Bhaskar

Hans Despain DESPAIN at econ.sbs.utah.edu
Sat Apr 1 12:34:47 MST 1995


I have dug up some previous posts on Bhaskar, and frankly I am quite
surprised at the resistence toward his work on espeically this list.
Adam Brandt claimed that Bhaskar's '-ists,' '-eans,' etc. are doing
all his critical work.  He asks for example, what is a "dualist overly
anit-naturalist hue" or how would one recongnise a "superidealist
epistemology."  He goes on to ask if anyone finds Bhaskar is becoming
"less useful."  Steve Wright seems to support a critique, and Ralph
Dumain and Steve Keen find Bhaskar style and content all but useless.
Allin Cottrell suggest the un-orginality of Bhaskar's work.  Then on
the other side, Hans Despain, Fellini, Howie Chodos, and Hans Ehrbar
have been attempting to take Bhaskar quite serious and defend his
project, often critical.

I am wondering why the above critics are so resistent, and what
others on the list think of Bhaskar.  There is little doubt that his
style and language is often difficult to penetrate and understand,
but I for one have found that Bhaskar is becoming more useful rather
then less useful.  It is true that Bhaskar uses many '-ists,' and '-
eans' not so much to do his critical work but to reduce repetition.
But personal it seems that his style and language should be trival
for an judgement of his project.  Moreover, most '-ists,' and 'eans'
are somewhere defined and explained.  For example, it seems to me
that Bhaskar takes 'positivists,' 'empiricists,' and 'rationalists'
to be widely understood, along with 'Humean,' 'Nietzschean'
'idealism' and 'empirical realism.'  'Superidealism' seems to be in
reference to Rotry, and not Hegel, for example.  The point being with
in context or through some reference investigation I believe it is
very defensible to say that Bhaskar himself is doing the critical
work of his argument and not his academic abrevations.  Which
certainly makes for "thick" reading.

For me it was Bhaskar distinction of 1) ontological dialectics; 2)
epistemological dialectics; 3) relational dialectics; and 4) pratical
dialectics; which initiated a claification of defining the endless
definations of dialectics.  Moreover, his four-term dialectic
beginning with abscences is quite a (explicit) leap forward from the
Marxian and Hegelian dialectic.  His notion of abscences is also
quite enlighting with respect to *negation* which not only benefits
the Hegelian moment, but perhaps even more the Frankfurt pause.

I also agree with Ehrbar, on the issue of explicating an
*alternative*, which is at best negelected by Marx, and at worst
idealized.  Bhaskar, attempts to argue negelection and idealism need
not be the choice following epistemological understanding or an
ethical critique of capitalism.  Thus, *theorizing an alternative*
becomes quite important, maybe more important then Marx himself had
realized.  A "non-alienating society" is quite a task, that does not
immediately nor teleologically follow a critique or a destruction of
capitalism.

Also something that strikes me from Bhaskar *Dialectic* is "[F]or
Marxism to progress now as a research tradition it is faced with a
clear methodological choice between the neo-positivism of analytical
Marxism, the neo-Kantianism of Habermasian communicative action
theory, the neo-Nietzscheanism of post-Marxism or dialectical
critical realism.  (This quartet in fact parallels the options
outside Marxism as well.)" (352).

In this context I also think Bhaskar is saying more then choosing
between these four paradigms, I contend that in these pages that
Bhaskar is aruging that there is room for 1) analytical Marxism
(Elster and Romer for example); 2) neo-Kantian/neo-Hegelian
interpretaions (i.e., L. Colletti and T. Smith) 3) neo- Marxism (R.
Boyer and the French Regulation theorists and SSA American counter
part); 4) post-Marxism (including Feminists, anti-Racism, and
Cultural emphases).  The issue of contention being that of their
ontological commitment. Hence, as these different interpretations
and emphases now stand, they are out of phase and incompatible with
one another.  However, they all find the paradigm within their
reading of Marx, if the ontological commitment is the same, as it
would be explicitely under Dialectical Critical Realism, then
possible they could be made compatible, though often reformulated.

Which is not to argue that the above Marxist are compatible, for
example obviously where I have but Colletti and Smith in the same
categoization is not to suggest these two incompatible interpretation
can be somehow made compatible but to suggest that they both find
there ground or paradigm on the same level of analysis.  It is not
so much there epistemology that distingish them, though they do, but
that there (implied) ontological commitment have to be all together
different.  Likewise, the level of analysis is also not only
distingishing factor, though it is the most clear.  For example, the
Regulation Theory is out of phase with Tony Smith interpretation, but
we can imagine and theorize a compatible "captialist stage analysis"
or "regional analysis" which is in phase with the epistemology
expounded by Smith.

Take a look at his figure 4.6, page 353, titled "Levels of Analysis in
Marxism."  (Which if one is following Ollman's interpretation could
just as easily be sub-titled "Levels of *Abstraction* in Marxism).  I
take this as an attempt by Bhaskar to integrate philosophical
compatiblity and incompatibleity of the different Marxist
interpretation which (over-)emphasize the *abstract* and *concrete*
of Marxism, the *qualitative* and *quantitative*, or the *conceptual*
and *calculative*, *epistemological* and *ethical*.  Moreover,
because Marx himself, in different moments seems to possess emphasis
phases or moments.

In this sense, Bhaskar would seem to be against analytical, or
empirical, or more concrete interpretation at the expense or
disregard of Marx's philosophical integrity of the *abstract*, though
*not* against analytical, empirical or more concrete analyses in
general.  This implies especially grasping to understand Marx's
*epistemology* (Bhaskar seems to support Tony Smith), and his *ethic*
of human emancipation and self-determination.

In my interpretation Bhaskar's system is meant to unite, criticize
and when necessary abandon specific Marxian paradigms, while at the
same time attempting to specifically keep the integrity of Marx's
philosophical system in phase with Bhaskar's Dialetical Critical
Realism and Dialectical Critical Naturalism.

Hans Despain
University of Utah
despain at econ.sbs.utah.edu


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