Epistemological pluralism is a term used in philosophy, economics, and virtually any field of study to refer to different ways of knowing things, different epistemological methodologies for attaining a full description of a particular field. A particular form of epistemological pluralism is dualism, for example, the separation of methods for investigating mind from those appropriate to matter (see mind–body problem). By contrast, monism is the restriction to a single approach, for example, reductionism, which asserts the study of all phenomena can be seen as finding relations to some few basic entities.
Epistemological pluralism is to be distinguished from ontological pluralism, the study of different modes of being, for example, the contrast in the mode of existence exhibited by "numbers" with that of "people" or "cars".
In the philosophy of science epistemological pluralism arose in opposition to reductionism to express the contrary view that at least some natural phenomena cannot be fully explained by a single theory or fully investigated using a single approach.
In mathematics, the variety of possible epistemological approaches includes platonism ("mathematics as an objective study of abstract reality, no more created by human thought than the galaxies") radical constructivism (with restriction upon logic, banning the proof by reductio ad absurdum and other limitations), and many other schools of thought.
In economics controversy exists between a single epistemological approach to economics and a variety of approaches. "At midcentury, the neoclassical approach achieved near-hegemonic status (at least in the United States), and its proponents sought to bring all kinds of social phenomena under its uniform explanatory umbrella. The resistance of some phenomena to neoclassical treatment has led a number of economists to think that alternative approaches are necessary for at least some phenomena and thus also to advocate pluralism." An extensive history of these attempts is provided by Sent.
- Stephen H Kellert; Helen E Longino; C Kenneth Waters (2006). "Introduction: The pluralist stance". Scientific pluralism; volume XIX in Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science (PDF). The University of Minnesota Press. p. vii. ISBN 978-0-8166-4763-7.
- Jonathan Schaffer (2009). "Chapter 12: On what grounds what". In David Chalmers; David Manley; Ryan Wasserman. Metametaphysics: New Essays on the Foundations of Ontology (PDF). Oxford University Press. pp. 57–83. ISBN 0199546045.
Metaphysics so revived does not bother asking whether properties, meanings, and numbers exist. Of course they do! The question is whether or not they are fundamental.
- Martin Gardner (December 2005). "Science in the looking glass: What do scientists really know? (a book review)" (PDF). Notices of the American Mathematical Society. pp. 1344 ff.
No modern realist believes for a moment that numbers and theorems “exist” in the same way that stones and stars exist. Of course mathematical concepts are mental constructs and products of human culture.
- Joshua Spencer (November 12, 2012). "Ways of being". Philosophy Compass. 7 (12): 910–918. doi:10.1111/j.1747-9991.2012.00527.x.
There are numbers, fictional characters, impossible things, and holes. But, we don’t think these things all exist in the same sense as cars and human beings.
- E Brian Davies (2006). "Epistemological pluralism". Available through PhilSci Archive.
- There is ongoing controversy over the application of neuroscience to psychology. For example, Talvitie and Ihanus say: "As far as psychoanalytic explanations refer to the mental unconscious, they cannot be verified with the help of neuroscience. Neither is it possible to form a picture of how a neuro-viewpoint might be of help for psychoanalytic theorizing." "On neuropsychoanalytic metaphysics". doi:10.1111/j.1745-8315.2011.00458.x. and Edleson: "It is also contended that the theories of psychoanalysis cannot be logically derivable from the theories of neuroscience, physics, or chemistry" "The convergence of psychoanalysis and neuroscience: Illusion and reality".
- Geoffrey Hellman; John L Bell (2006). "Chapter 4: Pluralism and the foundation of mathematics". In Stephen H Kellert; Helen E Longino; C Kenneth Waters. Scientific pluralism; volume XIX in Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science (PDF). The University of Minnesota Press. pp. 64 ff. ISBN 978-0-8166-4763-7.
- Esther-Mirjam Sent (2006). "Chapter 5: Pluralism in economics". In Stephen H Kellert; Helen E Longino; C Kenneth Waters. Scientific pluralism; volume XIX in Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science (PDF). The University of Minnesota Press. pp. 80 ff. ISBN 978-0-8166-4763-7.
- Jordi Cat (May 16, 2013). Edward N. Zalta, ed. "The Unity of Science: Epistemological unities". The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2013 Edition).
- William A. Gorton (August 31, 2010). "The philosophy of social science: §5 – Methodological pluralism". Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
- David Fideler (2000). "Science's missing half: Epistemological pluralism and the search for an inclusive cosmology". Alexandria 5: The Journal of Western Cosmological Traditions (PDF). Phanes Press. pp. 41 ff. ISBN 1890482757.