Your point is very valid and I believe you are identifying the main dichotomy of philosophies within fine art photography.Quite true. Ansel certainly helped "codify" the process into a system, but E. Weston, Strand etc before him were doing the same thing.
The notion of "planning backwards" may sound overly contrived to someone less concerned with printing, but it is the approach most good printers use - even if they don't realize it.
I've gone on about this in other threads, but it's worth repeating (in my opinion) that treating the negative (ie exposure in the field and planned development) as something separate from the print constitutes a fundamental misunderstanding of what things like the zone system are really for. In order to make the best negative you can for a particular image, you must think like the printing paper, and then think about how you will expose the paper (ie burning, dodging etc), rather than just blindly doing the math (eg "highlights falling on zone XI = N-3 for grade 2"). This will work ok for scenes of average luminance ranges, but not as well for more complicated situations. Of course it sounds more complicated than it is - and decisive moment-people may balk, but with experience it all happens very quickly in the field. Planning backwards is the essence of visualization.
I'm not sure there is necessarily a reconciliation of what Thomas and Cliveh are each saying. I think the philosophies are different. This is evidenced by the fact Cliveh routinely posts to technical threads to point out that the image is more important than the technical details of making negatives and prints. Unless someone is concerned solely with the science of photography, Cliveh's point is a valid, if obvious one. Clearly if an image is crap, there isn't much point to going further. But if we assume we are beginning with a worthwhile image, the characteristics of different films, papers, developers, and yes, sometimes even H&D curves, are indeed important considerations to someone attempting to make a print that communicates the image in an expressive way.