On the pluralism of methods

Attacking causal cognition

Lara Kirfel and Tobias Gerstenberg support the pluralism of methods for studying causal cognition. They quote Feyerabend:

« If we want to understand nature, if we want to master our physical surroundings, then we must use all ideas, all methods, and not just a small selection of them. » Paul Feyerabend, Against Method / Wider den Methodenzwang, 1975

This is the excellent proposal of the “cloud of errors” cast as a net on the reality of a thing in order to capture it. The fisherman does not know exactly what he caught, but at least he has the certainty that his prey is inside.

Don’t let the prey escape

However, let us refine this theory. Some methods are less approximate than others. Perhaps one of them indicates the nature of the thing with the best possible accuracy? So taking into account its competitors keeps us away from it. Conversely, a somewhat whimsical method wants us to believe that the thing is elsewhere, that we have not captured anything? We look at the other side, and during this time, the thing escapes. We now confuse it with an illusory double created by the whimsical method.

Precision is the prerogative of mathematical modeling, while the whimsical is that of esoteric dualisms. When it comes to the progress of knowledge, it is usually scientific precision that makes the competence of the researcher, and the whimsical is her spur. Unable to put these methods in the same rank. Here to speak of pluralism is irenicism.

Archaic pluralism

Pluralism was the exclusive form of human knowledge in its early days. Impossible to communicate it! Each mind relied on its own experience. Language made our success jump. Everyone can now share their method, subject it to natural selection. Only the most effective remain.

They are not necessarily competitors. Some are more fundamental than others. The principles of anterograde and retrograde causality are subordinate to just causality, not in competition with it. Above all, the successes of pluralism demonstrate that we do not have a universal method, when there may be one, or at least a hierarchical thread.

Cloud of… human errors

Without a universal method we are forced to cut parts of reality to apply a dedicated method. Less ambitious methods and yet with sometimes disproportionate ambitions… in the hands of their creators. Are human errors the main justification for remaining pluralistic, more than errors in methods?

The excess of pluralism is also a human drift. Very contemporary. Wokism in method takes us back to the early ages of the human species, to a kind of animism of knowledge. By widening the cloud of errors, everyone can locate their center where they like it.

What about cognition?

The pluralism of ideas and methods is a production of cognition. Not its mechanism. By multiplying the methods we can understand the richness of the phenomenon ‘cognition’. But if we want to know its cause, we must specify “the” method that cognition uses to constitute itself.

Yet Kirfel and Gerstenberg report that cognitivists are powerless to find a single method, that they see several modes of cognition. What should we conclude? Cognition poses the same problem as Nature for Feyerabend: methods multiply and confront each other in a context of powerlessness to find a more transcendental one. This is not proof of its non-existence. Pluralism is a strategy of waiting, a pragmatism that is not intended to be transcendental itself…


Anything goes! From a pluralism of methods towards a unified theory of causal cognition, Lara Kirfel and Tobias Gerstenberg, 2022

2 thoughts on “On the pluralism of methods”

  1. This all sort of reminds me of a mobile strip, as a likening to infinity. The point, if there is one, is that similar (or identical with) time, infinity is neither goal nor destination. You can’t get there from here. There is no ‘there’ there. Metaphysics sometimes help us think. But it is neither proximate nor approximate. As with Dennett’s suggestions in his book, it may be an ‘Intuition Pump’—a tool for thinking. How the notion/term, causal cognition bears on this,I am not sure. Cognition has causes, all the way down to stimulus-response. There may be some argument about primary consciousness, but mammals, at least, have some cognitive faculty or other, less refined than ours, but useful nonetheless. Well, I hope differences resolve.


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