Bhaskar

Justin Schwartz jschwart at freenet.columbus.oh.us
Sun Apr 2 18:25:33 MDT 1995


Hans D. asks why there is resistance to Bhaskar on this list. I can't
speak for this list, but as a sometime professional philosopher of science
with a record of publications in professional journals, I thought I'd say
why B isn't taken seriously by philosophers of science, e.g., his work
isn't discussed in the journal literature; he's not a recommended target
for dissertation chapters for grad students writing on the subjects he
addresses; he's not cited or particularly well regarded. I myself share
this newgative assessment after having struggled through A Realist Theory
of Science and The Possibility of Naturalism. (Though this was a long time
ago.)

Why this attitude? Part of it--a bad reason--may be B's Hegelizing. Hegel
is not most philosophers of science favorite thinker. I'm unusual, though
not unique, in my high regard for H--but I emphasize that B's Marxism is
_not_ a problem. I have published explicitly Marxist pieces in leading
phil of science journals, and a number of the main figures in the area,
e.g. Richard Boyd, Michael Devitt, Peter Railton, etc. are Marxists
(mainly former students of Hilary Putnam from the days in the late 60s and
early 70s when he was a Marxist). The Marxists among philosophers of
science regard B no better.

My own view, probably shared among those in the field who've read him, is
that B wants to defendm broadly, the "right" positions--realism in
ontology, fallibism and antifoundationalism in epistemology, naturalism in
psychological and social explanation, but doesn't do so particularly well.
His tendency towards transcendental argument is thought to be a dead-end
strategy at odds with naturalism. Most of the Putnam-Quine tradition in
phil of science, now epitomized by Boyd and Devitt (who have different
approaches!) or Kitcher (different again) takes realism to be ann
empirical hypothesis defended by some sort of inference to the best
explanation of scientific success, and in-principle refutable by the
history of science. Moreover, it's thought that Bhaskar does not engage
successfully with the best anti-realist arguments--for a model of how TO
do this, see Devitt's Realism and Truth; likewise with the better
anti-naturalist arguments. Instead he develops a highly idiosyncratic
approach with a peculiar and difficult jargon which isolates him from the
mainstream of the debate and which no one else in the field finds very
useful, or indeed, worth learning enough about to criticize thoroughly.
For myself, those argumentrs of his whichj I have analysed closely I found
not to be original if I thought they were good and not to be clear enough
to be assessed if I thought they were original.

Perhaps people will just dismiss all this as a professional bad rap. It's
been known to happen--good people and good ideas get sidelined for bad
reasons. And I can't imagine that those who've participated in the
discussion so far will have much sympathy for analytical philosophy of
science. But I think that attitude, anyway, would be a mistake, and I'd
recommend that people who are interested in the issues B raises familiaze
themselves with, e.g., Devitt, the early Putnam, Boyd, Kitcher, Arthur
Fine,  Peter Railton, and some other people who I think are well worth
reading. Some of these writers are represented in a good collectioin by
Jarrett Leplin called Scientific Realism. I think that if you get a handle
on how these debates are conducxted in the mainstrain of phil of science
you will start to see why Bhaskar isn't taken seriously there and to
benefit by seeing how, in my view, the debate ought to go.

--Justin Schwartz (Peter Railton was on my dissertation committee)




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