Why not Bhaskar

Justin Schwartz jschwart at freenet.columbus.oh.us
Mon Apr 3 12:05:28 MDT 1995


I'm not going to pursue the Bhaskar issue, as I haven't read him lately
and nothing I've seen here has made me want to reread him. I just wanted
to give you a sometime professional's report on his low standing in the
field. But a few remarks on Hans D's replies, and then I'm done.

On Sun, 2 Apr 1995, Hans Despain wrote:

> Thank you Justin Schwartz for your response, especially in that you
> have not previously shared your thoughts on Bhaskar.
>
> First, I agree with Schwartz in that Bhaskar's Hegelianism is a very
> poor reason to disregard him.  Besides, his first two writings seem
> much more neo-Kantian.  Moreover, this seems even a poorer reason,
> not to mention problematic for Marxists, when Marx himself "avowed"
> himself a "pupil of that mighty thinker [Hegel]" (*Capital* 2nd ed.
> Postface).
>
> Second, (what is "right positions"?

True, correct positions, ones realists and naturalists think are right.

) is there a problem with an
> realist ontology?  And I take "fallibism and antifoundationalism
> epistemology" to be in reference to Bhaskar's insisentence of
> "epistemological relativism,"

A typically misleading way Bhaskar puts a set of views which are not
relativist in the sense that bothers realists.

 and if so, is not the exact same stance
> of especially H. Putnam?

Which Putnam? Recall he has gone antirealist since about 1978. (He calls
his new view "internal realism.") But in fact Putnam in all of his modes
follows Quine, Goodman, and other modern pragmatists in rejecting
foundationalism and certainty in epistemology.

  And I am not sure that Bhaskar is
> antifoundational, in a Kantian sense,

What's that?

 though I also question his
> grounds that "science is possible," therefore the transcendental
> question being "what must the world be like for science to be
> possible?" Personally, I resolve this transcendental ground
> practical, in other words if I believe that I or anyone else is doing
> science, perhaps, there is no problem with such a beginning, but is
> this antifoundational?  Certainly not in an Hegelian sense.
>
This is unclear. Bhaskhar obviously begs the question if he assumes that
science is possible in the sense that it tells us how things are, and then
wants to use the possibility of science to show that science does tell us
how things are.

> JS> "His tendency towards transcendental argument is thought to be a
> JS> dead-end strategy at odds with naturalism."
>
> Really, are we then committed to empiricism and deductivism for all
> inquiry?

Who said anything about "deductivism," whatever that is? (Maybe the
hypothetical-deductive model of scientific explanation?) And what is meant
by "empiricism?" And why are D&E the only alternatives to whatever it is
that Bhaskar is advocating? We may doubt that transcendental arguments in
general, or B's in particular, succeed without signing on with the early
logical positivists. ANyway, all philosophical positions are problematic,
so that isn't an objection that especially affects anyone.

 This is no else philosophically problematic.  And I see
> absolutely no reason why it is at "odds with naturalism."

Well, if transcendental arguments are supposed to give us a priori results
and naturalism is a matter of rejhecting a priorism in all its varieties
and letting our conclusions instead by constrained by the way things are,
as best we can find out, rather than conditions derived independently of
experience and scientific inquiry, there is an obvious tension. Perhaps an
outright inconsistency.

 Behavioral
> science seems almost strictly commited to induction and
> transcendental reasoning.

I'm lost. Behavioral science may be different from natural science in
various ways, or it may not, but while all science, arguably, uses
induction, it requires a case that any science use transcendental reasoning.

 Furthermore, I not sure that Bhaskar is a
> naturalist, perhaps a qualified or quasi-natrualist.

I wouldn't care to say.
>
> JS>  Moreover, it's thought that Bhaskar does not engage successfully
> JS>  with the best anti-realist arguments...
>
> Schwartz recommeds Devitt's *Realism and Truth* (I will look it up),
> but Bhaskar actually seems quite successful in his critique of the
> many faces of positivism, especially with is conception of the
> *epistemic fallacy*.

But positivism is rather a dead horse these days. The best anti-realist
arguments are constructivist (Kuhn), neo-empiricist (van Fraasen),
neo-pragmatist (Goodman, Davidson), Kantian (the new Putnam), etc., not
tarditional empiricism.

>
> I must agree that Bhaskar is widely accepted has having difficult
> "jargon" and writing style, though I reject this as a premise for not
> taking him serious.  Both Marx and Hegel are considered two of the
> most difficult, I take them both serious.  But I accept it as a
> phenomena of their avoidance.

The question is whether the difficult style repays what it takes to learn
it. No one is more difficult than Wilfred Sellars, but almost all
philosophers of science agree that he's worth the effort.

>
> JS>  I think that if you get handle on how these debates are conducted
> JS>  in the mainstrain of phil of science you will start to see why
> JS>  Bhaskar isn't taken seriously there and to benefit by seeing
> JS>  how, in my view, the debate ought to go."
>
> Yes, and if I get a handle on how economic debates are conducted in
> "the mainstrain," then perhaps I can also begin to understand why Marx
> is not taken serious (but I will take look).

The analogy is bad. As I've said, mainstream philosophy of science is not
anti-Marxist nor dominated by a conservative orthodoxy. In fact there is
no orthodoxy in views these days. logical empiricism being long dead.
There is a committment to high standards of argument....

>
> Finally did I understand you right when you said the Putnam-Quine
> tradition views *Realism* as "in-principle refutable by the history
> of science?"  Even if this is your (their) position, isn't
> *Idealism*, *Epiricism*, and *Positivism* even further refutable by
> the history of science?

Surely. But then the truth or falsity of these views is not to be
established by transcendental argument, but by reasoning based in part on
the history of science.

 In fact most any science is refutable by the
> history, wherefore, we must be committed to a notion of "relative
> espistemology" if not "relative science."

What does this mean? Just that a view may be justified at one time and not
later, given new theories and evidence? THis is a very weak sort of
relativism, if we want to call it that.

  Bhaskar seems quite
> suspect of the potential of science, as is Putnam, but it may
> nevertheless be the best hope for human emancipation.  Wherefore,
> science must be taken serious and conducted in such a way to be in
> phase with philosophy and ethic.  Hence, science should not be
> conducted as if it is purely objective, as the empiricists and
> positivists would like to have it.

What dores "purely objective" mean? Value free? Few people these days
would say it is, but of course the way values get to count is complicated.
We don't allow a proposition in quantum theory or even economics to be
refutred by claiming that it is immoral, say.

>
> Schwartz thank you for your response, however, I find these criticism
> quite defendable from Bhaskar's writings.  Moreover, are you taking
> issue with Bhaskar notion of *Stratification*,

Don't know this. Is this B's claim that economics is irreducible to
physics? That might be true, although I wrote a dissertation and published
several papers defending reductionism against bad anti-reductionisr
arguments. Still, I don't care about that stuff much any more.

 it seems Putnam
> *realms of reality* would not fit Bhaskar ontology for example?

Don't know B's view, so I can't compare. But P's view is anti-realist.

 i.e.
> whereas Bhaskar's ontology is like layers of an onion, Putnam's
> seems to have different *realms of reality* which overlap, but remain
> on the same plain.


--Justin Schwartz




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