Bhaskar's Dialectical Universalizability

Justin Schwartz jschwart at
Thu Apr 6 22:08:02 MDT 1995

On Thu, 6 Apr 1995, Hans Despain wrote:

> I agree with Howie's, Ehrbar's and Fellini's concern of Justin's
> stablity and progressive history conception.  This is conservative
> and radically dangerous in that one is able to justify all forms of
> upheavl, including murder, in the name of a progessive emancipating
> history.

Well, murder is unjustified killing, so ipso facto unjustifiable. But I
think that Hans' worry is that if we think that history is directional and
progressive, we risk falling into the Bolshevik error of thinking that any
means are acceptable which further the progressive direction of history. I
guess I am not so worried about this. There is no logical connection
between the view that history is directional and the idea that anything
that pushes history that way is OK. I think we can all accept that there
are moral constraints on what can be done to further even good ends.
Moreover, on the other side, I think that social conflicts generate
atrocities quite independently of whether we approve of them, and that
these will occur, and should be condemned, even if we deny that history is
directional or progressive, and even if we pronounce that there are
absolute side constraints which cannot be violated no matter what.
Moralizing doesn't have much effect. Which doesn't mean we shouldn't do
moral theory and moral education and try to be good.

I have followed Justin's arguments and remain completely
> unconviced.


  Moreover, I believe *systematic dialectics* (Tony Smith)
> or *epistemological dialectics* and *ontological dialectics* (Roy
> Bhaskar) provides very good reason to **not** be committed to a
> notion of history with its own purpose and direction (Justin I know
> that this is not what you necessarily mean, but all our arguments
> seem to still imply that we be committed to a history which is
> gradually working out social ills, I don't buy it).

Well, since you acknowledge that it's not what I mean, why mention it?

> A notion of emancipation cannot be rooted in a notion of historical
> necessity, and become progessive.  This is indeed Hegel's problem, is
> it not (perhaps Marx and Marxists).

But, since I reject historical necessity, not mine.

  Actually I think Hegel
> progressive argument to be quite interesting, Hegel's however has to
> do with a development of Self-consciousness, where there seems good
> reason to be committed to a progressive development, but "stablity"
> is a strange reformation.  Over-coming domination is not necessarily,
> in my view (I don't see it) a declaration of progessive history.

If overcoming dominanation isn't progress, what is?

> Moreover, often it seems history is a return to domination (See E.
> Fromm's *The Anatomy of Human Destructivness* 19??).

Which, among other reasons, is why I reject any necessity or unilinear,
irreversible development.

> Ehrbar claims that socialism is based on transcendental argument may
> overstate or misplace Bhaskar grounds.  Ehrbar qualified this by
> saying 'this is how we come to understand it' (parapharse).  Yes, for
> Bhaksar this is how we become to understand it, but there is no
> "Transcendental Illusion" here, Bhaskar does not ground socialism on
> transcendental grounds (which is not, I believe, what Ehrbar has
> tried to claim), but he has established a notion of epistemology and
> ethics which grounds his notion of human emancipation and a claim
> for an *alternative* on ethical grounds, based on our understanding
> of the world (not on a transcendental illusion).
> Moreover, as Ehrbar points out Bhaskar's notion of *abscences*, his
> first step of the dialectic, seems to have hold much more possiblities
> then the "positive" notion of stability.  For Bhaskar the 'positive
> is tiny but important ripple on a sea of negativity' (paraphase page
> 5(?) of *Dialectic: The Pulse of Freedom*).  It is the abscences in a
> very general sense which push history along, it (history) is only
> micro-directional for Bhakar (Ehrbar explains this quite well).
As I've said, on my account it is not stability but resistance that pushes
history along. Stability is just a test to see whether we're making
progress by moving towards justice, understood as a genuine reconciliation
of interests.

> Socialism or any other "better" alternative is not going to emerge
> because history demands it, or because of quasi-human propensity of
> something or other, but from human *conscious* action and effort.

This is what my argument says.

> This develops from a well formulated and constituted ethic, and an
> instituted epistemology.  Bhaskar is attempting to do this.
> "De-alienation" and "Freedom" according to Bhaskar, need motivation
> and incentives, which is not found in any sort of rational autonomy
> of human beings (I think Fellini is correct to see this in Justin's
> argument and point it out).

But he's not. I do not assume that people will recognize their interests
firsts and then rationally act to attain them. Rather they experience
suffering and diminishment because their interests are being violated,
although they may not understand why or how or what these are, and they
act to change that, moving by a process of learning towards organizationm
which will better realize their interests. Bhaskar may be gettinmg at
something like this in his concept of response to "lacks."

 Bhaskar is always very diplomatic
> with critiques, and of espeically Marx, but he says something to the
> effect that a critique of attempts at alternatives is the fault of
> Marxists who negelect or reduce ethics in their attempts, however,
> the root of this is found within Marx.

I agree with him here.

 Especially his seemingly
> *utopian* commitment and often unilinear concept of history.
> I think a unilinear commitment to history is incompatible with the
> notion of a Marxian or humanistic ethic.

Odd, if it is Marx's own!

  The ethic can be justified
> simply by History's forward march.  I reject unilinear history for
> instead the work and effort which must be accomplished to establish;
> constitute and institute; a humanistic ethic, based on our
> understnading of the world, especially the historical ills, abuses,
> and especially the *absences* which have plauged the human race
> throughout history including "1984".

Well, the view you are unconvinced of isn't mine.

--Justin Schwartz

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