Bhaskar's Dialectics: modes of negation

Hans Despain DESPAIN at
Fri Apr 7 00:30:30 MDT 1995

Below I expound my understanding Bhaskar's *modes of negation* which
are the outer shell and rational kernal of his reformulation of the
dialectic, as I understand it.  I do not formulate explicitly
Bhaskar's dialectic within his Critical Realism (as he himself does
in his *Dialectic*, but simple try to expound his *modes of negation*
(my term not his), so to bring forth an introduction or grounding for
his steps forward on constituting Dialectics.  *Negation* can be in
reference to both dialectic as process or dialectic as method (and
perhaps ontological dialectic or epistemological dialectic).

One can argue; via Tony Smith or the "non- metaphysical"
interpretation of Hegel's *Logic*; that the Hegelian self-subsuming
structure, and internal motivation of categories can suggest an
orientation toward the methdology of Marx (epistemological dialectic),
and point to a direction that a "De-alienating" society may take.
There often seems little agreement on what constitutes and will
institute human emancipation and self-determination (it is in this
sense that I would argue that Smith must at least have an implict
ontological commitment, i.e., to argue for human emancipation
cannot rest on epistemology alone).

The notion, concept, and practice of dialectics as method (Smith,
Bhaskar, Ollman, Murray, Arthur, Hartmann, Hegel, Marx etc.) or
understanding dialectics as process (in the sense of Lukcasians,
Hegelians, Englesians, Dialectical Materialists, and Bhaskar) is meant
to be a potentiality for praxis, human emancipation and self-

For Bhaskar *negation* is in reference to both dialectic as method
and dialectic as process.  It is as method that negation refers to
reflective reasoning in contrast to positivism or a purely empirical
reasoning of the *positive* or empirical reality.  As a real process
Bhaskar differentiates (broadly) between three forms of negation:


Real negation are true "absences," "a non-existence," "unknowns,"
"death," "hidden objects," "empty spaces," "desire," "lack," or
"need."  Transformative negation is in reference to change, essential
or inessential, total or partial, endogenously and/or exogenously
effected, outcome or means.  And radical negation refers and
differentiates between negating processes, self-negating processes
and self-consciously negating processes (Bhaskar, *Dialectic: The
Pulse of Freedom, 1993, Verso, London, pp. 4-8).

Bhaskar also uses the verb "to negate" to include, "'deny', 'reject',
'contradict', 'oppose', 'exclude', 'marginalize', 'denigrate',
'erase', 'separate', 'split', 'sunder', 'cancel', 'annual',
'destory', 'criticize' and 'condemn', and their interconnectins"
(ibid: 8).

It is Bhaskar's notion of radical negation which constitutes his
social dialectics and has the potential to approach his conception
(and faith) for instituting human emancipation and self-determination.
It is self-consciously negating processes which need be instituted

Hegel uses the term "negate" possibly similar, but Bhaskar claims
NEGATION.  Perhaps equal signs misrepresent Hegel, but surely Hegel
does not differentiate his uses of the term negation.

Moreover, Hegel's post- philosophical reason following his negation
of thought is most always positive and uncritical (This is exactly
Feuerbach's and Marx's critique).  It is in this sense that Bhaskar
says he wants to demonstrate "the positive as a tiny, but important,
ripple on the surface of a sea of negativity" (ibid: 5).  Dialectics
are a way to interpret and understand the structure and reason of

Hopefully Howie Chodos is reading, because I think that here in the
first chapter of Bhaskar's *Dialectic* with his constitution of
"negation" that we find an important distinction between ontological
and epistemological dialectics.  Epistemological dialectics are in
reference to dialectic as method (I have especially Tony Smith's
interpretation in mind, or a "non-metaphyscial" interpretation of
Hegel's *Logic*, or perhaps Ollman's modes of abstraction).  Although
epistemological dialectics need not be limited to only method.
However, epistemological dialectic seem must relavant to and for
*radical negation*, especially of the the self-conscious type.

Ontological dialectics would be most relavant for dialectic as
process, *real negation* and *transformative negation*.  Especially
when we are speaking or experiencing a real life process of absence,
death (and decay), or tranformation.  In this sense an
epistemological dialectic is limited indeed.  Ontological dialectic
is also important for recongizing what Bhaksar calls *Ontological
Monovalence* which is a purely "positivistic" conception and
interpretation of the world (ibid: pp. 5; 377-8; 400- 1). Furthermore
Bhaskar denotes "positive" existences or presences as "*onts*" and
and "negative" existences or absences as "*de-onts*" (ibid: p. 40-1).

Now, if we remind ourselves of Bhaskar's *A Realist's Theory of
Science* and recall his transitive and intransitive dimension; *de-
onts* would usually be within the intransitive dimension and *onts*
in the transitive.  Moreover, it is ontological commitment to a
reality of *stratification* (domains of the real, acutal, and
empirical) which has great importance for ontological dialectics and
abscences (de-onts).  e.g. an abscence can exist in one domain or
level of stratification, while present on another.  This is what
Bhaksar dubs the duality of absence.  Think of Marx's conception of
Value, it does indeed have an explicit presence at one level of
abstraction (while it is an abscence for Aristole), but is reduced to
a "hidden ont" (and for neo-classicals a de-ont) at an empirical
level (accept for Anwar Shaikh and other empirical Marxists of Value

I contend that Bhaskar's *Dialectic* and modes of negation are indeed
a leap forward.  The more I read and the more I struggle to
understand, the more Bhaskar's 'bridge building' and 'path-breaking'
becomes clear to me.  Explicating the role of abscences and de-onts
is especially important and intreguing.

Hans Despain
University of Utah
despain at

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