Cognitive pluralism

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-P008-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved April 21, 2021, from

2. Normative pluralism

Normative cognitive pluralism is not a claim about the cognitive processes people do use; rather it is a claim about good cognitive processes – those that people ought to use. It asserts that there is no unique system of cognitive processes that people should use, because various systems that are very different from each other may all be equally good. The distinction between normative pluralism and normative monism, like the parallel distinction between descriptive notions, is best viewed as a matter of degree, with the monist end of the spectrum urging that all normatively sanctioned systems of cognitive processing are minor variations of one another. The more substantial the differences among normatively sanctioned systems, the further we move in the direction of pluralism. Epistemic relativism is a species of normative cognitive pluralism. An account of what makes a system of reasoning a good one is relativistic if it entails that different systems are good for different people or different groups of people (see Epistemic relativism). Not all pluralistic accounts of good reasoning are relativistic, since some accounts entail that different systems of reasoning are equally good for everyone.

Historically, it is probably true that much of the support for normative pluralism among social scientists derived from the discovery (or putative discovery) of descriptive pluralism, along with a certain ideologically inspired reluctance to pass negative judgments on the traditions or practices of other cultures. But normative pluralism was certainly not the only response to descriptive pluralism among social scientists. Many reacted to the alleged discovery of odd reasoning patterns among pre-modern peoples by insisting on monism at the normative level, and concluding that the reasoning of pre-modern folk was ‘primitive,’ ‘pre-logical’ or otherwise normatively substandard. Among philosophers, both historical and contemporary, normative cognitive pluralism is a minority view. The dominant philosophical view is that there is only one good way to go about the business of reasoning, or at most a small cluster of similar ways.

Citing this article:
Stich, Stephen P.. Normative pluralism. Cognitive pluralism, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-P008-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2021 Routledge.

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