When applied broadly, pluralism is not merely a good faith approach that maintains civility and tolerance in social settings, but has much to say with respect to various branches of philosophy and religious doctrines more generally. For the purposes of this description, I am defining pluralism, in large part, as a contrasting opinion to monism – not monism as an individual interpretation, but monism which seeks to create absolute, monolithic interpretations of reality and meaning. It is for this reason that I do not consider the abstract concept of monotheism to be opposed to pluralism, in and of itself, but rather certain iterations of it – largely those of an abrahamic variety, that exclude all other views.
In pluralistic theology, there are a few distinctions that should be made up front. Though polytheism is a natural friend of pluralism, it is not inherently the only way to interpret pluralistic theology. As one of the most essential forms of metaphysics, theological definitions help to express the foundation of other metaphysical concepts in many philosophical traditions, and though pluralism is no exception to this rule, it can be a unique challenge to parse.
In the various iterations of monistic theology which contrast with pluralism – whether or not it is expressed in a henotheistic or monotheistic format, monistic theology expresses the essential unity of the ultimate essence that the whole cosmos is built from. In contrast to this, pluralism expresses that many divine essences exist within the world with independent – albeit sympathetic existence from the totality of the cosmos. In polytheism, this is clearly expressed in the myriad of gods and goddesses that exist in the various pantheons of traditions both ancient and modern.
From a monotheistic perspective, pluralism manifests in a manner that can be much more personal and perhaps epistemological depending on your interpretation. In pluralistic monotheism, there is still one god, but he is experienced through the independent essences that are immanent within the world. This is why, to a pluralistic monotheist, the many gods of a polytheist can be understood as the many independent forms of a single being beyond understanding.
In much the same way, pluralistic polytheism expresses the complex, unknown nature of the divine through the distinct personalities of gods and goddesses. The observable and the intangible essences of human experience are articulated through the countless deities of myths throughout the world – as well as the various parallels between myths and the numerous syncretisms of deities of many types. This is only strengthened by the myriad of ways that any particular deity can be interpreted.
In a similar way to how monistic theology can be understood through the lens of polytheistic, henotheistic and distinctly monotheistic theologies, pluralism encompasses these concepts of the divine through the way it understands existence. Pluralistic monotheism and polytheism are expressions of the same reality, but with a different focus. Monotheists value the idea that God has one personality with many moods, and polytheists value the idea that The Gods have separate personalities and agendas that must be addressed independently – whether as individual gods or syncretic ones.
As an extension of the fundamental, metaphysical and theological reality of divine essences, ethics is a manner in which the pluralistic essences of reality are manifest in the ways we live in the world and help to form the aesthetic and personal values we hold as we mature spiritually. Much in the same way as pluralistic theology, the diversity of ethical ideas in virtue ethics is a natural fit for pluralism – as it clearly articulates diversity of ethics through separate, discreet moral ideas.
In pluralistic ethics, the idea of ultimate virtues – the hedone of hedonism or the utility of utilitarianism are anathema. It directly contradicts the diversity of experience that pluralism values. Preferred instead is the concept of virtue ethics. Both the generalist and particularist view of virtue ethics are understood in a pluralistic way. For the moral generalist, virtues have objective, independent existence, and for the moral particularist those objective virtues manifest in certain situations in different ways.
As you might expect, particularist virtue ethics more strongly parallels polytheistic theology, and generalist virtue ethics is a closer analog to monotheism. That said, these associations are definitely not exclusive, and the various points in-between monotheism and polytheism give space for different moral preferences – as much as they do theological ones.