diversity of principles … it asserts both the diverse character and the temporal character of things” (Wahl 1925: 275). A few pages later Wahl writes that “pluralism is the affirmation of the irreducibility of certain ideas and certain things,” and also that it is a form of realism: “pluralism is … a profound realism that asserts the irreducibility of phenomena. … the irreducibility of one domain of the world to another” (Wahl 1925: 279). Wahl notices the confluence between pragmatism and pluralism, but he denies their identity: “Speaking generally, pluralism is a metaphysic of pragmatism; though pragmatists cannot hold the monopoly of this metaphysic. It is usually associated with a realistic tendency which is particularly strong in the United States” (Wahl 1925: 273). The convergence of pragmatism, pluralism, and a strong “realistic tendency”

is again to be found in the United States, in the work of our contemporary Hilary Putnam. Let me briefly consider some ways in which Wahl’s words are true of Putnam. Regarding irreducibility, and leaving aside his work in the philosophy of mind, consider Putnam’s conclusion from a section entitled “Conceptual Pluralism” in Ethics Without Ontology. Putnam is considering the long-standing problem of how what he calls the “fields and particles scheme” of physics and the everyday scheme of “tables and chairs” relate to one another. He writes: “That we can use both of these schemes without being required to reduce one or both of them to some single fundamental and universal ontology is the doctrine of pluralism” (Putnam 2004: 48-49). Elsewhere, Putnam does not speak of the everyday as a “scheme,” and

instead follows Husserl and Wittgenstein in defending the authority and legitimacy of what he calls “the lebenswelt.” Complaining that philosophy makes us “unfit to dwell in the common” (Putnam 1990: 118), Putnam urges us to “accept” “the Lebenswelt, the world as we actually experience it” (Putnam 1990: 116).1 The verb “accept” is crucial here, because Putnam does not think that the existence of the world can be proven, and he does not think that the everyday world is the subject of a theory that is in competition with science. It is at this point that his thought converges with that of his Harvard colleague Stanley Cavell, who wrote in “The Avoidance of Love” (1969) that “what skepticism suggests is that since we cannot know the world exists, its presentness to us cannot be a function of knowing. The world is to be accepted; as the presentness of other minds is not to be known, but acknowledged” (Cavell 1969: 324). This is not meant to be a

refutation of or even an avoidance of skepticism, but rather the recognition of a difference. It is a difference that is obscured, Putnam holds, in the search for “the One Method by which all our beliefs can be appraised” (Putnam 1987: 118). Pluralism shows up in Putnam’s work not only in the contrast between

science and the everyday – a species of what several recent writers have called “vertical pluralism,” the pluralism of different domains or discourses – but in his discussions of truth, even truth within science. This latter is “horizontal pluralism,” the claim, as Maria Baghramian puts it, “that there can be more than one correct account of how things are in any given domain” (Baghramian 2004: 304). In his pragmatist period Putnam defends a conception of truth that owes something to Charles Sanders Peirce, who wrote that the “opinion which is fated to be ultimately agreed to by all who investigate, is what we mean by the truth” (Peirce 1992: 139). Putnam states that “a true statement is one that could be justified were epistemic conditions ideal” (Putnam 1987: vii). Unlike Peirce, however, Putnam asserts that there need not be only one such scheme. Why, he asks, “should there not sometimes be equally coherent but incompatible conceptual schemes which fit our experiential beliefs equally well? If truth is not (unique) correspondence then the possibility of a certain pluralism is opened up” (Putnam 1987: 73). These incompatible schemes fit the experiential beliefs of a community of

inquirers, as wave and particle schemes appeal to the community of physicists. Putnam goes further, however, in asserting what amounts to another form of pluralism in Realism with a Human Face when he denies that truth can conceivably be attained by a single community. It is not that the community will in the long run find several schemes that fit their experiential beliefs, but that no single community can know all the truth.