Justice and Bhaskar's Dialectical Universalizability

Hans Ehrbar ehrbar at keynes
Fri Apr 7 05:43:03 MDT 1995

Justin, I enjoyed your reply.  I had written yesterday, Thu, 6 Apr
1995, that in my understanding Bhaskar was trying to find general
criteria by which emancipation is good in its own right, and then
(successfully) looked around and detected that such criteria were
active in general.

Your response was:

>The problem with finding general (universal, binding for all?)
>criteria on the basis of which to endorse emancipation is ...

Halt, this is not what I meant.  In the spirit of Bhaskar's moral
naturalism which basically says that values are not necessarily
something which we attribute to the world, but that there are values
out in the world, I meant to find something out there in the world by
which emancipation is a value.  I am thoroughly enjoying the
permission which my reading of Bhaskar has given me to violate the
fact-value distinction, but I am still a little uneasy every time I do
it---and this is perhaps the reason why I did not make it more
explicit that this is what I was trying to do.

In Dialectic, the Pulse of Freedom, p. 279, Bhaskar talks about the
"tendential rational directionality of history" and on the next page
about the "dialectic of dialectical universability and immanent
critique".  Perhaps he means the following (but I haven't found it in
so many words, which probably means it is too crude for someone who
really understands it, yet it may be a step forward for us who are
groping towards it): The asymmetry which drives geo-history forward is
that things which are bad fail by their own inner contradictions (they
so-to-say criticize themselves immanently), while things which are
good are spread around (this is Bhaskar's "dialectical
universability").  This is not only true for human action, but for the
world in general.  This is how humans arose, and this is why there is
the possibility of socialism.

I therefore did not mean: find criteria by which we can convince
ourselves and others that emancipation is good, but: identify real
tendencies out in the world which drive geo-history
towards---socialism.  These "tendencies" won't do it for us, we have
to do it, but Bhaskar tries to show that the path is open, our desire
for socialism is not just an illusion bound to end up in an Orwellian

You are looking for something very general too, namely, something
around which oppressors and oppressed can unite.  You call it justice,
and you say it is the genuine reconciliation of interests.  This is
too static (it reminds me of Hegel's static and hence undialectical
closure of his dialectical system).  No wonder you end up with the
dead end stability criterion.  Marx's "association in which the free
development of each is the condition for the free development of all"
is more explicitly dynamic, and this is Bhaskar's inspiration for what
he does not call socialism but the "eudaimonistic" society.

All the best, Hans.

Hans G. Ehrbar                                    ehrbar at econ.utah.edu
Economics Department, 308 BuC                     (801) 581 7797
University of Utah                                (801) 581 7481
Salt Lake City    UT 84112-1107                   (801) 585 5649 (FAX)
For Info about our Graduate Program Contact  program at econ.sbs.utah.edu

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