Dissipation, Integration and Practical Pluralism: The Case of Cognitive Science


In this chapter, we focus on (i), the theoretical usefulness of pluralism. We are interested in how a robust pluralism could influence theoretical debates in different scientific fields. Our area of expertise, cognitive science, will serve as the primary vehicle for our discussion. To organize this discussion, we identify a tension that simmers under much work on pluralism, between “dissipative” and “integrative” pluralism. The former highlights differences among theories, seeing proliferating accounts of even similar phenomena as drifting apart, taking on their own character. A purely dissipative pluralism would lead to distinct accounts for virtually every single observable phenomenon. In contrast, integrative pluralism highlights potential similarities and seeks to link theories by various formal or informal strategies. In an extreme form, an integrative pluralist may invest too much in seeking overly abstract linkages that account for very few specific phenomena or get caught in an attempt as futile as the fundamentalist’s to integrate over all our diverse knowledge, but in ever more abstract ways.

In M. Belanger, P. Potvin, S. Horst, A. Shtulman & E. Mortimer (Eds.), Multidisciplinary perspectives on representational pluralism in human cognition