Frames of Mind: Comparing Eight Habits of Thought


There can be little doubt that different persons are endowed with different frames of mind. In considering any topic under the sun different individuals will reveal that they operate according different instinctive habits of thought. I would like to identify eight frames of mind that  pre-condition how a particular person naturally approaches any subject that is of vital interest to them, and especially how they engage in “big conversation” with other minds. These eight frames of mind are the Exclusive, Inclusive, Monistic, Dualistic, Dialectical, Eclectic, Integral and Pluralistic. Some persons will attempt to selectively employ several different assumptive and presupposional approaches on different occasions and within different cultural contexts, but there will tend to be a dominant and secondary approach, with the others in either a tertiary role or even oppositional role.

1. The Exclusive Frame of Mind: All beliefs, ideas, norms and values are assumed to be mutually exclusive, with one view being exclusively right and all others be absolutely wrong. It’s black and white. There’s no room for compromise with falsehood and evil.

2. The Inclusive Cast of Mind: Some beliefs, ideas, norms and values are assumed to be inclusive or assimilative of others, much like an enormously large circle that contains many small circles. One may thus regard one’s one beliefs, ideas, norms and values as ultimately and absolutely True and other beliefs, ideas, norms and values as penultimately and relatively true.

3. The Monistic Frame of Mind: Philosophically there have been two kinds of metaphysical monism. They are known as Idealism and Materialism. Idealism assumes that Matter is an emanation of Mind (Essence or Spirit). Materialism assumes that Mind (Essence or Spirit) is an epiphenomenon of Matter. Absolute forms of Monism can take on the character of Exclusivism, whereas qualified forms of Monism will take on the character of Inclusivism.

4. The Dualistic Frame of Mind: In matters of metaphysics it is assumed that there are two separate realities that have little or nothing to do with each other, or else they are entangled in an eternal cosmic struggle. In matters of ethics and politics it is assumed that there is an irreducible conflict between two and only two points of view. “He who is not for me is against me.” No third point of view is allowed. If one attempts to construct a third point of view, the dualists will attack from both sides. There can be no middle ground. The Aristotelian “Golden Mean” is categorically excluded. One is either for proposition A or proposition B. It is assumed that all propositions are oppositional and antagonistic in nature.

5. The Dialectical Frame of Mind: Thesis and Anti-thesis are unified in a “dialectical synthesis” that is “non-dual” rather than either monistic or dualistic. The relationship involves push and pull, attraction and repulsion, each necessary to the dynamic nature of the relationship. The Yin and the Yang within the Tao serves as a symbol of the dialectical relationship, with the Yin containing the Yang and the Yang containing the Yin. The whole that is greater than the sum of its two parts. Philosophically, the two most well-known forms of dialectical thinking are Hegel’s dialectical idealism and Marx’s dialectical materialism. Dialectical thinkers believe that the opposite of a Great Truth may be another Great Truth. They attempt to integrate binocular (double) vision with a combinational view of the incompassing whole.

6. The Eclectic Frame of Mind: In considering different beliefs, ideas, values, norms the eclectic cast of mind will attempt to toss many of them together like mosaic tiles of many different colors and shapes into a large container, empty them out upon a large surface, and then artfully arrange them in various imaginative, ironic and idiosyncratic ways. This is the post-modern attraction to brick-a-brack. No attempt is made to organize or arrange them into a comprehensive and coherent gestalt. Bits and pieces of multiple traditions are represented, but how they connect to each other is left unstated. It may be assumed that in our informational and culturally saturated world that any attempt at a comprehensive vision or “theory of everything” is futile. What we have are many unrelated but interesting pieces of several different jig-saw puzzles that don’t fit together. They belong to different puzzles but it’s fun to display them artfully in their incommensurable diversity.

7. The Integral Frame of Mind: Some people feel compelled to  integrate the variety of human beliefs, ideas, norms and values, as well as historical epochs, cultural traditions, intellectual domains and life practices into a comprehensive and coherent whole. Integral thinkers construct maps, models and paradigms that attempt to re-present the full spectrum of consciousness and culture across the ages. Historically, this may be expressed as encompassing the primal, ancient, medieval, modern, post-modern and trans-modern ages of man. Developmentally, this may be expressed as stages in the unfolding of being, the evolution of matter, and the awakening of the Universal Human. Of course various integral thinkers have different myths, maps, models and paradigms of reality (“what is”) and they dispute with those who are equally committed to different myths, maps, models and paradigms. It is easy here to forget that “the map is not the territory.” Some integral thinkers who grasp this concept in the abstraction resist it when their own model comes under criticism from those who are passionately beholden to a different “theory of everything.”

8. The Pluralist Cast of Mind: The philosophical pluralist is a pragmatist who seeks an encompassing and coherent view of prime reality and the world in which we live, but without any exclusivist or absolutist assumptions. Pluralists recognize that there are many unique and distinct, complex and creative ways of being human and of constructing rich cultures and great civilizations. Unlike eclectics they prefer to understand each complex and creative individual and culture within its own highly nuanced and “thick” context, rather than to lift it “a-historically” out of its larger symbolic and functional context for purposes of commercial kitsch. Intellectual and cultural historians tend to exist on a spectrum between ideological dualists and pragmatic pluralists. The monistic and dualistic ideologues tend to reduce the story of history to a single Idea or to an ideological struggle between opposing forces that reiterates itself in different language and symbols from age to age. This translates into the conflict model of human history. This approach is the home of the proverbial Hedgehog who has found One Big Idea.

The pluralist pragmatists tend to view the story of history as a complex multi-dimensional movement between multiple forces that all interact with each other in patterned but unpredictable ways. This approach is the home of the proverbial Foxes who has Many Small Ideas rather than One Big One.

Pluralistic Pragmatists prefer to give each realm of knowledge and domain of life “its proper due” but to limit the tendency of each realm and domain to over-reach in its ambition to apply its methods to everything under the sun.  They appreciate the distinction Pascal made between the esprit de geometrie and the esprit de finesse. Neither esprit is higher or deeper or better than the other.

As Jacques Barzun, himself a cultural historian and pragmatic pluralist puts it, Science-Technology (geometrie) and Humanities-Arts (finesse) belong to radically divergent modes of conceiving and working with reality. In Science-Technology the elements and defintions are clear, abstract, and unchangable, but stand outside the ordinary ways of thought and speech. In the opposite realm of Intuitive-Aesthetic thought, the elements come out of the common stock and are know by common names, which elude definition. Thus it is hard to reason justly about them because they are so numerous, mixed, and confusing: there is no method.

The spirit of Pluralistic Pragmatism seeks to honor both sensibilities or casts of mind but without allowing the former to become hardened or reified as scientism and mechanism and the latter to become reified as intellectualism and aestheticism. Pragmatism cares about the consequential “cash value” of ideas for human fulfillment, cultural literacy, civil society and a sustainable world.

In his introduction to the anthology, “A Jaques Barzun Reader,” Michael Murray puts it this way: “The pragmatic cultural historian “deals with ideas, but with ideas as they flourish in the marketplace–some derived from the sytems and no longer pure, other from the minds of reformers, politicians, artists, and indeed anybody. It’s limits are fixed by the breadth of the practitioner’s knowledge, eloquence, and wit.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s