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The plurality of worlds: symbolic forms, modes of existence, ontological regimes.


Monday, 4 November 2019 to Tuesday, 25 February 2020
Total hours: 40
Hours of lectures: 40

Examination procedure

  • Report or seminar


The opposition between the unique world of natural properties and the multiple worldviews or symbolic representations produced by the different socio-cultural systems is a pillar of modern epistemology. In recent years, a wide range of theoretical and disciplinary perspectives has called into question the validity of this dualistic conceptual framework by proposing the adoption of different forms of ontological pluralism (Bruno Latour; Eduardo Viveiros de Castro). The main aim of the course is to provide the keys to this debate by reconstructing its philosophical background and, in particular, by presenting the thesis of the plurality of actual worlds. As expressed in its most radical form by Nelson Goodman in Ways of Worldmaking (1978), this thesis maintains that there is not a single all-encompassing world to which all others can be reduced, but a multiplicity of worlds, each the product of a different historical-cultural organization of cognition and a different way of constructing symbolic systems (scientific theories, works of art, religious systems). During the course, we will discuss some of the most relevant issues arising from this thesis: How are worlds made and what role do symbols play in their construction? In what relationship are world-making processes with cognition and knowledge? How is translation and mutual intelligibility between the different symbolic worlds possible? Within this analytical framework, we will examine, in addition to the Goodman proposal, the analysis of symbolic forms of myth, language and science by Ernst Cassirer, the theory of modes of existence by Étienne Souriau and the recent theory of ontological regimes by the anthropologist Philippe Descola.


Educational goals:

The course aims to familiarize the student with some central oppositional categories in the Western philosophical tradition such as universalism/relativism, nature/culture and realism/phenomenalism, demonstrating their relevance for aesthetics, ontology and anthropology. At the same time, the course introduces the student to the dynamic contemporary debate about the reformulation of this dualistic conceptual framework in a transdisciplinary perspective.

Bibliographical references

Cassirer, Ernst, Sprache und Mythos, Teubner, Berlin 1925.

Descola, Philippe, Par-delà nature et culture, Gallimard, Paris 2005.

Goodman, Nelson, Ways of Worldmaking, Hackett Publishing, Indianapolis 1978.

Latour, Bruno, Enquête sur les modes d'existence. Une anthropologie des Modernes, La Découverte, Paris 2012.

Souriau, Étienne (1945), Les différents modes d'existence, Puf, Paris 2009.

Viveiros De Castro, Eduardo, Métaphysiques cannibales, Puf, Paris 2009.


Other bibliographical references will be made available during the course.