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The Method of Levels of Abstraction in Pluralism and Governance of Dialogical Interaction

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This paper deploys elements of the philosophy of information (PoI) in order to explore ideas of dialogical governance. Dialogue in the governance of contentious issues is at least partly a response to the recognition of pluralism among perspectives on various issues. This recognition is prevalent in the context of European governance. However, it is a first step to a better understanding of diverging opinion, rather than an end point. This paper argues that the PoI offers a fruitful path to follow up this first step. Specifically, PoI provides epistemological tools that can be used to clarify the meanings of terms and relevance of perspectives at issue in dialogical scenarios. Importantly, this approach revises the enlightenment view of the individual, offering a more nuanced and ultimately more accurate view of the self as internally complex. This represents a step beyond the status quo wherein these things are taken as unproblematic. This paper argues that PoI’s resources ought to feature as a methodological background to a reinvigorated dialogical governance paradigm. This method and these resources can inform an improved view of dialogical governance in Europe and, in their generality, beyond.

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  1. 1.

    Available at http://ec.europa.eu/europe2020/index_en.htm.

  2. 2.

    Taken from lecture notes from Habermas’ lectures on Rawls in Frankfurt, 2010, “A Historical Critique of John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice: A Failure to Communicate the Tradition.” Available at http://archive.org/stream/JrgenHabermasCritiqueOfJohnRawls/JrgenHabermasCritiquesRawls#page/n1/mode/2up.

  3. 3.

    Cf. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, although Rawls’ liberalism is at best related to Aristotle’s Eudamonai by analogy—Aristotle had a substantial account of how best to live not compatible with Rawls’ variety of utilitarianism.

  4. 4.

    Rawls (1987), p. 5 and Rawls, Political Liberalism, pp. 100–101.

  5. 5.

    For a focus on Luhman that makes reference to Wiener, see http://www.unilu.ch/files/stw_niklas-luhmann-blackwell-companion-to-major-social-theorists.pdf especially p.3ff.

  6. 6.

    Habermas (1998).

  7. 7.

    Rawls (1988).

  8. 8.

    William (1996).

  9. 9.

    Rhodes (1996).

  10. 10.

    Clifford Geertz made famous this term he adapted from Gilbert Ryle. A thick description of human actions is one that explains not just the action, but its context as well, so that the action becomes meaningful to an outside observer.

  11. 11.

    Raz (1986).

  12. 12.

    McCarthy (1994).

  13. 13.

    The complexities of inter-relations between LoOs, LoAs and so on are explored in Floridi (2008) and unfortunately out of scope in the present work.

  14. 14.

    ‘NIMBYism’ is the term given to objections based in geographical special pleading. NIMBY is an acronym meaning ‘Not In My Back Yard.’

  15. 15.

    Floridi (2002b).

  16. 16.

    Wheeler (2011).

  17. 17.

    Of particular relevance here is Rawls’ “Political Liberalism” and Habermas’ “The Theory of Communicative Action.”

  18. 18.

    The idea of 'distributed morality,' explored in Floridi (2012), is of key importance in elaborating the position to be expressed here, though detailed discussion of everything is impossible in this brief outline.

  19. 19.

    cf. The work of the so-called 'Louvain School,' the ETICA and EGAIS projects in the FP7 funding stream.

  20. 20.

    Cohen (1999).

  21. 21.

    Much more needs to be said regarding the possibilities for counterposing, interweaving or otherwise comparing these notions of 'sphere of validity' and the general philosophy of information line pressed here. That it can't be done here is suggestive of the dynamic and expansionist nature of the information paradigm.

  22. 22.

    This position is elaborated in the work of various theorists such as Quine, Putnam etc. Hume could be seen as a counterpoint.

  23. 23.

    This might be called a transcendental-logical component—that x such that in its absence the phenomenon could not be what it is.

  24. 24.

    Cf. Simon (1957).

  25. 25.

    Plato saw the problems with his own accounts of the forms in theory and, arguably in practice too. See, for instance, The Sophist for the former and the ramifications from Letter VII for the latter.


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Rainey, S. The Method of Levels of Abstraction in Pluralism and Governance of Dialogical Interaction. Topoi 35, 191–201 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11245-013-9231-6

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  • Philosophy of information
  • Dialogue
  • Levels of abstraction
  • Epistemology
  • Politics
  • Europe