Bhaskar and Sayer

Howie Chodos howie at
Sat Apr 8 08:54:59 MDT 1995

I may be seeing things, but it strikes me that there may be more of a
positive connection between Sayer and Bhaskar than Ralph is willing to
admit, at least judging from the interesting summaries that he and Hans
Despain have recently posted. I offer the following in support of this

>>>Despain citing Bhaskar:

>"Light may perhaps be cast on another long-running dispute in ethics,
>viz. that between universalists and particularists. Universalizability
>is both (a) a test of consistency (and a fortiori sincerity) and (b)
>a criterion of truth, but the universality involved must be
>dialectical, i.e. transfactual, concrete, agentive in the twofold
>sense explicted in Chapter 3.3 and directionally transformative...We
>may assume a core universal human nature, and thus grounds for a
>core equality, but it will always be manifest at a particular time
>and place, as mediated and as singularized.  This is the basis of
>the dialectical critique of abstract universalist ethics, based on
>the corresponding dialectical critique of deductivism..."

>>>Dumain citing Sayer:

>"But it is equally important to realize that the other term in the
>equation -- the 'material' -- is also and _ipso facto_
>transformed.  If consciousness ceases to be regarded as 'a living
>individual', but instead is recognized as an attribute or
>predicate of 'real living individuals' themselves, then the
>material existence of these individuals can no longer be
>conceptualized in ways which exclude their consciousness.  The
>material premise from which historical materialism starts is not,
>abstractly, 'matter', as opposed to 'spirit' .... It is 'real
>individuals. their activity and the material conditions under
>which they live' ... -- real individuals who are amongst other
>things conscious, and act on the basis of their conceptions."

The link that I detect has to do with the emphasis both place on the "real".
Sayer finds the unity of the material and the ideal in 'real living
individuals'. Bhaskar finds the universal to "always be manifest at a
particular time and place, as mediated and as singularized". Both would seem
to be striving to overcome longstanding dichotomies in a way which does not
deny that the opposing terms are uesful for analytical purposes but which
sees great harm occurring when either term is thought to exist independently
of the other. Our consciousness exists only in the material frame of our
bodies. Our human nature exists only through the (transient) lives of human

I do not know whether this similarity extends to other aspects of their
work, but I find the core argument that they both seem to be advancing here
to be compelling.

Howie Chodos

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