"Diversity, Inclusion, and Exclusion: A Reply to Capps"

Abstract: When sorting out social and political differences among people,  how much "diversity" can be embraced before the very canons of judgment become suspect? How can a pragmatic approach to diversity both embrace difference and reinforce norms of sound judgment?

In "Achieving Pluralism: Why AIDS Activists Differ from Creationists" John Capps showcased two different kinds of cases to exemplify how pragmatist logic can serve both as a device for greater "inclusion" as well as one for the effective "exclusion" of unacceptable views.

This paper outlines his approach and argues that he has overstated the promise of pragmatist inquiry to be inherently inclusive. The very features that make pragmatism inclusive can also lead to exclusivity and opposition among inquirers. Regarding the exclusion of certain kinds of views,  it is suggested that the pragmatist response is sound if unexceptional. In both cases what is missing is the need to articulate a larger vision of what should be striven for, communally.


Because philosophical pragmatism developed out of the need to "perspectivize" traditional notions of reality and truth, we might assume that it can readily handle the new challenges connoted by the term "diversity." Of course it is one thing to incorporate perspectives at the level of philosophical theory and another thing altogether at the level of practice. When sorting out social and political differences among people, how much "diversity" can be embraced before the very canons of judgment become suspect? How can a pragmatic approach to diversity both embrace difference and reinforce norms of sound judgment?

In a recent collection of articles on John Dewey's logic, John Capps has sought to show how and why Dewey's logic is both an adequate and effective tool when applied to a variety of social problems. In "Achieving Pluralism: Why AIDS Activists Differ from Creationists"[1] Capps showcases two different kinds of cases to exemplify how pragmatist logic can serve both as a device for greater "inclusion" as well as one for the effective "exclusion" of unacceptable views.

In his example of the AIDS case,  activists in the 1980s objected to the human cost of clinicians' use of double-blind placebo control groups, as well as to their failure to provide avenues for the communication of the concerns of AIDS patients and their families. His second example regards "intelligent design" creationism, which has argued that the failure of evolutionary biology to explain complex biological structures makes plausible the introduction of an "intelligent designer." These creationists  charge that scientists have shunned this explanatory route because of their dogmatic—i.e. "unscientific"—fealty to natural explanations.

Two  important principles are at stake in Capps' discussion: inclusion and exclusion. He asks, first, what is there in the pragmatist method that ensures or at least demands an inclusionary pluralism—that is, a kind of inquiry that can embrace a diverse range of inquirers, goals and methods? Second, by what justification can pragmatists exclude some viewpoints from inquiry? The AIDS case provides an example of inclusion, and creationism represents the kind of view that deserves exclusion.

Capps points to four features of Dewey's logical theory generally pertinent to these principles. To paraphrase Capps, they are (1) the emphasis upon warrantably assertible results (rather than "true" results or "knowledge"), (2) the operational and consequence-oriented spirit of pragmatist logic, (3) the indispensability of concrete "situations" in providing both subject matter and guidance in inquiry, and (4) pluralism, i.e., inquiry's embrace of diverse "methods, goals, theoretical perspectives, and practical points of view" (241) Each of these features distinguishes pragmatism from traditional approaches to truth and knowledge, and, in light of the real world need to solve conflicts, show pragmatism's superior efficacy.


The first question to be answered is how these four features connect to inclusion: how are these features of Deweyan inquiry inclusive and pluralistic? More importantly, is it being claimed that the pragmatic method is inherently moral? Since pragmatism's inception, pragmatists have been charged with promoting mere expedience (i.e., with promoting expedient immorality). Understandably, then, the notion that pragmatic inquiry is, instead, inherently moral would constitute something of a pragmatists' "philosophers' stone." I am unclear as to whether or not Capps believes this prize attainable, but he is clearly tempted by the prospect.  Capps writes,

Dewey was well aware that his Logic had social and political consequences. For one thing, insofar as it leads to improved methods of inquiry, logic should cast light on the experiences and concerns of traditionally marginalized groups: women, racial and ethnic minorities, lesbians and gay men, the disabled, the mentally ill, and so on. (240, my emphasis.).

In other words, pragmatism's epistemological method, necessitates the norm of inclusion:

Thus, if inquiry shows that marginalized groups deserve recognition and inclusion, then the process of inquiry should itself be inclusive and pluralistic. This follows from Dewey's observation that subject matters and forms of inquiry are interrelated...(240)

In Deweyan inquiry the interrelation of logical subject matter and logical form mandate a catholic view about how great a range of factors (including perspectives, goals, etc.) must be part of inquiry, while also demonstrating scientific inquiries differ only in degree and not kind from other inquiry  types. While particular outcomes are, of course, not assured, it is impossible for there to be categorical divisions in inquiry between  fact and value.

[F]rom Dewey's standpoint, inquiries have normative and descriptive aspects; the latter cannot be reduced to calculation or cost-benefit analysis....[A]ll inquiry involves a normative dimension, and this makes it capable not just of describing but also of addressing the conditions of traditionally marginalized groups.(242)

In Capps' view,  these aspects, plus a fourth, entail pluralistic inclusiveness:

Finally, because inquiry is contextual, it must respond to the experiences and felt needs of those involved in problematic situations. Since a situation affects different groups (and subgroups) in different ways, inquiry must consider a range of possible solutions and means of achieving those solutions.(246, my emphasis)


I read Capps account of Deweyan inquiry with both a sense of hope and skepticism. While I share his pragmatist vision of reality—and therefore, too, of inquiry—as shot through with moral qualities, I wonder whether or not pragmatism can claim for its method not just the recognition of moral normativity in general  but the automatic recognition (and embrace) of diverse and particular moral norms. Doesn't this proposed ideal (of inherently-inclusive inquiry) only gain plausibility  if one first detaches it from often exclusionary way the world actually does reason? To put it bluntly, is this ideal of pragmatist inclusivity only possible if one commits the Philosophic Fallacy and reads the desired outcome of inquiry back into the practical starting point?

Capps' language betrays his ambivalence on this issue. Late in his essay he says merely that pluralism is "compatible with" and "will even contribute to" fruitful inquiry. Pluralism, he says, "invites a plurality of participants" (246, my emphasis). But note, he does not say that pragmatism mandates any of these pluralistic fruits.

I do not mean to nitpick words here. In the solution that Capps has framed, there remains a serious gap between the aspirations of pragmatic theory and what it can be expected to produce, socially and politically . My contention is that if one accepts as given in inquiry the very features Capps highlights--the concrete, situated, and normative nature of inquiry--then, as I'll show in a moment, one can also see that those features can lead to exclusionary practices just as easily as toward inclusionary ones. In other words, the concrete, situated, and normative features of inquiry can guarantee that there is no entailment, or even encouragement, of inclusion by pragmatic inquiry!

Let's think for a moment about what it means to be generous in what we include as data in an inquiry. We realize, of course, the imperative that any inquirer consider all the data is folly--experience is too rich. The question becomes, by what criteria will the set of data be whittled down (as "relevant") to a manageable size? Capps is right to point out that many factors already in play in the situation eliminates much--no inquiry starts ab ovo. Still, it is often the case that participants will bring goals and viewpoints  to inquiry that are only achievable given the exclusion of others' goals and viewpoints.

Capps' AIDS example--of patients pitted against researchers--neatly illustrated how seemingly intractable conflicts could be mitigated by cooperative searches for new facts and standards. But this case was too easy; after all, both AIDS researchers and patients wanted  effective cures for the maximum number of people. What this example did not show how pragmatic inquiry mitigates more intransigent oppositions. Take, as another test case,  a conflict between  European-American  and Mexican-American parents over the portrayal of controversial historical events in high school history textbooks. Let's assume that each side is deeply predisposed to reject certain interpretations of events—for example, the European-American side might refuse, quite unconsciously, to admit that any of the relevant events could possibly be labeled "imperialistic," while the other side sees imperialism as an obvious and significant fact. An observer standing outside this debate might see this predisposition (against imperialism) as a "roadblock" to "inclusive inquiry" but how might she show that compromise on this point is necessary because of an epistemological inconsistency? How would it be made apparent that participants are failing to live up to the norms of good Deweyan inquiry? To press this even further, even if the "road blocked" side could be made to see their own obstinacy—to see, that is, the inconsistency in their method of inquiry—they might still respond in this way: "I see how we are unable to be flexible in our interpretation; but you must see that the inflexibility of our method is nevertheless necessary  for reproducing our identity—that which makes our side 'ours.' Why should we elevate the logical value of consistency over the ideological value of the narrative we want told?" This is a crucial question, I think: How would a pragmatist convince them that they are undervaluing the inclusivity of inquiry and overvaluing their need to preserve their interpretation of the world?

Furthermore, it can be objected that pluralism can self-destruct. While it is true, as Capps puts it, that "[s]uccessful social inquiry must recognize that groups are internally heterogeneous"(244), it is also true that in their function as claimants for inclusion or even damages, marginalized groups frequently reify and homogenize themselves. To gain power through collective bargaining groups are liable embrace reification of their identity, which then can lead to further marginalization (through "backlash"). I am not asserting this is not worth the price, only that there is a price.

To address these concerns over inclusivity, what is necessary, I think, is that a case be made for pragmatism's inclusiveness only with additional arguments for a certain kind of future. In other words, we cannot argue for the value of cooperation and inclusion by showing that they are a byproduct of pragmatic inquiry. (Such a hope is akin to Rawls' overlapping procedural consensus among comprehensive doctrines.) Rather,  while the value of cooperation and inclusion can be shown to be implicit in some of the ways pragmatists reason, this observation is not sufficient for many actually engaged in conflict. That is why a vision of a better (more cooperative, more inclusive) life--who should we become, what ends in view are worth pursuing, etc.—must be argued on distinct grounds.


This last challenge—the need to envision and argue for who we should become—forces Capps' second issue of exclusion to the surface. After all, imagining what we want to become or pursue likely progresses by a process of elimination: we figure out what is unacceptable or undesirable. We exclude possibilities, and this illuminates what is valuable.  Capps writes,

Of course, pluralism has its limits....In some cases there are pragmatic reasons for excluding viewpoints...In other cases inquiry simply refuses to accept a particular point of view as a viable option. For example, objective moral inquiry need not include the views of racists, Nazis, sadomasochists, or any other denizen of our usual rogues' gallery. (254)

The question for the pragmatist is, then, "how are the worth groups separated from the unworthy? When should the interests, methods, and goals of a marginalized group be excluded from inquiry?" (254)

A traditional ethicist  might be tempted to say that the aforementioned rogues are simply, objectively wrong.  Can a Deweyan use such a notion of "objectivity"? Did Dewey employ something like this? Capps produces some evidence in the Logic that he did. There, Dewey wrote,

To be intellectually "objective" is to discount and eliminate merely personal factors in the operations by which a conclusion is reached....Transformation from organic behavior to intellectual behavior, marked by logical properties, is a product of the fact that individuals live in a cultural environment. Such living compels them to assume in their behavior the standpoint of customs, beliefs, institutions, meanings and projects which are at least relatively general and objective.  (LW 12:50-51)

Capps goes on to note that later in the Logic Dewey refined this portrait of "objectivity" by celebrating the value of "intellectual disinterestedness," a requirement brought about by evolutions in the scientific method. Capps finds Dewey's remarks on "disinterestedness" to be largely unhelpful and possibly misleading. (There's no reason to proof-text here, but my own reading of Dewey on this issue concludes the opposite.[2]) The problem he sees is this:

My taking objectivity in terms of intellectual disinterestedness requires [marginalized] groups to discount their particular perspectives in favor of some yet more general point of view....If [this] means taking the perspective of no interested parties, then we seem very close to...the idea of a view from nowhere.(252)

Rather than follow Dewey here, Capps cites Helen Longino's view critical reconstruction of scientific objectivity ("the critically conceived consensus of the scientific community") as replying to this problem. We can accept that science inquires objectively if we set aside the possibility of a view from nowhere and see objectivity as a quest for plurality. On Longino's account, "If objectivity implies a plurality of methods and goals--and not disinterestedness--then the results of Deweyan inquiry can be objective" (253) Moreover, on her account,  " not opposed to objectivity...[but is] an important feature of objective inquiry."(254)

Satisfied with Longino's non-transcendent construal of "objective," Capps believes the pragmatist now has a principled reason for separating worthy from unworthy viewpoints. Those which are anti-objective get the boot: racists, Nazis, sadomasochists, and Capps last example, creation scientists. Unlike the AIDS activist (who agrees with the methods of the scientist but disapproves of the way those methods are being deployed),  the creation scientist does not share with the evolutionary biologist a common methodological vision of how inquiry should proceed. "Not only does methodological naturalism account for the importance of observability and hence empirical testing, but it is itself a testable and revisable hypothesis."(256) The creationist, on the other hand, can accept scientific (naturalistic) explanation only where it supports God's existence (or is irrelevant to God's existence.) Any explanation that concludes "not-God" is rejected out of hand. Capps writes, "At the very least, unable to make a useful contribution to inquiry; at worst, it is diametrically opposed to inquiry in the first place." (257) Or, as Wittgenstein might have put it, the creationists are only willing to play a different language game, and so must be "excluded" from the game pragmatists are calling "inquiry."

I must admit that this how I have generally dealt with Creationism and like-minded philosophies. But while we all breathe easier once such folk are escorted from the hall, as pragmatists we have to ask whether we share William James belief that pragmatism could address not only conflicts between "rational" inquirers, but between Weltanschauungs as well. Because we live in a society with the Nazis and the Creationists and political dogmatists, we have to ask ourselves how we can address these types, maybe not directly with inquiry as Dewey understood it, but with at least a convincing rhetoric about why pragmatist inquiry is better. I don't know yet how to speak in that way. But I imagine it will require, again, an articulation of a broader vision of who we might want to be—together .

[1] Dewey's Logical Theory: New Studies and Interpretations. Edited by F. Thomas Burke, D. Micah Hester, and Robert B. Talisse. With a Foreword by Larry A. Hickman. (Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2002), 239-261. All references to this article will be enclosed parenthetical  in the body of this paper.

[2] Writing about the use of the phrase "for it's own sake" (as in, "history, done for its own sake") Dewey writes that such a phrase is "valuable . . . when interpreted as a warning to avoid prejudice, to struggle for the greatest possible amount of objectivity and impartiality, and as an exhortation to exercise caution and skepticism in determining the authenticity of material proposed as potential data. Taken in any other sense, it is meaningless."(LW 12:236) What this shows, pace Capps, is that "objectivity" means, primarily, impartiality—the willingness to try to push one's views and agendas aside and to see things from another's perspective. It does not mean to try to achieve a "view from nowhere."