“Tolerant” Pluralist Postmodern Theologian (TPPT): Look, being a pluralist I’m absolutely committed to the thesis that demons are real. They’re just not what people think they are. What you call a seizure and a neurological disorder, the believer calls the effects of demonic possession. They’re just different vocabularies for the same thing. [Aside: I’m not making this thesis up, I’ve had it or some variant of it said to me on a number of occasions]
Frustrated Materialist (FM): The believer that makes that claim doesn’t think it’s “just a way of talking” but believes there’s a real referent corresponding to those entities.
TPPT: (Sly smile). Look, I’m just being a pragmatist here and am not concerned with questions about truth. For the believer the demons are real. After all, these ideas have effects and that’s gotta be real right? So really the neurologist that calls these things a seizure caused by a neurological disorder and the believer that talks about demons and effects of possession are talking about the same thing.
FM: But they’re not.
TPPT: They’re not? How so? Come on, remember pragmatism? We’re not interested in truth.
FM: Have you heard of Charles Sanders Peirce and Robert Brandom.
TPPT: Sure, both great pragmatists!
FM: Well they’d disagree with your “different vocabularies same phenomenon” hypothesis.
TPPT: What? Why? They’re pragmatists!
FM: Well Peirce said, in his pragmatic principle, that the meaning of a concept is all of the consequences that follow from it; while Brandom said that the meaning of a proposition is all that can be inferred from it.
TPPT: Yeah? So what?
FM: So what? Demonic possession and neurological disorder have entirely different entailments just as the four humors theory of sickness and the germ theory of sickness have different entailments.
TPPT: I don’t follow.
FM: Demonic possession calls for an exorcism. Neurological disorders call for some form of medication and perhaps surgery. These different ontological hypotheses lead to different practices. They’re not just different vocabularies for the same thing and the pragmatists, except for that scoundrel James, say exactly the same.
TPPT: You’re just an intolerant atheist realist materialist that doesn’t respect the worldviews of others!
FM: Well if I were a believer, I can’t say I’d much want to have you as my friend or defender.
TPPT: What? Why not? I respect their beliefs!
FM: It doesn’t seem to me that you do. In fact, it seems to me that you’re rather patronizing. Rather respecting the persons you’re “defending” enough to recognize that they mean what they say and really are asserting the existence of these things, you instead say these are just “vocabularies” and are perhaps potent and meaningful symbols used to describe core things in the human condition to be analyzed by the likes of Jung or Joseph Campbell who are capable of saying what these things really mean. That doesn’t sound like pluralism or respect at all! Rather, it sounds to me like the way adults sometimes pat children on the head when they’ve said something charming but naive. It seems to me that you’re already adopting a materialist and naturalist framework and are just trying to blunt the implications of that framework by saying there are lots of vocabularies to describe the same natural phenomena. Isn’t it really the materialist who’s a pluralist because they respect these others enough to recognize that they really mean what they say and are making genuine claims about beings and not simply claims about meanings?
TPPT: You materialists are so intolerant and mean! Disagreeing with others and challenging their claims is the height of violence!
FM: Are you familiar with the exorcism of Anneliese Michel? Place that in the context of Pierce’s pragmatic principle and Brandom’s inferentialism.
TPPT: I’m leaving now you intolerant cad!